What words are you speaking to your dog?

And what do you think about your dog? Do you think your dog is a good dog? Do you think your dog is a good dog but dumb? Or do you tell your dog that he is a bad dog when he does something bad (even though you love him of course)?
Last week, when I walked with my foster dog Deno to pick up my car from the car repair shop, the co-owner started a conversation about dogs. He showed me the pictures of his dogs and told me that he has had dogs his entire life. And then he said, “You know, I’ve never met a bad dog.”

Of course, I had to agree with him because I’ve never met a bad dog myself. Now sure, I’ve met dogs that displayed unhealthy and dangerous behavior, and I’ve met dogs where I didn’t care about their high energy, but that didn’t make them bad dogs; they just hadn’t been taught a better behavior yet respectively their energy wasn’t a good match for me.

And then I said to him, “do you know why you’ve never met a bad dog? Because that is not what you are looking for. You always look for the good in the dog, and that is what dogs prove to you. That is what you see.”

In social science research they call this principle Pygmalion Effect, which says that as we communicate our expectations of people with various cues, they tend to respond to our cues by adjusting their behavior to match them. In other words, the simplest way to bring out the best in people is to hold an attitude of positive expectations. Instead of looking for what’s missing, or what’s wrong with a person, we can re-frame our expectations to look for what’s positive. The management phrase, ‘Catch people doing something right’ captures the sense of this attitude.

The same applies to dogs. Even though they don’t speak English or any other human language, they pick up the energy behind the words we speak and the thoughts we think. When you believe in your dog; when you believe that your dog is a good dog; when you reinforce the positive behavior, and you redirect the negative behavior, your dog will adjust his behavior to match your cues.

If you point out that your dog is bad or dumb, your dog will always prove that you are right. So watch your words and thoughts; your dogs listen to their energy and match them with their behavior.