Embracing the way your energy affects your dog
I was barely 20 when I found myself on my first presidential explosives detection detail with my military working dog Rocky in Nashville, Tennessee. He was a young, capricious German Shepherd about 3 years old when we were first teamed up together. We passed all of our certifications with flying colors and worked well together as a team even though he had been in the Army longer than me.
Rocky taught me a lot about dog handling, especially on several nights when I chased him around the obedience yard on Fort Campbell because he wasn’t quite ready to retire to his assigned kennel for the evening. He was what K9 handlers called a “push-button dog”, where the dog could work independently without much direction from a handler. Truth be told, I was usually the one that caused errors by giving Rocky too many commands instead of simply standing back and watching him work. We eventually built a bond and trust, but it certainly didn’t happen overnight.
Our first big adventure together to Nashville was a 24-hour whirlwind of very intense work and little rest. And as much as Rocky loved to play, as displayed in the obedience yard long after human working hours, he didn’t always enjoy sniffing for bombs for extended periods. Rocky had a very short “work/rest cycle” as we called it. He could focus on a given task for no longer than 20 minutes before he became wrought with physical stress and had explosive, uncontrollable diarrhea.
Our short assignment in Nashville was simple: provide support to the Secret Service while POTUS gave a brief speech to a local charter school full of high school students. We were assigned several areas to search and clear inside the school, accompanied by two explosive ordinance technicians.
Piece of cake. Or so I thought.
The first half of our shift went swimmingly. We had completed our assigned areas to clear, and we were relaxing in our vehicle waiting for POTUS to arrive and depart before being dismissed. The hard part was done. As soon as I got the all clear on the radio that POTUS was wheels up and nothing went BOOM, we were free to leave.
While Rocky rested in my vehicle in the back of the parking lot of the school, I set off to use the facilities before our return to Fort Campbell that afternoon. Several Secret Service agents stopped me to check my credentials because, well, I looked like a student in an unauthorized area. Still a little shaken from that encounter, I soon got a call on my radio to do a last minute, detailed sweep of the locker room where POTUS would be conducting an impromptu meeting with a family before his speech. POTUS was on the ground and would be arriving in the next 15 minutes.
I grabbed Rocky and set off at a jog because we had to cover the entire campus and complete the sweep prior to the arrival. My adrenaline pulsed, and I forgot to grab Rocky’s bag full of cleaning supplies for his special stress-induced diarrhea problem. Being as this was the end of our shift, that ended up being a critical mistake!!
My inexperience and exhaustion led me to push Rocky past his comfort zone, where he emptied his runny bowels all over the locker room floor. I quickly cleaned up the mess with whatever cheap, unabsorbent brown paper towels they keep in high school locker rooms. Meanwhile, I hear chatter on the radio that POTUS is on site and headed in my direction.
The combined smell of male teenage body odor and diarrhea were enough to send even the hardened Secret Service agent accompanying me straight out the door. We disappeared out a different door as quickly as we had come, and to this day, I’m sure whoever entered that room in the minutes after us did not appreciate the odors that greeted them. President Obama, sir, if you’re reading this. My bad. Also, I’d like to take this opportunity to apologize to whoever’s office trash can I left Rocky’s soiled paper towels in.
The entire journey back to Fort Campbell, I could hear my various K9 instructors’ words play over and over in my head: “It all runs down leash”. My frazzled, anxious, and exhausted energy ran down the leash that day.
Dogs’ senses are undoubtedly superior to ours. They are experts at body language, and their sense of smell is so keen that they can tell the minute something is off with their humans. Their ears are shaped in such a way to quickly consume and process information long before their humans. *And since I’m on that topic: stop repeating yourself to your dog…he heard you the first time.*Their heightened senses are quite literally a super power.
I had been taught up until that day to take care of my assigned military working dog like a piece of equipment, keeping up with his training, doing his daily health checks, and keeping all of his equipment in good working order. I viewed my relationship with Rocky similarly to my service weapon.
It wasn’t until years later and far more experience under my boots that I came to respect the transcendent nature of animals and their use of energy. Regardless of what higher power we humans believe in, most of us can agree that there is an unseen spiritual fabric holding all things together. Many of the humans I work with today are aware it exists, but don’t always know what their animals are trying to tell them.
When I get complaints that someone’s dog won’t stop incessantly barking when company comes over, my response is usually “Good, he’s doing his job! You should worry if he doesn’t bark.” Another common issue that is brought to us is a great family dog that just can’t get along with one person who is a frequent visitor or friend of the family. It doesn’t take long for us to figure out that the dog has picked up on some sort of disorder of energy with this person.
There are, of course, situations where our dogs’ responses to energies and events are not appropriate and need to be addressed. It is the philosophy of Dog Training Camp USA to go into these situations not asking the question of how the behavior can be stopped or changed, but rather “what is your dog trying to tell you?”
We see repeatedly that reframing the question for the human is what fixes these errors in communication between the dog and us. Furthermore, we always find it counterproductive to work against the forces of nature. For example, I’m not going to expect a young Husky to thrive living the couch potato life. He was born to pull a sled for miles and miles a day! I’m never going to expect a Beagle to not hunt – he was made to use his sniffer to find treasures for you!
Respect your dog’s natural intuition and ability, keep an open mind to what he is telling you, and I promise you will achieve a deeper bond with your best friend.
Wanna learn more about dogs and their amazing sensitivities to their bonded humans?
Check out our favorite book!— > Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home by Rupert Sheldrake
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