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The Emotional Side of Training

Updated: Jun 3

Ever have a training session where you started off frustrated from a long day at work or upset because another life issue took your time and energy? Did you notice how your dog reacted as soon as you hooked up your leash? 

Emotions bleed out in our body language and voice.

Pitch, tone, and inflection matter with verbal commands but so does our posture, hand gestures, and facial expressions for body language.

We had a saying during my time as a military working dog handler "Shit travels down leash". It's true. If I'm frustrated, angry, upset the dog will notice as soon as I hook up the leash or strap on the e collar. In this emotional state our corrections tend to be mis-timed and over bearing causing confusion. The sad part is that in our emotional fatigue we tend to interpret confusion as non-compliance.

This is one of the skills that sets a trainer apart from a handler. The ability to remain neutral and display emotion that is correct to situation. 

In my training sessions I strive to remain emotionally neutral, but to the dog I will change my emotions based on their behavior. Good behavior receives happy and giddy baby talk, bad behavior will end with stern military style orders. The key here is the ability to immediately flex back and forth, all the while actually being truly neutral. I'm not actually mad or happy, I'm simply giving the dog the feedback they need to understand if I liked or disliked their behavior. 

To understand this skill you have to enter each session with flexible goals and an eye on conceptual understanding. Is the dog figuring out how to be an active participant? Are they figuring out how to turn pressure off and get paid? Maybe the dog lacked in my steadiness goals but exceeded my expectations in retrieving. 

The point is, take the small wins and truly remain emotionally neutral while giving perceived emotional feedback commensurate to the dogs behavior. Also, the best advice I've ever been given is that if you're frustrated at any point just put the dog in the kennel and try again tomorrow. 

The ability to truly remain neutral and know when to end a session is one of the traits that sets a trainer apart from a handler.  Written by | Randall Lykens Instagram | @liberty_canine_llc Website |

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