April 7, 2019

“The effect you have on others is the most valuable currency there is.” – Jim Carrey

A few weeks ago, I wrote about adopting our newest four-footed family member, Cagney.  After our beloved little rescue Chihuahua, Diamond, died unexpectedly in February, we knew immediately that we wanted to provide a home for another deserving rescue and Cagney came to us quickly and easily through the Nextdoor neighborhood website.

Cagney had a neglectful owner who kept him chained on a backyard patio for about two years, with only a lawnmower grass-catcher for a bed.  Eventually, his rescuer Sue was able to get custody of him and her friend Atissa took on the task of acclimating him to indoor life and finding him a good home, as these two wonderful women have done for many other dogs.

My husband Rick and I fell in love with Cagney at first meeting and the feeling was mutual.  He is adorable and loving and cuddly.  We are amazed at his loving, playful disposition, given that he had so little contact with people or other animals for most of his young life.  (Our vet estimates his age as 2-3 years old.)

He’s a smart little guy – part Border Collie and part Dachshund, from the looks of him — and Atissa was able to housebreak him and teach him to sit on command in a short time.  But soon after we took him into our home, we realized that his manners still needed “polishing” in a few areas.  He’s young and energetic and needs a lot of exercise and attention.  No problem.  Rick and I both work from home and he gets a lot of affection and attention from both of us all day.

The exercise part was a little trickier because he was not fully acclimated to walking on a leash.  I started walking him each morning with a harness, but soon found two major problems with that. He is small but very strong, and he would strain on the leash to go faster, dragging me along behind him.  And, more importantly, he is skittish around strangers and other dogs.  Whenever he sees another human of any age, he barks ferociously, and when he sees another dog – even at a distance – he barks, growls and snarls like a deranged hound from hell.

It was humiliating to have Cagney snarling at my neighbors and all the other placid, well-behaved dogs walking around us.  So we decided to get expert help on the proper way to train him, and hired a great trainer who came highly recommended on the same website where we originally found Cagney.

Dr. Eric Liss (chiropractor by day, dog whisperer by night) gave us just one hour of expert training and Cagney became a new dog.  It seemed like magic to us, but to Dr. Eric, it was simple: Understand how a dog thinks and then approach him with tools and techniques that make sense to HIM.  (As my BFF Lisa likes to say, “Dogs are not people in fur suits.”)

I want to share with you now the three lessons I learned from Dr. Eric’s simple and effective training techniques that can be applied to ANY goal you want to achieve or ANY challenge you must overcome:

LESSON ONE: Most of our fears are unfounded. This is really Cagney’s lesson. Without normal early socialization with other dogs or daily interactions with people who loved on him, Cagney probably came to view strangers and other dogs as threats.  He’s not really mean at all — just scared. He masks his fear by being loud and ferocious-sounding, hoping his bluff will scare them off.  But they aren’t really threats.  His fears are unfounded.

Isn’t this true of most of our fears when we pursue a Big Goal or face a challenge?  We immediately imagine a Worst Case Scenario outcome (failure, overwhelm, public humiliation, disappointed loved ones, etc. etc. etc.) and paint it in vivid detail in our imagination.  We get ourselves all worked up over something that almost never comes to pass or, if it does, turns out to be a lot less dire than our imagination cooked up.  We waste time and energy “barking” at nothing.

The mind (canine or human) can only hold one thought at a time.  Dr. Eric showed us how to redirect Cagney from focusing on the perceived threat, enabling him to calm down very quickly.  Now, when we encounter another person or dog on our walks, I know how to calmly reassure him and re-focus him to move on, and he is soon happily sniffing the bushes once again. You can also break the fear cycle by re-focusing your thoughts on the outcome you WANT, instead of imagining what you DON’T want.

LESSON TWO: Use the right tools. The harness was not the right equipment for Cagney’s walks. He was able to pull against the leash as hard as he could without discomfort, and there was nothing I could do to redirect him from barking at dogs and people. Dr. Eric brought a small prong collar for Cagney, which I had always imagined was a sharp, cruel instrument of torture.  But when I saw it up close, I realized the prongs are not sharp at all and it won’t choke him.  If he pulls against the chain with any force, it’s going to make him uncomfortable, but it’s not going to hurt him.  With a prong collar, it’s easy to redirect him with a light flick of the leash, instead of trying to pull against the cloth harness with all my might, which only gets him more agitated.

Whenever we pursue a goal, or face a challenge, we must use the right tools.  Sometimes they are obvious to us, but we avoid them because they make us emotionally “uncomfortable.” Many of my network marketing clients admit they have a “phone phobia” of speaking to a prospective customer or business partner.  They feel more comfortable texting.  And their prospect is also very comfortable ignoring their texts, just the way Cagney ignored me pulling on the harness.

But when they pick up the phone and CALL, even if they end up leaving a voice mail, my clients are always amazed at how quickly most people respond.  That’s because your energy is transmitted through your voice much more effectively than through flat words on a screen.  There’s no warm, friendly and inviting tone conveyed in a text.

So if you find that you are avoiding whatever tools you know you need to get the job done, ask yourself if you are really COMMITTED to reaching your goal.  If you are, you will find that a small amount of discomfort is worth it, if it leads to a great amount of success and pleasure.  Cagney’s walks are now a pleasure for both of us, thanks to one simple tool and knowing how to use it properly.

LESSON THREE: Energy is everything. This is the biggest lesson I got from Dr. Eric’s instructions. Whenever I panicked and tried to correct Cagney by yelling “NO!” it only escalated his anxiety and got us both more upset.  Rick and I learned that dogs don’t really understand words like “sit” and “stay.”  They respond to the tone and body language we use when we give those commands. Dogs are masterful at reading our energy and responding to it.  My own self-conscious anxiety over “What will the neighbors think of his behavior?” was actually getting him more worked up and causing more bad behavior.  Once I learned to relax, give a light flick of his chain, use a reassuring tone with “It’s OK,” and walk on, Cagney soon stopped barking, forgot about the “threat” that wasn’t real and followed my lead.

Humans are biological creatures too, and we respond to subtle energy cues from other people, just as dogs do.  The energy you bring to an interaction is going to have a big impact on the other person’s response.  As the Law of Attraction states, energy attracts like energy.”  You can decide what energy you want to embody and then direct your subconscious mind to put it into action by stating aloud to yourself how YOU want to show up in the situation. For example, “I am calm.  I am relaxed.  I am in control.” The positive energy you consciously choose to embody will affect the other people you are interacting with. Positive energy is stronger than negative energy, so when I decided to feel confident, adopt a cheerful, reassuring tone of voice and take control of my physical manner, Cagney’s negative energy quickly dissipated and reflected my own calm.  

There you have it!  It’s not rocket science, as Dr. Eric can attest.  You can make any Big Goal a reality or overcome any problem situation, if you will remember these three basic principles and put them into play….Did someone say “PLAY”?!  Cagney’s got a ball in his mouth right now. Guess we gotta go play!

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