There’s a saying among dog trainers and handlers: Everything travels down the lead. Because working with a dog is about much more than the commands that we give them. It’s about the way in which we give them. About our tone of voice. Our body language. Even the mood we’re in. To work effectively with a dog, we need to be in the right frame of mind. And we need to put everything else aside.
So when I’m out with Molly, Ozzy or both of them, I need to focus on simply being with them and doing whatever it is we’ve set out to do.
I need to put aside the work I haven’t done and the chores waiting for me at home. I need to put aside what I did yesterday or whatever I have planned for tomorrow. I need to put aside any feelings I may harbour of annoyance, stress or general grumpiness (and there’s usually a lot of general grumpiness).
Because if I don’t, they can tell. And whatever we’re doing, be it work or play, will suffer.
If I tell Molly to ‘come’, for example, she’ll return to me. If I tell her to ‘come’ in a stern, grumpy voice, though, my body language tight and closed off, she’ll meander over as slowly as she possibly can, showing no enthusiasm at all.
But if I call ‘come’ in my most excitable voice, as if I’ve just stumbled across a horde of gold coins, she’ll barrel right into me before the word is even completely out of my mouth.
I keep meaning to put more photos into my posts, by the way, so here’s one of Molly, Ozzy and me when Ozzy was a tiny puppy. Ozzy’s a fair bit bigger now, but it’s still like living with a baby alligator. Molly remains as stoic as ever, though.
At the heart of this is the fact that giving commands to your dog and actually communicating with your dog are two very different things.
Molly and Ozzy can both tell when I’m having a bad day. They take their time responding to commands. They show no joy in chasing the ball. They’re quick to do things I’d rather they didn’t, like roll in poo or forage for discarded dog biscuits.
When the sun’s out and I’m in high spirits, though, I have the two happiest, best-behaved Labradors on the planet.
And so it’s my responsibility as a dog owner and handler to leave my baggage behind and to focus on my dogs. To make sure that my words, my tone of voice, my mood, my body language and every other aspect of my being radiate positivity and enthusiasm. And the dogs will respond to it.
This is a good lesson for life in general, to be honest. Because while there will always be things in our lives that we’d rather were a little better, we don’t have to let them define everything about us. Insert your favourite motivational quote here: ‘Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional’, ‘choose your attitude’ or whatever. But it’s true.
And it’s not just our dogs who can pick up on how we’re feeling. Our loved ones and others around us also know when we’re having a bad time of it. And they can very easily bear the brunt when we let out grumpiness get the better of us. So we owe it to them, as well as to our dogs, to know when to put our troubles aside.
Because everything travels down the lead.