Great Expectations

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As someone who is very passionate about using dogs for educating stock, it can be entertaining to see what many people – both rural and urban – consider acceptable behaviour from their dog. I shake my head at some of the TV trainers giving ‘expert’ advice to unknowing families to correct their problem.  Most of the time it is treating symptoms, not the cause of the issue. I personally think this is unethical as it prevents a better quality of life for both the humans and the dogs! One TV personality that I do respect is Cesar Millan – the dog whisperer. The following passage really resonated with me. Expectancy Theory extends far beyond training man’s best friend and can be applied to many situations. I thought I’d share it with you – it will reinforce what most of you know, and challenge those that don’t!

David McLean
RCS General Manager

Great Expectations – Cesar Millan

I often hear people I work with express their problems with their dog like this: “I’m afraid that I won’t be able to control her on the walk.” “I’m worried about my dog having separation anxiety when I leave home.” “I get nervous when he’s around other dogs.”

I think the common theme here is clear. Words like “afraid,” “worried,” and “nervous” conjure negative emotions, and negative emotions bring with them negative energy. To dogs, the emotional state you’re carrying inside is readable as the energy you project. When you project negative energy to your dog, you will get the result you fear.

One of my office pack members experienced this firsthand with his dog Shadow. She had started to show signs of fearful aggression around strange dogs, and his immediate reaction was to try to avoid such situations. When he saw other dogs approaching on the walk, his response was to become very nervous about a bad outcome. Sure enough, Shadow would sense that energy and go on alert. This would lead directly to the behaviour that Jon, her human, was afraid of.

It wasn’t until he learned to expect a positive outcome that he started seeing it from Shadow. By now, she has become a very calm, happy dog and has met many of the other office dogs without incident, including Junior. Positive change like this is possible, but that change has to begin with the human.

This process is very similar to something called Expectancy Theory, which actually came out of the world of business.                     

The theory was developed by Victor Vroom of the Yale School of Management in the 1960s. The explanation is somewhat complicated, but it boils down to this: You will tend to get the outcome that you expect because your expectations will affect your behaviour, meaning that you will actually bring about the expected outcome.

That may sound a bit circular, but it isn’t — because the process is not a conscious one until you choose to become aware of what’s happening and how you’re doing it. But until you choose to do so, your mindset will affect your energy. This, in turn, will communicate your expectations of a negative outcome to your dog.

This is what happens when you set off on the walk thinking, “My dog is going to pull and I can’t do anything to stop it.” Negativity and fear are emotions that create weak energy states, and make it impossible for you to be an effective pack leader for your dog. Once you learn how to expect a positive outcome and let go of the fear, though, you will begin to see the results you want.

Remember: Your dog already knows how to be a dog, and would be quite calm and balanced in the context of a dog pack. Your job is to learn how to let your dog be a dog, and how not to send confused or fearful signals based in human emotions. Trust your dog and trust your instincts and you’ll find that negative energy going away.


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