Mirror Image: How Your Energy Affects Your Dog’s Behavior

We all know that person who lights up a room when they enter it. Their energy is happy most of the time and that causes those who engage with them to light up. We also know the opposite type of person who is cranky much of the time. That kind of energy is a drain on those who engage with them. There are an abundance of personality styles in between the two. Most people have many moods, regardless of their primary energy output. The individual energy of the moment can change the dynamics of a situation drastically. The same exchange of energy can happen between humans and animals. 

How you choose to approach a particular situation can affect the outcome of the situation.  Dogs are affected by our energy, just like other humans are. The word energy has a negative connotation when used in relation to dog behavior because of the inappropriate use of the word in the public eye but it does have some accurate representations in this subject. Every move that we make involves some form of energy, whether positive or negative, rushed or calm. How we move and how we speak affects others and that is even more pronounced with dogs and other animals than with other humans. Body language and micro facial expression communication is primal communication at it’s finest. We as humans, owe it to the canines in our lives to better understand this subject. We can project calmness, or we can project intensity and everything in between. We can mold a situation in part with how we handle interactions. This is why people who negotiate with criminals are specially trained to do so. It’s not innate knowledge for everyone.

Here is a good article on how humans affect others with their energy.

Those who work in the field of dog behavior understand this well. We are performing a subtle negotiation with the dogs that we deal with. We know how to minimize the potential problems in any scenario. We also know how to create more interest in us with a dog who is currently showing an interest in something in the environment. The former is a calming energy output and the latter is an active energy output. We use our voices and our movements to shift the focus where we want it.

The same skills are important for dog parents. How you approach the situations that problem behaviors can arise from matters more than most people consider. Mechanics will only get you so far. You have to learn how to put the right vibe out there in order to alter the situation to everyone’s benefit. For example, if your dog gets excited about something and your approach is to get equally excited, while verbalizing to them what you want them to do (or not do!) rather than calmly shifting their energy elsewhere, you can find yourself the target of redirected excitement. This won’t solve the problem at hand.

Those of us who get paid to help dog parents with their dog’s behavior issues need to be able to accurately and understandably convey to those dog parents that how they respond to each situation helps determine the outcome. Whenever there is more than one family member among a dog’s household humans, there are inevitably those who have certain behaviors directed at them and others in the same household who never experience those behaviors. That is exactly because of differing energy outputs between those humans. We have to teach them consistency.

Photo credit: Dawn Goehring

For example, if your dog is super happy about squirrels and other wildlife and you try and drag them away, that results in opposition reflex. What needs to happen is an energy output that implies that you (and where you want to go) are way more fun than the object of their current attraction. Of course, this approach is strictly management and the training still needs to take place. But training can take place at a faster pace if you are skilled at getting your dog’s attention back to you as needed, by using your own energy better.

On the other side of the equation, if you have a dog who is excited about certain situations and that dog redirects onto the dog parent with mouthing/nipping excitement behavior, you would definitely not use more excitement to defuse this situation. That would simply amp up the dog in question. The approach here would need to be calm and collected and minimally verbal. Physical interaction can also increase excitement when this is happening so that should be avoided. Withdrawing from the situation calmly and only re-engaging when the dog is showing some impulse control is what would best avoid the scales of such a situation tipping over into something worse.

Another example that involves the energy output is a stranger-wary dog being reprimanded for showing discomfort in the presence of new humans. Anger creates more anger. Calm and confident reassurances are where the dog parent’s energy output should be focused. Place yourself in the role of the parental protector, not the scary parent. Again, this is in addition to a quality behavior modification protocol, not in place of it. Energy helps mold the foundation of the situation so that training and behavior modification can more effectively take place.

There are many subtleties in this subject. Experience and knowledge both have roles to play in how you can better manage your energy output to modify the scenario best. The more that you know about the subject and about your own dog’s body language, the better equipped you will be to be successful with your energy output. Choose zen or active, whatever the situation calls for.


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Positively Expert: Debby McMullen

Debby is a certified behavior consultant and the author of the How Many Dogs? Using Positive Reinforcement Training to Manage a Multiple Dog Household. She also owns Pawsitive Reactions, LLC in Pittsburgh, PA.


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