A workshop student became irritated that her dog had embarked on a barking jag. What had started as a simple call for attention had escalated into a loud unstoppable flood of rhyming sounds, much like an urban poetry open mic night. My student was unable to concentrate on the lecture and felt responsible for her dog, who was obnoxiously distracting the rest of the class. She turned toward her dog, opened her eyes wide, furrowed her brows, and silenced him with the powerful energy of her glare. It was a look that froze him in his tracks. Her message was clear and unequivocal; as rock steady as her eyes.
Fortunately for me, she was defining her dog’s behavior boundary. The dog, who was fixated on her, instantly got the message, mumbled some canine expletive, and jumped back onto the safe side. My student was the one in control. And control, she did, wordlessly, from across the classroom.
Master dog handler with his hunting dogs
Several years ago, in 2000, I had the opportunity to demonstrate PetMassageTM at a massive dog show in the UK; the Crufts Show in Birmingham. While I was waiting one of my turns to enter the arena to give my presentation, I had the opportunity to watch a profoundly amazing presentation given by an incredible dog handler with his half dozen hunting dogs. The crowd watched as he and his assistants constructed several blinds around the arena, mounds of straw and twigs, and hid decoys in them.
He directed all of his dogs the movements of his eyes. When he was ready to begin, he stood, leaning forward slightly on his cane; his dogs all crouched at attention, watching him, waiting for instructions. He worked each dog, one at a time by looking at them, making his connection and shifting his eyes to where he wanted the dog to go. His eyes signaled them move right, move left, stop, back up, and turn around. He maneuvered each dog to a different blind where they discovered the decoy and retrieved it to him. The other dogs watched and waited for their time in his eyes.
You know the look
You know what I am talking about. You’ve seen it. You’ve felt it. You’ve used it with your dogs, your family, your significant other(s), your coworkers, your clients, and your friends.
Effects of eyes
Looks are often louder and clearer than our words. A look can be warm and loving. A look can be devastating. A look can make the difference between a loving, nurturing experience and one that initiates a fight response. The intensity of a look shows intent. The direction of the look is directive.
Looking at PetMassageTM dogs
Most dogs come to the (PetMassageTM) table open, friendly, ready to accept any affection that is offered. These dogs are easy. We do not have to walk of eggs, concerned that we might inadvertently push the wrong button that would spark the mal-intentioned response. These dogs you can look at all you want. We can gaze into their eyes. We can closely examine areas that might be causing them discomfort.
Look like a leader
Other dogs, those who have different histories and different temperaments, can interpret the way you are looking at them with suspicion and fear. We need to be more restrained and controlled with the way we look at them. A direct gaze is confrontational, as we saw above. A direct, controlling gaze is threatening to a dog and can quickly develop into aggression. The leader owns the space. The leader is the one who controls the look and administers the look; not the one who obeys it.
Awareness and care in using eyes
So with some dogs, and every new client who I am first meeting, I am careful about how I use my eyes. Then, when I have established what is and what isn’t safe and comfortable for both of us, we can begin our PetMassageTM.
In PetMassageTM the effects of eyes, hands and breath are the same.
Soft flexible eyes, like soft flexible hands are welcoming, supportive and nurturing. Hard fixed eyes, like stiff, inflexible fingers send the message of a hard correction. Held breath creates a feeling of inflexibility, discomfort, fear and anxiety, while continuous easy breathing allows our bodies to feel balanced, and present.
Soft eyes, hands, and breath work together to promote comfort and well being in our dogs.