Mirrors, Not Just For Your Walls
It has been quite awhile since I have written a post, but chatting with a student the other day I decided my first post of the year would be about something I use every day with student dogs as well as my own; mirroring.
g If you are one of my students you have heard me mention this before, but I will explain what mirroring is. Mirroring is what many dogs naturally do when interacting with each other. Dogs do not inherently understand words. You can teach them "chair" means sit and they will eventually with practice connect those sounds you make with the action of sitting. What mirroring does is shows them through your energy and actions what you want from them. As an example, many times when I first start working with a dog that is reactive to things in their neighborhood on walks, when I have the leash they do not react and their owners swear up and down they would normally lose their mind, so what gives? I do not know exactly what the dog keys off of like the owners do, so I just walk the dog with the expectation that we are both calm and they will behave. This translates down the leash the calm "everything is fine" energy I am expecting of them. What many owners do not even realize they do is when they get by "the yard" or "the road", they tense up and their energy changes. Dogs were specifically bred to read our emotions and body language, it is what makes them such excellent work partners. On the flip side it can make them stressed out and reactive when they sense we are worried about something.
Am I saying simply walk your dog calmly and it will fix everything? Of course not, mirroring is one piece in the puzzle of working with your dog. If I want my dog pumped up and excited, I can act excited and they will join in. Now how I channel that excitement is up to training and purpose. This is the same reason younger dogs learn so well what works and doesn't from older dogs. They see the behaviors of the older dog that get them the things they want (food, affection, privileges) and decide they want that for themselves and start acting in turn. This is also a lot like the old saying "Say anything with enough confidence and people will eventually believe and follow you." If you are calm, assertive, and fair it can help your dog in many ways to emulate that same behavior.
Next time you are working with your dog I challenge you to tune into your own energy and make sure you are projecting an appropriate one. Of course we are always here to help if you need more practice!
For the dogs, Chrissy Rivers