Having a calm, clear mind when working with your dog is an essential—but often overlooked—aspect of successful training. This is especially important when you have a sensitive dog who either gets nervous or aggressive around stimuli. Dogs can sense our energy, and sometimes that can be the factor that determines our dogs’ ability to listen to us. If you’re angry, upset, or frustrated, your dog can read your body language and they quickly learn to avoid you when you’re angry. Your tension can also add more stress to your dog, which can increase hyperactivity, anxiety, or aggression.

I work with dogs with behavioral problems on a daily basis, so it’s important for me to surround myself with positive energy to prevent any stressors taking over. I cannot train dogs if I’m not in a calm and relaxed state. I also make it a point never to displace any bad energy, such as frustration or impatience, on my own dogs. My full schedule prevents me from taking yoga or dance classes, which used to be my way of relaxing, so I have made my home a place I can reset and recharge. Therefore, every night after work I can take in all the positive energy I find in my home and start the next morning fresh. When people comment on my patience, I tell them it comes with a lot of help. Here are some things you can do to help yourself become a more patient and calm dog handler:

  • Add a lavender fragrance in the room where you spend the most time.
  • Surround yourself with positive, calming pastel colors
  • Avoid objects with sharp corners. Instead of squares, try oval-shaped decorating pieces. For example, my couches have rounded corners, and my mirror is an oval, not a square.
  • Invest in fresh flowers for your home.
  • For 10 minutes every day, turn off all electric devices: TV, music, phones, etc.
  • Eat your meals without checking your phone or watching TV.
  • Look out the window. Sometimes I like to have my curtains open all the way to let the bright sunshine in; at other times, I close the curtains just enough so that all I can see are the trees outside my home. I live in a busy urban neighborhood, but this simple trick makes me feel like I’m surrounded by nature.

If you’re having a bad day and need to handle your dog, try one or more of these ideas:

  • Smile—even if your heart isn’t in it, the physical act of smiling will make you feel better. (Charles Darwin noted this way back in 1872; see http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/smile-it-could-make-you-happier/)
  • Focus on routes or places that tend to be less distracting. Perhaps walk back and forth in the same block. Avoid stimulating areas that will only increase your dog’s distraction level and decrease your patience.
  • If you find yourself getting frustrated, avoid any verbal commands and instead try to use your body language and hand cues for guidance. We humans tend to have a tough time controlling our tone of voice when we’re upset.
  • Slow down your movements. When we get anxious or angry, we often speed up our movements. Slowing down everything brings greater awareness to your actions, keeps your mind busy, and prevents you from over-thinking and replaying the event that got you upset.
  • Remember the event or trigger that made you upset, so that you don’t displace those feelings onto your dogs.

In dog training, the handler is sometimes the biggest influential factor in a dog’s emotional state. When handlers bring impatience, frustration, and stress to the training experience, they can become the dogs’ biggest obstacle in becoming well balanced and calm—but handlers with a calm, clear mind make training a joyful process both for themselves and their dogs.