Candy Kennedy – Trials and Errors

Psych 101


Most people understand the concept of physical pressure more than psychological pressure. It seems to be easier for students to see someone “correct” a dog physically (because they can actually see it happen) than psychologically (which has to be interpreted ).

But, I think the best corrections are psychological not physical. If you don’t learn how to affect his mind (not just make him mind) you will lose training techniques that a good (notice I said good) trainer can offer you. They may be subtle but they are extremely valuable in shaping your dogs.

A trainer can exert psychological pressure on a dog in a lot of ways. You influence your dogs attitude before you ever send the dog for sheep.  If you are tense, stiff, distracted, upset, not focused …  your intended or unintended body language can affect your entire run or work session. The tone or volume of voice, your “frame of mind” and many other subtle things are interpreted by these very intuitive dog – even if YOU aren’t aware of it.

The dogs nature has a lot to do with how he reacts or accepts psychological pressure. Some dogs are so “wired” they tend to react to any “stress factor” with excitement – while another “more sensitive” one might react by shutting down.  A good trainer will  1) apply psychological (or physical) pressures, 2) observe the dogs reaction, and then 3) modify that pressure.

In the psychological context, observing how a dog interacts with the trainer is telling. Sometimes, what you see is a well-trained dog but no connection … just a dog doing what he is told. The dog may be obedient to commands but neither handler nor dog are exchanging information.

Where a good trainer wants the dog as a teammate. So, no matter the “nature” of the dog, if trained correctly, he will understand that you and he are working together towards a common goal. I do believe that most people interested in working dogs really want the opportunity to build a relationship with their dog.

Learn to observe the interaction between a dog and trainer (including yourself). A dog’s body language is so telling if you are willing to spend the time to learn … it will teach you what you are really SAYING to your dog (not just what you “meant” to say). For instance, a dog bending away whenever the handler moves can say … he’s afraid of the handler OR he’s ready to go to work. Look at his ears, his expression, his attitude NOT just what he is physically doing … but what he is thinking. You need to understand that although a response from two dogs physically looks the same … it can psychologically mean something totally different.

8 responses

  1. Candy, another very informative and helpful post! This issue – body language and what it tells my dogs – is what I have really been working on! My older dog reads me different than my two young dogs. So, if I want to become a successful teammate with my young dogs, I have to learn what “psych buttons” to push for them! Always enjoy your posts!


    April 9, 2013 at 12:49 pm

    • Thanks! Glad it helps … always nice to hear.

      April 9, 2013 at 7:12 pm

  2. Betty Belliveau

    May I post this to Face Book ?

    April 9, 2013 at 7:01 pm

    • Sure more than welcome – that’s what I do it for – sharing :@)

      April 9, 2013 at 7:02 pm

  3. Thanks for the reminder that our dogs know much more with what’s going on in our brains than we do! One of my dogs knows when I just think about going to the kitchen. The other is just so eager to please us, he’s really easy to train. I got lucky with my 2 smarty pants border collies!

    April 9, 2013 at 7:13 pm

  4. Spot on yet again!!!! thanks

    April 10, 2013 at 7:31 am

  5. Thanks – appreciate your input!

    April 10, 2013 at 7:33 am

  6. Mary

    Adored your post! So accurate, applies beyond herding!

    September 26, 2013 at 2:42 pm

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