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Thursday, February 26, 2009

Emotional Outbursts Have Shotgun Effect

Watch what you say around your dog....even if you're just talking to yourself!

Last week I was riding a fairly spirited old horse in our arena. I was trying to calm him down after a winter's layoff. Lizzie, my pit bull, was trotting along with us, darting back and forth, and doing her own thing at occasional breakneck speed. The horse was getting a bit irritated with her antics, as was I. So I shouted, "Lizzie, get outta here!"

Guess what? The horse thought I was shouting at him, which did anything but calm him down. My reprimand to Lizzie had gone out in a shotgun pattern and hit an unintended victim. The horse got even jumpier, assuming that I was going to beat the tar out of him! It took a few moments--and putting Lizzie in the house--to calm him down.

Whatever we say and project can have unintended consequences on those around us. Animals are particularly vulnerable, since they're unable to understand "anger." They identify it instead as emotional instability, which gives them reason to doubt our qualities as a leader.
A couple years ago I was walking Lizzie down the road and listening to a Mariners game on a headset. Someone made an extremely bad play and I started yelling and cussing myself. However, my dog heard me and thought the tongue-lashing was intended for her! I had some apologizing to do, although I doubt she grasped the situation since she isn't particularly a big Mariners fan.

You've probably noticed similar incidents in your own home. You verbally reprimand one dog, and the other dogs slink away, hoping to avoid your wrath. Children who grow up around volatile parents are the same way. They get a little gun shy when the yelling starts. No one's comfortable around someone who seems emotionally unstable. You can't trust someone like that, because you never know what they'll be like moment to moment...especially if you're a vulnerable being like a child...or a dog, or a horse.

Cesar Millan, "The Dog Whisperer," reminds us that good leaders radiate "calm assertive energy." It's okay to act like you're the boss and know what you're doing. It's okay to act tough and long as you are fair and consistent about it.

Let your dogs teach you to control what you say and how you say it. You'll find better, more constructive and creative ways to work through frustrations. You'll become a better leader, a more effective communicator and a calmer person. It's an ongoing process...but we are, after all, still works in progress!

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