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Former SEAL Eric Davis with K9 Cyrrah and K9 Boldt at the YPO Michigan West Leadership Development Retreat

We stand in front of a crowd. My dog lays quietly at my feet, the words “Do Not Pet” printed in bold on her working vest, doing their job to keep onlookers away. I glance over at my colleague, former Navy SEAL Eric Davis, and give him a sly smile. No one in the audience knows that my dog is actually a social butterfly – all they see is gnashing teeth and flying saliva as she barks, her display instilling fear as Eric begins his lecture.

He looks down at his notes and reads a paragraph aloud as the crowd is instantly hushed.

“They have extremely high drive and are excessively exuberant and playful. This level of energy often spans from their youth into adulthood. They can act out, be destructive and develop bad behaviors if not given enough stimulation and exercise. This often causes problems for owners who are not familiar with such a breed.”

The crowd glances at the dog. He then announces, “This is the breed description of the Belgian Malinois, some of the most elite K9 performers in the world.

The crowd nods in agreement.

“Now,” he pauses for dramatic effect, “what would we say about humans possessing the same traits? What would we say about a high energy, driven individual who acts out, is destructive or develops bad behaviors when not given appropriate stimulation or exercise?”

The participants look befuddled now.

“Maybe we would call it a disorder…,” he continues. “Anxiety? ADHD perhaps? OCD?

In K9s, these are our top performers – the ones we select to do the most difficult jobs. In humans, however, these are typically categorized as flaws…..”

The room is silent now.

“How many of you….,” he pauses as he scans the room, “can relate to any or all of those descriptors?”

Hands shoot up as the room of high performing executives instantly latches onto the parallels.

“This isn’t a disorder….,” he continues, “we are simply a different breed.”

Smiles flash across the faces of the participants as they now understand why we are standing at the head of the boardroom with high performing security K9s at our feet. And from there, now that he’s cemented their attention, Eric begins teaching the group about leadership development, teamwork, and communication through a handful of expertly trained K9s.

 


Hitting Home

I’ve heard this speech countless times as we’ve visited team after team of executives, teaching them about human psychology and behavior through basic principles of training high performing K9s. Typically, I bring a handful of my K9s and perhaps a second professional handler to demonstrate the effects of different training styles.

I know Eric well. And I’ve worked alongside several of his Navy SEAL colleagues for years now. After spending time with him and his former teammates, I can honestly say without a doubt that their personalities mirror that of the working Belgian Malinois more closely than just about anyone I’ve met. Driven, intense, athletic, protective, exceptionally loyal, a little mean, and a heck of a lot of crazy would be a solid and interchangeable description between these men and the Malinois.

And as I listened to the speech for the umpteenth time, I had never drawn parallels to myself or my own life. In fact, rarely had I looked at any of the talks from a personal perspective. Perhaps I was too busy thinking about the talk I was about to give on Operant Conditioning. Perhaps I was worried about my dogs behaving. Whatever the reason, I never drew personal comparisons when he gave his talks. Never, that is, until the other day.

 


A Different Breed

If you’ve followed my blog at all, you’ve met K9 Shank, my little riot dog who I purchased to train as my executive K9 after he was returned to his breeder at 4.5 months old due to his unruly aggression. He is a handful to say the least, but I think the challenge is typically what I am after in life, and for that reason, he and I are the perfect match.

Just yesterday, Shank and I ventured out on our daily walk. His excitement was off the charts as we exited the house and ventured off into the the surrounding neighborhood. Christmas decorations regularly caught his attention, and at one point, he lunged across my body, grabbing a life sized Boxer in a Santa hat that barked the tune of Jingle Bells fortuitously as we passed.

Just about everything set him off that day. Passing cars were too much to bear, and a child on a skateboard whizzing by just about sent him into a fury. I’m used to pristine focus out of my guy, but that day, I had lost him before we even started. He was out of his mind, and there was not much I could do to get him back.

The next day, we headed up to training. I watched the other handlers as they paraded their dogs onto the training field. Calm, cool, and collected – their dogs maintained laser focus as they pranced perfectly alongside their handlers. I took note as a young puppy, all of 6 months old, laid quietly in a down stay as his owner talked to another club member, never budging to explore or investigate his surroundings.

