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Episode 309 - The Trouble with Truffles

“Dogs read our energy to learn our intentions. If we don’t believe in ourselves, our dogs are not going to believe that we mean it when we tell them to do something. The key to calm, assertive leadership is knowing exactly what you want from your dog and visualizing it happen.


Q&A with Cesar

Like Truffle, my dog often refuses to go on the walk, just sitting there or dragging back on the leash. How can I get him to move forward on the walk with me?

Dogs that refuse to go on the walk often need something to make them feel less insecure and to build their self-esteem. One trick you can use is to bring along family members or friends, with or without other dogs, to help your dog feel more like part of the pack and less anxious or fearful.
You can also build your dog’s esteem by challenging her mind through things like agility training or using “find the treat” toys that have her solve a problem in order to get a reward. For some breeds, particularly working breeds like huskies, giving her a job by having her carry a backpack can help distract her from her insecurity.
If your dog is highly treat motivated, you can use the “lure” method, where you use a treat to get him to move forward. First, use the treats to get him onto his feet, then to get him to walk a yard or two, and then bring him farther and farther until he’ll follow the treats without getting one immediately. Ultimately, you want to associate completing the entire walk with getting the reward at the end — make your dog earn the treat by working for it.
Finally, you can use your dog’s own homing sense to get her used to walking. Drive a block or two away from home, then walk. Your dog will have incentive to move forward because of her instinct to return to the den. Yes, you’ll have to walk back and get your car later, but that’s just more exercise for you.

You said that your dog has to believe you mean it when you give a correction, but how can you tell if your energy and correction are believable?

Well, when they’re believable, your dog will let you know by responding to them! When you give a correction, you have to have a very strong and clear intent, which is usually, “Stop it!” However, you can’t deliver this correction like it’s a suggestion or a polite request. You need to be calm and firm.
A good way to find the believable energy is to give the correction without words and use just your body language and maybe a sound. When you can get your intention to carry through your body, then any words or sound that go with it will be believable. If you’re not a parent, ask a friend who is to show you their “mom/dad look of disapproval.” If you were like me, you were probably on the receiving end of this as a child as well — it’s a single glance that says, “If you don’t want to find out how serious I am, stop what you’re doing right now.”
Finally, when people can’t find how to project the right calm, assertive energy, I tell them to fake it until they feel it. Use your imagination and pick a real person or character that you see as a strong authority figure. It can be someone from your own life, or history, or a film or book. Next, imagine yourself as that person. Walk the way they would walk and move the way they would move. When you correct your dog, do so with the authority and certainty you’d imagine that person to have.
As I said at the beginning, when your correction is believable, your dog will let you know!

How can I help someone who is deathly afraid of dogs get over their fear?

First of all, they have to want to get over their fear and be willing to work to do so. Suddenly tossing someone who’s afraid of dogs (a cynophobe, by the way) into a room with the world’s friendliest Rottweiler is not going to do anything to help them.
Next is to determine what it is about dogs that scares them. Were they bitten as a child? Do they become terrified just seeing a dog in the distance, or are they okay until the dog gets too close? Once you know that, it’s time to slowly begin exposure to dogs — completely under control of the cynophobe. For example, if they have a problem just seeing a dog, then go somewhere that they can watch dogs from a distance, like outside of a fenced-in dog park, but where they can also get away immediately if the fear becomes too great.
If they can get closer to dogs, then you need to use the right dog — one that is calm, submissive, and very friendly toward people, although not the kind that likes to jump on or lick humans. Bring the person and dog together, instructing the person beforehand to use “no touch, no talk, and no eye contact.” Have them focus on you while the dog investigates them. When they can remain calm while doing this (and if the dog seems interested) let them offer a closed fist for the dog to sniff. Finally, have them walk the dog while you go along.
Keep in mind that for extreme phobias — which are recognized psychiatric conditions that can have debilitating physical effects — it will probably take a professional therapist in order to help someone overcome or at least manage their fear. But, many times, people who say they are “deathly afraid” of dogs have just had a bad experience in the past. With the right calm, submissive dog and your calm, assertive energy, you can become an ambassador for the species and help people who just don’t like dogs learn to understand and appreciate them instead.

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