By John Millen
On my wife’s birthday, some 12 years ago, she told me she had picked out the perfect present. She had seen a lonely looking dog online at the local animal shelter. We drove to the shelter to meet our new housemate.
Without research or knowledge, we had acquired a cute, little Jack Russell Terrier. We named him “Buddy.” I only knew this breed from watching the old Frasier television show. That dog seemed very well behaved.
The Dog Whisperer
Well, you probably know where this goes: Buddy was a live wire, bursting with energy and difficult to train. In seeking solutions, I found Cesar Millan, on the Dog Whisperer television show.
The solution for me was to take Buddy on long runs to dissipate his energy. I learned that if high-energy dogs don’t release their energy they would become neurotic and act up around the house. This approach worked.
As I read Cesar’s books and understood his approach, I saw very clearly that his methods give great insights into leadership and communications for humans.
Be the Pack Leader
One of his books in particular said it all: “Be the Pack Leader.” Cesar notes that he doesn't train the dogs; he trains the owners--to be leaders of their dogs.
Think about this:
Your dog wants consistent energy. Cesar says that dogs sense the energy level of their owners and respond to what he calls “calm-assertive energy.” Instead, most people give their dogs the opposite. “They are emotional, easily upset and frustrated, panicky, weak, or angry,” which is disconcerting to the dogs.
Your dog wants clear messages. Cesar writes that, “Dog leaders are also inconsistent with the messages they send, so their dogs don’t know what to expect from one minute to the next. Is my owner the pack leader? Am I the pack leader? A confused dog is an unhappy dog.”
Your dog sees your intent through body language and tone of voice. One of my favorite Far Side cartoons features a man scolding his dog, saying “Okay, Ginger. I’ve had it. You stay out of the garbage…” In the next panel we see what Ginger hears, which of course, is “Blah, blah, blah, Ginger.” Dogs don’t understand our words, but they know what we mean.
This is certainly good advice for dog owners and you might try applying these insights, but I don’t focus on dogs, I focus on people.
So please do this: re-read those three points and instead of thinking “dog” think “person/people” at work and at home. Think about what you bring to your colleagues and family in these three areas.
If you did re-read those points, you’ll recognize that we are much more aligned with our animal friends than we sometimes believe.
Body Language and Intention
Scientific research -- particularly neuroscience -- is delving deeply into the incredible number of signals we humans send to one another through our energy, our intentions and our body language and tone.
So much of what we convey comes not from the specific words, but the context, delivery of the message. In coaching leaders whose behavior doesn’t align with their words, I often say, “they can’t hear a word you’re saying, because your body language is so loud.”
There are, of course, great differences between dogs and us in leadership--and not necessarily in our favor.
Cesar said that dogs would refuse to follow dogs with negative, or unbalanced energy, whereas human will. “Animals don’t follow unstable pack leaders; only humans promote, follow, and praise instability…That’s because all animals can evaluate and discern what balanced energy feels like…We humans continue to follow the unstable energy of our leaders--which is why we don’t live in a peaceful, balanced world.”
To achieve the calm-assertive energy, Cesar says that you have to get your emotions and your intentions to line up in harmony. “If you are ‘acting’ tough, but inside still feeling terrified, your dog will know it instantly. Your boss might not, but your dog definitely will. When your insides and your outsides conflict, you are powerless in the animal world,” he writes.
Cesar explains how to improve your approach: “…our human minds are incredibly powerful tools, and with the power of intention, we can actually change our feelings--not just on the surface, but from the inside out.
“If you can positively project the intention you desire through real strength and honesty, your dog will instantly react to that calm-assertive energy.”
My guess is that the people around you will react the same way to your calm-assertive energy.
Please give it a try, but don’t even think about faking it. Your dog is watching.