Then, it was our turn. Shank was a different story. While his obedience was pristine, and he maintained a perfect heel with left and right hand turns that were flashy and on point, he lacked the quiet patience the handful of dogs that preceded us had shown. He was headstrong and ready for something….anything fun to happen. And you could see it in the gleam in his eyes. He was impatient, but he wasn’t barking. In fact, he wasn’t doing anything terribly offensive. He just had a different look than the other dogs. Always at the ready, always watching the world out of the corner of his eye and desperately waiting….no….begging, grinning manically as if trying to manipulate me into a game of tug.

He was constantly thinking, his mind rushing at a mile a minute, and I as his handler was doing the same. It was only then that I heard Eric’s speech replaying in my head.

“We are just a different breed.”

 


 

Intellectual, analytical, over-thinker. Highly driven, incredibly stubborn and hard headed, loyal to a fault, persuasive, argumentative, sensitive (a bit of a pansy really), thrill seeking individual with a complete lack of patience and very few social graces who is a little angry and a little mean.

This perfectly describes both my dog and I. And along with the sweeping realization of it all, I realized I was in trouble.

I’m not sure how it happened. I’m not sure if I chose him because I saw myself in his angsty personality. Or if our spending so much time together created the monster I saw before me. But one thing was for sure….two wrongs definitely didn’t make a right, and now I knew I would have to work hard at changing some of my own behavior in order to help him change his. While I loved his edge, loved his angst, and loved his character, there were a few gleaming problems in my little mirror that needed fine tuning, and to accomplish that, I had to go against my own grain….this would be no easy feat.

 


Changing my game

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The next day, Shank and I headed out for our daily walk. As is typically the case, my exuberant and lacking-in-the-patience-department  pup was brimming with anticipation. He grabbed the leash in his mouth, finding any way possible to satiate his excitement. He bounced off the walls (literally) as he begged me to hurry up already. Typically I would comply. I was as anxious to go as he was! But today, I took a deep breath and waited.

Being the over thinker he was, he began cycling commands, trying desperately to find the one thing that would make me open the door so we could begin our adventure.

I waited.

He grabbed the leash, running through the house, and landing triumphantly in a down at my feet, gazing up at me with a giant grin, knowing I’d cave to his cuteness.

But I didn’t cave (although I did laugh a little inside).

After what seemed like an eternity, he settled, and as soon as he was calm, we ventured out into the neighborhood.

I walked slowly and methodically, just as I had seen the other handlers do that day on the training field, a lightbulb going off that perhaps my movements were too quick and were in fact cueing impatience in my pup who was all too much like his owner.

As I moved at what felt like a snail’s pace, my body itched with frustration at the sheer desire to GO. And at that moment, I instantly knew how my dog felt. He lacked patience because I lacked patience. We were trapped in a vicious cycle, the two of us perpetuating the other’s faults. It would be a huge challenge, but in order for us to grow together, I knew we had to make a change.

My movements became calculated, my pace steady, and my turns quiet and well thought out. And as Shank pulsed beside me with frantic energy, trying desperately to get me to hurry up already, his frustration slowly began to subside. By the end of our hour-long walk, he was quiet and patient, defaulting to my side with calm and laid back energy, even passing up the offensive Boxer in the Santa hat that had effectively taunted him the day prior.

 


 

I can confidently tell you that without a doubt, having patience in my work with my dog and making my movements calm and calculated was one of the hardest endeavors I have had to face. While I love my dog’s powerful character, mean, hard headed, and argumentative nature for some applications, in others, it’s probably best for both of us to work against our grain.

By being patient, I was able to plan our next move. I was able to put my overthinking to use and assess my dog’s behaviors step by step so we could perfect our heel. In response, he stopped reacting to my jerky and quick movements. He sunk into his walk and moved quietly, confidently, just as those dogs had the day before on the training field.

 


 

Dogs are furry mirrors into our souls. Whether we choose our dogs because we consciously or subconsciously see ourselves in their personalities, because we see those traits we wish we possessed, or whether we grow and evolve together, our K9s can teach us a great deal about ourselves if we only have the humility to learn.

