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Excerpt from "Enlightened Dog Training"

From Chapter 2. The Secret Language of the Animal Kingdom - Actions Create Emotions

by Jesse Sternberg


The key to understanding the Secret Language of the Animal Kingdom is realizing that every action an animal makes has an intention. Through her research on “Calming Signals,” Norwegian dog trainer Turid Rugaas demonstrated how dogs lick their lips, yawn, raise a front paw, and even walk in semi-circles on purpose. If you are wondering why they do all these things, and more, it is because they understand that each action generates a subtle emotional vibration in themselves and others. Dogs intentionally use feelings to connect with each other. It is how they broadcast and receive signals. Once we become aware of this simple code, the depth of our empathy spontaneously starts evolving because we love our pets so much, we never want to cause them any distress.

When we give our dogs verbal commands, what they are primarily paying attention to is the emotion within our voice (its tone), our posture (is it confrontational or is it calming), and our relative position within the environment (what is our status in, and our awareness of the territory, and how we are making use of the angles). They perceive all of this information at the vibrational level and they assess, overall, the level of goodness and truth in the authority of our command. In this sense, because dogs think primarily using feelings, you could say that their brains are in their hearts.

Animals do not really have labels for their feelings, but they do know that their experience right now is pleasant, unpleasant, or tranquil. This is the simple part that kids and dogs just get. When things feel pleasant, your pet tends to want to do them more. When they are unpleasant, then it tends to want to stop doing them. When things feel neutral (or tranquil), then life is awesome and it is just as it is supposed to be for your dog. He appreciates the safety of this emotion and behaves with a natural, joyous curiosity that nature intended for all of her creations. In these moments born from tranquility, your dog is incapable of being anything but a good dog (no training required). The trouble with too much pleasantness or unpleasantness is that there is an attachment that happens to the former, and aversion that accompanies the latter. Attachments and aversions take our pets out of the tranquil state, and hence, trigger an emotionally charged response that leads to behavioral outbursts. Many dog trainers encourage owners to be “very excited” when they are giving commands to their dog, yet this is rather foolish because it only revs up the pet’s emotional engine. The wise understand that an overexcited dog cannot also be a calm and obedient dog (in the same moment). Emotions must be acted out of the body, and this is the source of all kinds of undesirable behaviors (lunging, jumping, barking, etc.).

The vibration of tranquility is where all of nature desires to be, including humans. There is a security and peacefulness found in experiencing this vibration for long durations because it leads to blissful serenity and inner harmony. Another practical reason why we would want to become familiar with this tranquil feeling is because this is where your Peaceful Alpha power comes from. When we consciously send a signal that generates either love or fear, (the feeling of pleasant or unpleasant), from a place of placidness, the contrast of the emotion from your dog’s perspective becomes very heightened. Thus, the directive you are giving to your pet will become very clear. Here are the basic emotions a Peaceful Alpha uses (on purpose) to be the master their pet both needs and respects.

Love reinforces your dog’s current behavior.
Calmness means “feel safe and be peaceful.”
Fear means “stop,” “submit,” or “something isn’t safe right now.”
Stress: This emotion doesn’t persist very long in nature. It communicates uncertainty and creates anxiety in your dog.

Love, Tranquility and Fear are the major feelings that a Peaceful Alpha uses to communicate with their pet. Practice tuning into how you feel when you’re around your dog. Do your actions line up with your feelings? If not, you’re confusing your pet (and this leads to anxiety, frustration and neuroses).

Let us take a closer look at how dogs use these principles on one another so we can get an idea of the subtleness of this language, and how it plays out even when we are not intentionally using it. When we observe an older dog around a puppy, most of the time it is just calmly doing nothing while it lets the puppy explore, or do whatever it wants. Calmly doing nothing is actually a conscious action for a dog. The emotion it broadcasts to the puppy neither reinforces the puppy to do it more, nor scares it to make it stop. Thus, the puppy receives the emotion of neutral presence, and realizes its behavior must be ok with the older dog. Communication can only take place in the present moment. Actions, even non-actions, create emotions.

Consider how when we are on the phone, not paying attention to our dogs, they take our emotion of tranquility to mean they are allowed to keep chewing the baseboard or to keep peeing in the bedroom. The key lesson here is that we need to show up and “be in the moment” in order to communicate to our dog. We make our first step toward becoming a Peaceful Alpha with the intention of being present.

Calming Signals

Dogs communicate with their posture by making a myriad of gestures known as Calming Signals. Though there are many different Calming Signals, their meaning always falls into one of three buckets: (1) Me calm down, (2) You calm down, or (3) something in the environment needs to calm down.

Your Dogs’ Most Essential Calming Signals

  • lip licking
  • yawning
  • blinking
  • raising the front paw
  • lowering the head
  • lowering the body

Consider the following three examples to get a sense of how canines communicate using Calming Signals.

1. Me Calm Down - An owner is tidying up the counter top and accidentally jingles his car keys. The pleasure of this familiar sound triggers excitement into his dog, who was sleeping on the floor just moments ago, and now thinks it might be time for a joy ride. The dog realizes there is no car ride happening, so he yawns, not because he is sleepy, but because this action tells himself to calm back down. The yawn actually triggers the biology of his nervous system to engage in the automatic process of relaxing.

2. You Calm Down - At the park, a small dog approaches a tennis ball that he sees lying inches away from a bigger dog. As the small dog gets closer to the toy, the big dog suddenly becomes aware of him. Stealing a toy is grounds for conflict, so the little dog communicates his peaceful intentions by raising his front paw. The little dog says to the big dog, “don’t worry, I am not going to steal it, I just want to check it out.” The big dog sees this from afar and decides to stay tranquil. He blinks at the small dog, saying, “thanks for not disturbing me.” The efficiency of nature’s communication trumps every verbal language invented by humans.

3. Environment Calm Down - A dog senses a train going by on the railroad a half-mile away. The vibration of the ground wakes him up and alerts him, so he licks his lips a bunch of times, communicating to those that are watching that something in the environment is disruptive.

If you’re looking for a tangible way for you to see what your pet is trying to communicate, simply observe its Calming Signals. Your dog makes hundreds of these every day. With just a little practice, you will gain tremendous insight into your dog’s emotional world. Interestingly, not every dog will use the same signals. A particular dog will likely only have a few Calming Signals that they consistently use. Regardless, we know that every signal can only fall into one of three buckets. The more present we are, the more adept we will inevitably become at identifying these signals and intuiting whether it is a: me calm down, you calm down, or situation alert. This is a really important first step. Just taking this action is enough to start earning some major loyalty points from your pet. You can cash them in later for better listening, calmer behavior, and more attentiveness to you. This is the way of the Peaceful Alpha.

Jesse Sternberg is a mindfulness teacher, meditation instructor, and master dog trainer. The founder of the Peaceful Alpha Project, he has been working with animals for more than 30 years. He lives in Toronto, Canada.

Enlightened Dog Training by Jesse Sternberg © 2021 Findhorn Press. Printed with permission from the publisher Inner Traditions International. www.InnerTraditions.com

Availability: Usually ships within 1-2 business days. Price: $20.00. To purchase this book visit B&N.com, Amazon.com, InnerTraditions.com, or your local bookstore


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