I’ve pointed out many times that humans are the only animals that follow unbalanced leaders. Animals, including dogs, won’t do it. They respond to unbalanced energy in one of three ways: fight, flight, or avoidance.
Dog packs do not have dictators. If the alpha dog in a pack tries to enforce the rules through intimidation and coercion, the other dogs in the pack will kill him or drive him out.
But balanced pack leaders do not need intimidation or coercion. They inspire the pack to follow them through calm, assertive energy. This is something that dogs have done naturally for tens of thousands of years. It’s something that humans have yet to learn.
There are two things that get in our way as we try to become calm, assertive pack leaders: intellect and emotion. As humans, we try to rationalize everything and come up with explanations. Unfortunately, we perceive everything through an emotional filter, which makes it very hard to be rational.
Emotions can be the anchor that holds us in the past and prevents us from living in the moment so that we can move forward. Humans hold grudges. Dogs do not. If two people get into a fight, they may avoid each other forever after that. Dogs can get into a nasty fight and then forget that it ever happened two minutes later.
For the dogs, the moment has passed. They do not live in a world where their emotions tell them, “I have to hate that dog now.” They live in a world where instinct tells them, “That dog isn’t threatening me right now.”
At least, that’s what balanced dogs do.
Dogs become unbalanced when we look at them through the filters of human intellect and emotion. Our emotions tell us that we have to love them and give them nothing but affection, and our intellect can tell us (when we’re misinformed by our emotions) that dogs think and act and behave just like we do.
But they don’t. Dogs, like life, are simple. We make things complicated.
If you’ve been following me for any time at all, you know that my fulfillment formula for dogs is Exercise, Discipline, and then Affection — in that order. What you might not have realized is that this formula also works on humans and, if you’re having trouble finding that calm energy in yourself, this is a good way to do it.
Exercise is great for our bodies and our health, and everybody should be doing it every day, whether they have a dog to walk or not. And exercise doesn’t just mean going to the gym to lift heavy weights and use complicated machinery. It can be as simple as a vigorous walk or a quick hike, or as specific as yoga or aerobics.
Even if you have some physical condition that prevents you from doing vigorous exercise or bending into contorted poses, there’s still some part of your body that you can work out — for example, you can sit and curl a weight with each forearm, or simply stretch.
The point of exercise is that it gets us in touch with and allows us to listen to our bodies, which helps our intellect and emotions quiet down. It moves us closer to the dog world of instinct and teaches us to be in the moment.
After exercise comes discipline. In the case of dogs, this involves engaging their minds and giving them jobs to do or tricks to learn or rules to figure out. In humans, discipline involves holding off on the reward (a form of affection) until a goal is reached.
Discipline also engages human intellect, but the difference in us is that it puts intellect above emotions. Your heart may really want to just sit down and watch TV, but your brain should be able to tell you, “I will, but I have to wash the dishes first.”
Why are exercise and discipline necessary before affection for dogs? Because it makes the dog earn our affection and attention, and this is a very important part of dog psychology. Being pack hunters, they need to work for their reward. If they don’t work for anything and are constantly rewarded, then their energy builds up to extreme levels and they become undisciplined.
For humans, we often skip exercise and discipline and go right for affection, which is anything that we think of as a reward. But what happens in that case? A uniquely human emotion called guilt. How many times have you heard someone justify indulging because they’ll be good later? “I’ll eat this chocolate cake now, but I can spend extra time at the gym later.”
This turns the formula on its head. Instead of affection becoming a reward for exercise, exercise becomes the punishment for lack of discipline. That is a mind out of balance, and dogs will not follow an unbalanced leader.
So... as you use my fulfillment formula on your dogs, remember that it works on you, too. You just have to become your own pack leader, which is the quickest route to finding that calm, balanced energy in yourself.
Become calm, and stay calm!