Good is better than evil ‘cause it’s nicer!

Mammy Yokum (from the Little Abner comic strip by Al Capp)

Part One

I received an email the other day from one very unhappy camper. She was watching a movie about Buck Buchanan, a renowned horse whisperer and there’s a part in the show that showed horses being beaten and whipped mercilessly. Then it showed Buck using positive methods. Years ago I remember being in a theater watching this movie. Whenever he came on the screen, it seemed like a collective sigh of relief went up from the audience.

The movie reminded her of her own situation. She talked about other trainers in her city all using shock collars and prong collars. She was bemoaning the fact that, as a newly certified dog trainer, she was a little depressed because she didn’t feel she could do anything about it. She cringed whenever she was on a walk and she could see some guy yelling and jerking his little puppy. She felt for all the poor dogs she saw being shocked and pinned to the ground. But because of the entrenched training schools in her city, hers was an uphill battle trying to get people to try nonviolent training. She was feeling like a minnow swimming in an ocean of insensitivity. What a bummer. I could easily relate. And It’s not only horses and dogs but people too who are mistreated.

For all the people in the trenches, rescuing dogs and horses and all manner of critters each and every day and trying to not only save their lives but to improve the quality of their lives with positive training, it can get a bit disheartening when surrounded by people espousing punishment. What can be done?

When I switched to positive training, like so many others back in the eighties, I had a great teacher who taught me two things: Breathe and Believe. Positive Dog training to the rescue!


In my 1999 book The Dog Whisperer, I wrote a whole chapter on the power of breath. That is, a particular breath called the easy breath which is also known as the relaxed breath, diaphragmatic breathing and a few other names. I’m embedding a link from my DVD that demonstrates how to do it.

Why breathe? The old joke says, “Well, where would you be if you didn’t?” In our children’s dog training classes we say, “if you expect your dog to be in control, you have to be in control first.” So we teach the “easy breath.” Yet breathing is the last thing most teachers or their clients think about when they come into a dog training class. Breathing is the single most important tool in a trainer’s toolbox. How you feel affects your breath. Fortunately the reverse is also true: your breath affects how you feel AND your ability to think straight and perform at optimum efficiency. Certain breathing patterns can relax the people around you and their dogs. Easy breathing oxygenates your blood and energizes every cell in your body. And most importantly, breathing helps us think clearly and centers us. We are able to connect with who we are and that is, compassionate and skilled dog trainers!

As you continue to practice, you’ll find your breathing will automatically and naturally lengthen in time. Within a few days or weeks you’ll be able to comfortably breathe in and out for ten to twenty seconds. Length of time is not the primary importance. How relaxed your breathing is. The length will take care of itself. The key to relaxing is to listen to the breath. As an experiment, gently close you ears and listen to familiarize yourself with the sound. Then consciously relax your breath as you practice. With practice you’ll get better and better until you’ll eventually be able to relax at will.

If you relax and focus your energy through breathing people around you will mirror your behavior and also relax to one degree or another. They will begin to look at the situation as you do for what it was: a single moment. Nothing more. You are in control. Your calm and controlled affect of understanding, leadership and control coupled with your step-by-step resolution to the problem has a dramatic, lasting effect on your class. See for yourself what breathing can do.

Believe: One person CAN make a difference

One person can make a difference and one and just one act can also have a tremendous impact. On one hand, think of the Comfort Dogs used to help the children in the aftermath of Sandy Hook Elementary school. Another example is the act of Rosa Parks. The point I’m trying to make is that each and every small act helps shape future behavior AND temperament for both dogs and us.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr had a great quote. When asked why he wasn’t more confrontational in his quest for freedom and equality, he said, “If our goal is peace, our means must be peaceful.”

It doesn’t mean we become doormats when faced with adversity, like trainers who espouse physical punishment getting in your face and yelling at you, as one woman once did with me. “You have no idea what you’re talking about, you expletive ! Obviously you’ve never trained cattle dogs. They are tough dogs that need to know who’s boss! Your positive methods would never work!” When I pointed out I had two cattle dogs currently enrolled in my classes and they seem to be doing just fine, she exploded even more. “Oh you think you’re so smart. You have answers for everything you expletive!” “Madam, you’re extremely rude and you’re holding up the line. If you’re really interested in seeing for yourself how positive training can work with cattle dogs, find a trainer who’ll demonstrate it for you. In the meantime, leave.” Amazingly, the people in line actually applauded. Funny stuff.

I tell people that behaviors, like relationships, are like plants. They take time to grow. Our job is to create the ideal environment so that the dog’s behavior can grow. And, as all trainers know, our demeanor and our actions create an environment where other people’s behaviors can change and grow. The future will take care of itself.

This brings us back to the woman who I told you about at the start of this blog. I figured I could handle two things at once so I’m writing this blog as an answer to her, along with a personal note. We dog trainers are great at multi-tasking :0)

Recommended Resources:


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