In dog training, state of mind is everything. It is single-handedly the biggest influence on dog behavior. It affects how your dog reacts to certain situations, stimuli, environments, people, other dogs, bicycles, sounds, movements, everything. State of mind impacts behavior – for better or for worse.

Think of it from the human point of view. Imagine leaving work after a terrible day: You’re edgy, anxious and angry – then someone cuts you off in traffic -and you explode. Yelling, cursing, having an entire conversation with someone who may not even realize you exist. Now imagine leaving a yoga session where you feel relaxed and at ease, comfortable in your own skin. While driving home, someone cuts in front of you so you smile, slow down and wave them in. Not a big deal, right? Two different mindsets, similar situations, completely different outcomes.
Pretend the person who leaves work frustrated is what we can a “reactive” dog. Barking, lunging, pulling on the leash, flipping around, twisting, rolling on the ground…reactive dogs lose their ever-lovin’ minds over the smallest of things. These dogs are stressed and anxious, lack boundaries and aren’t satisfied with their life because although they may be loved and have the best food, the best toys, the best everything, they lack the basic necessities: Exercise, training and mental stimulation. Reactive dogs, aggressive dogs, anxious dogs…they all have unhealthy states of mind. The smallest things can trigger the biggest reactions. I see this all the time in dealing with rehabilitation cases. The dogs are in such a bad place mentally that they physically cannot control their own bodies.
Dogs in a mentally good place don’t respond in the same way. In fact, they usually don’t respond at all. This is what I call a balanced dog. A dog who has found his own version of Zen. He’s calm, content, happy and has what he needs in life. He feels good about himself, he understands what’s expected of him and he’s happy to obey. He’s good at doing something, and he’s happy to do nothing at all. His state of mind reflects someone at peace with himself.
State of mind affects everything. It can work for you with your dog, and it can work against you. And if you think your behavior (YOUR state of mind) doesn’t affect your dog, you couldn’t be more wrong. Dogs are pack members, and as such they reflect the energy of the group they’re in. As a human being, you are (or at least SHOULD be) your dog’s leader. Assuming you are, you should understand just how important your role is for your dog. YOU affect your dog. YOU can help your dog relax. You can turn your dog’s energy ON and OFF. Everything you do – from the way you move, to the way you talk, to the energy you project – affects your dog.
But helping a dog reach a calm state of mind is more than just playing the role of pack leader. And to be perfectly honest, many of you (try as you may!) don’t actually know what a pack leader is, so you PRETEND and, unfortunately, dogs are body language experts and as such, they’re excellent lie detectors. For this reason, and many others, dogs live in a state of chaos. They don’t have rules at home (because people think of rules as a bad thing). They don’t have structure (because people mistakenly think without rules their dogs are free to be ‘happy’ and ‘carefree’). There isn’t much expected of them and everything comes for free (food, love, toys, and the list goes on and on). So dogs, especially working breeds, are stuck in a world that doesn’t make sense to them. They’re frustrated, angry, edgy and cannot handle stress because they don’t know how to. Many of them are forced into leadership roles they aren’t qualified for. They’re unhappy, uncomfortable and ready to explode. Everything sets them off. Everything worries them. The slightest change in their environment throws them off-kilter. Physically, they’re under exercised. Mentally, they’re rarely if ever challenged. Training? Sit and shake, do you really think that counts as training? These dogs are suffering. All in the name of love. We love our dogs, but we don’t understand them.
If you love your dog, help him find his own inner peace. Help him learn to handle stress. Help him be comfortable in his own skin. Give him what he needs: daily rigorous exercise, training, rules, structure, mental stimulation, LEADERSHIP. Get help. Professional help (not just internet tips). Find an experience, certified BEHAVIOR trainer who can help you bring out the best in your dog. For us, there’s nothing more rewarding than setting you up for success so your dog can live a good life.
We may tell you things you don’t want to hear. We may point out flaws in the relationship. We may tell you to DO THIS and don’t do that. But it’s all for your own good, and most importantly it’s for your dog. We see things you don’t. We know things you don’t yet understand. We understand your dog- his wants, his needs, how he feels. We have tips, techniques, methods, behaviors, commands – things to teach you and your dog, concepts to learn, methods to master. We can help your dog reach a calm state of mind…so that dogs, and cats, and people and cars…are nothing but a teeny tiny totally insignificant ((blip)) on the radar.
In dog training, state of mind……is everything.
-Amy Pishner is a Canine Training and Behavior Specialist and the owner of Valor K9 Academy, LLC. Amy specializes in puppy imprint training, basic obedience and behavior rehabilitation training.