Sit. Stay. Whisper.
The shared history of humans and dogs goes back thousands of years, possibly begun when a wolf noticed that waiting patiently at the outskirts of a human's fire occasionally resulted in a bite to eat, or maybe when some ancient human scooped up a fluffy motherless wolf pup. However it began, a mutually beneficial relationship was set into motion, with dogs becoming partners in the hunt, protectors of children and livestock, and of course, loyal buddies.
Many of us own dogs simply for the companionship, choosing certain breeds because we like their appearance. When we choose dogs whose energy levels do not match our own, we risk running into behavioral problems that emerge when, while we may smother our pets with treats and attention, we never quite give them what they truly need. Often, this leads to unfulfilled dogs who act out in unacceptable ways. We need to learn to communicate with our canine companions, and all it takes is a whisper, as long as you're speaking your dog's language.
Professional dog handlers such as Suzy Godsey, an "International Dog Whisperer" (she chuckles at the term), are dedicated to showing people how to communicate better with their dogs. "It's interesting terminology, isn't it?" she says. "I don't know what else to really call it. I want to create a better relationship between dog and person."
Ms. Godsey is currently on tour with a group that holds workshops using a set of ideas known as Access Energy Transformation, which serves as a basis for her non-traditional approach to dog "training." A workshop for people and their dogs will be held at the Island Inn in Oak Bluffs this Friday, Sept. 19.
"No two classes are alike," Ms. Godsey says. "I tap into the energy of the whole class. Different people bring different energies, different problems."
Rather than helping owners get their dogs to simply sit or roll over on command, her approach requires asking a question of the dog and then perceiving the dog's energy in return. "I say [the question] out loud - you can say it in any language, the dog responds to all languages, because energy is a language." Whether your dog is an excitable barker, an aggressive snapper, or an anxious whiner, Ms. Godsey will ask the questions and read the dog's energy as an answer to help solve the problem.
Photo courtesy of Suzy Godsey
It's difficult to explain such a non-linear process, since so much of it is based on intuition, perception, and energy.
"I don't think you can totally understand it," Ms. Godsey says. "It's literally based on asking questions and following the energies to whatever answers it brings you to. It's not a method, it's not a 1-2-3, ever - it's about increasing awareness and consciousness."
Born in Germany, Ms. Godsey now makes her home in California, where she records an Internet radio show focused on dog behavior and runs a dog-walking service called The Happy Dog. "I started it about eight years ago and I learned a lot about pack behavior," she says. "Walking strangers' dogs together is an interesting dynamic. It's not a pack by design; it's a new pack every day."
Ms. Godsey has been around dogs since she was a child, and always had a fascination with them. She says, "When I was a kid, I had an imaginary pack of dogs that I walked around with all the time." Eventually when her parents brought a real dog home, he turned out to have a serious aggression problem. "I learned a lot about dealing with that behavior. We couldn't even have visitors - he would bite them."
Her focus is to help owner and pet move forward together in a common direction. "I find out what is keeping people stuck in a certain behavior pattern, ones people want to overcome," she says. "I find out what is keeping them from moving forward. That's where I can assist. Dog whispering is as much [about] people whispering."
Having traveled around the world working with people and their dogs, she has observed a marked difference in the way people from different countries handle their dogs. "Australians and Americans actually have a very different way of dealing with dogs," she says. "Even European countries differ."
Americans more than people in other countries are guilty of treating their dogs like furry little people, with human emotions and desires, she says. "They are not people, they are beings with different needs and perspectives. It's fine to have family members that are dogs; I don't have a problem with that. But problems start when they start treating their dogs like people. You can still love your dog without treating him like a child. That's an unhealthy relationship."
The most common mistake people make, she says, is trying to get an idea across to the dog using the same techniques they would when dealing with another person. "Those tools are not applicable to dog," she says. "The dog goes, 'what?'" Another common problem are owners who don't establish a leadership role. The energy of a leader and that of a follower is one a dog picks up on clearly, and will respond accordingly.
Ms. Godsey hopes people will walk away from her workshop with a better understanding of how to communicate with their animal, and what they are already communicating to their animals all the time that they might not be aware of. "Even if you have no problems at all with your dog, and just want to know what else is possible," she says. "It's for everybody, anybody's dog. You can even come if you have a cat."
The tour takes her from Martha's Vineyard to Ireland, then Rome, and she wraps up with a seven-day program in Costa Rica before heading back home to California. "It's been an amazing journey for me to expand what is possible with dogs. I'm still learning."
Danielle Zerbonne is on the advertising staff at The Times.