This is quite an interesting subject, not well-known to pet owners, but of the utmost importance when it comes to working with pets. You have surely felt that your dog or your cat could understand your feelings: they snuggle up close when we are sad things are not going so well, etc. Yes, it is true: they are able to feel our emotions. That is because they are able read the micromovements of our body and can understand the emotions coming from those micromovements.
In the early 1900’s, a horse named Hans caused quite a stir. He could resolve equations and always get the right answer. The scientific community took a look at this sensational animal and after several years of research, they discovered that the animal was simply studying the reaction of the person giving the equation. When the horse had the right answer, it could read it on that person’s face, even though the asker was standing still. How is it possible? The answer is thanks to the micromovements! They are movements invisible to the human eye, put perfectly visible to an animal’s. From that point, researchers studied the phenomenon and until this day, there is no doubt that, dogs just as horses, can read micromovements.¸
So, how does this become all the more important when you train your dog? If you are aware that your dog is able to read your emotions just by looking at you, you have to make sure that you control them when you train your dog. Dogs are quite the accomplished therapists and if something is wrong, they will know. Just by noticing the tension in your jaw, the arm holding the leash, the tiny wrinkle on your forehead, your dilated pupil, your body’s position, the tone of your voice, etc. EVERYTHING you do hints your dog on your current emotions. So, doubt, frustration, anger, concern, all these emotions are perfectly visible to the dog; which is why it is important to put on an act!
Dogs are like children hitting the corner of a table with their head. They glance at us and if they see us panicking, they will start crying. If we laugh while reassuring them, they will just resume what they were doing, a smile on their face. Therefore, in order for your dog to feel comfortable in its surroundings, you will have to put on an act and exaggerate your positive emotions to help your pet overcome the challenges of life. For example: A dog is scared of going down the stairs. If you are standing close and encouraging the dog with a big smile and in an enthusiastic manner, the dog will most likely trust you and go forward without hesitating that much anymore than if you had been displaying frustration because it was not going down the stairs as you wished. Same thing when you train your dog. How many times during a dog training class have I had to approach a client to ask how was my client’s day when they had a hard time dealing with their dog… or when another client was shocked their dog was not listening to them during the class. When that happens, we take a break, have a walk and come back with a smile on our face. You will see that your dog will act differently.
So do not forget: before training your dog, or another animal, take a break to make sure you are in a good mood and that any negative emotions are out the window during training.
Smile, your dog is looking at you!
Catherine Gouillard, BSc Biology
Certified Animal Behaviour specialist