Next time your dog acts out, it might be worth your while to take a hard look at yourself. Perhaps there is something you might be communicating that is causing or perpetuating the behavior. Your behavior might be to blame, and if so, it’s time to make a change. Changing your behavior might be hard, and going against your own grain is even harder. But sometimes it’s for the best…. not just for your dog, but for you as well. Project those traits you want your dog to have, even if they go against your personality…who knows, your dog may just teach you a thing or two!

Oh, and next time someone tries to tell you that being an over-thinker, being hard headed, stubborn, driven, motivated, impatient, argumentative, or sensitive are negative traits, just remember…

“We are just a different breed.”


To learn more about our Leadership Development and Corporate Training, and to see some of our high performing K9s at work, check out partner companies SM Leaders and Average Frog


Meagan Karnes
Meagan Karnes

Meagan has been training dogs professionally since 2002, most recently working with private security, military and law enforcement to provide K9s for high level applications. She owns both The Collared Scholar, an online dog training academy, and 690 Security Services, a company that trains and deploys Executive Security and Protection K9s to private customers. She recently partnered with both Average Frog and SM Leaders, who repurpose the proven performance principles of the Navy SEALs for individuals and organizations.

    4 replies to "A Different Breed: Is Your Dog a Reflection of Yourself?"

    • Maren Bell Jones

      As a working dog vet, I 110% prefer a good agitation harness. However, emphasis is on good. Many of these “tactical” harnesses which cross over the shoulder blades are not good for the dog’s shoulder range of motion, yet they have crossed over into the sport world. I prefer a harness that the dog can pull into safely and effectively without restricting ROM. Then ideally the dog is wearing a separate flat collar for other applications as desired.

    • Richard

      Many Hollywood movies like to portrait a good dog as one who is very friendly, gentle laid back and soft and bad dogs are high energy always snarling with teeth showing and vicious; but that is not really true in the real world because dogs are humans are two different breeds. Owners can get very frustrated and so can their dogs if they don’t really understand that. And owners need to know their dogs to communicate effectively with their dogs.

    • alice bixler

      Dogs are furry mirrors into our souls. That’s a memorable line. So true. Thanks for providing a feast for thought.

    • barbara canil

      yes, i suppose most of the points made above are accurate, but it is too bad the ‘more’ important similarities between people and their dogs are not also mentioned. all of the very’ human’ softer love between dog and person, all of the gentle wishes of most dogs and their people, the very close companionship in the gentle souls of the human and the canine. so close to each other that the dog knows the human’s language and can react to any spoken word and body language, the life saving togetherness of these two beings of our earth, when the person has lost family, is left alone, the sweetness of the dog allowing friends and children to love them, and they are loved back. the description of the ‘high’ drive of both the human and the dog is fine, but that in my opinion is the minority of relationships between people and their dogs. i have had labradors all of my life, and have seen a couple of labs that have trouble relating gently to people, but the large majority are so zoned into the life of people, and automatically know how to adjust and fit right into the life and routine of almost any human they have been asked to spend their lives with. (that includes the field trial, field labs.)the flip side of all of this, is the poor treatment many times of the person toward their dogs, but for the most part, without all of the gentle, loving and happy dogs, who love their lives with their people, whether one person or a whole family, the human race would be so much lonlier and needier without their wonderful canines, (and cats). those highly driven, high maintenance dogs and people, who seem to need each other, have to do what they do, but most of those dogs and same types of people can have a lot of trouble fitting into a serene, quiet, gentle, slower moving type of life, so zeroing in on them doesn’t at all describe the majority of life between people and their dogs. i respect the amount of work that goes into training ‘those’ types of dogs to ‘work’ for military etc., but at the same time i would probably wish that ‘those’ dogs could have been trained to learn to settle more, and enjoy a more relaxed kind of life, but at the same time, i would probably think the same thing about the human who trains him, as those types of humans also could learn something, from enjoying total quiet at times, total relaxation, slow down, look around, see the world from a more quiet point of view, BUT thats just me, thats who i am, thanks for the article, interesting read.

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