What My Dog’s Tail Teaches Us About Human Emotions


In training my new dog Hope, I remembered a technique used by Cesar Millan. He says that changing the position of the dog’s tail can help reduce fears. If a dog has her tail held between her legs, it signals, of course, that she is afraid. By lifting her tail into a more relaxed and confident position, the dog learns to associate the present experience with calm energy, not fear.



So when I had to give Hope a bath, I saw that her tail was down between her legs and she was cowering and tense. So I put my hand under her tail and patiently stroked it upward until it was in a position that signaled relaxed confidence. When I brought the hose toward her, she again lowered her tail, and I repeated the stroking and lifting move.

I can’t say that she was immediately relaxed around the hose and water, but for a few minutes she got a lesson in getting body feedback.

And this lesson works for humans, as well. Many research studies have confirmed that our facial expressions and how we hold our bodies send signals to our brain and emotions about how to feel. A classic study is amusing to visualize. Researchers had participants bite down on a pencil held crossways in their mouths so that it forced the corners of their lips up into a smile. (Try it!) The study found that just this very simple action actually made people feel happier.

We tend to think emotions come from our brain and that’s it. But it is more complicated than that. Our minds, emotions and bodies are interconnected and feed each other information constantly. Emotions are actually physical or somatic sensations or signals. But how we hold our bodies can actually influence how we perceive our experience in a certain situation.

Many clients come to therapy slouching, frowning and sighing, signaling their depressed feelings in their posture and facial expressions. But these behaviors can also make a person feel more depressed.

It may seem simplistic, but choosing to stand, act and look a certain way can help improve mood.

A Pack Leader signals confidence, assertiveness, positive attitude, calm demeanor and competence with her physical behaviors and presence. Direct eye contact is also key in conveying a pack leader personality.

Are you a Pack Leader? Find out by taking a free quiz. Go to the “Contact Me” page and fill out the form.

Relationship Problems: Why Does He Always Argue with Me?

We’ve probably all experienced the person who seems to argue and disagree most of the time. When I spot these behaviors on a consistent basis, I know I’m dealing with someone who prefers to use the “fight” response when threatened. Usually these are people who lash with the fear response– they rarely “lash in” in self-blame or self-criticism. In Pack Leader Psychology I call people who generally use the “fight” response “Dominators.” They often try to dominate and intimidate, using emotional upheaval or aggression or the threat of either or both.

While we all get angry at times — and sometimes with good cause — these Dominators seem to get angry for very little reason or over-react with too much anger.

My second husband was a classic Dominator. Even for the most minor offense on my part (talking to a colleague at a holiday party or planning a business trip), he would fly into a violent rage.

I couldn’t comprehend his urge to lash out. I rarely became angry — which, of course, I later learned was a major problem for me. (As a “Submissive,” I was unassertive as a preferred response, even in situations when I should have been angry as a self-protective measure.)

Now I can clearly spot someone who has had the “fight-or-flight” primal response triggered. The fight response is quite easy to identify.

But the really helpful part of the Pack Leader Psychology paradigm was when I discovered what causes the over-reaction of “fight-or-flight” behavior. Lots more on that in the book!

Hehir Murder Shows Domestic Violence Traits

Sadly, the news is reporting yet another domestic violence case that ended in a gruesome murder. In Pack Leader Psychology I write extensively about the Dominator personality based on not only my psychology training, but my experience as a domestic violence survivor.

Dominators are a personality type that is hypersensitive to shame. Any perceived or real criticism is felt as devastating. They then react with the “fight” response when they become fearful of being rejected or abandoned. They attack, lash out, criticize others and defend against criticism. They have learned that when they feel shame, it is unbearable to them, and they act out in anger.

In extreme cases like this, the abuser can become so enraged that all restraints are removed and a tragic ending such as this can occur.

However, I really hate it when news reports like this end with statements such as,  “Police are not saying what sparked the argument between Dhondt and Hehir.” As if something she did justified him strangling her, beating her head against the floor and then chopping her up. As if some meaningful thing could explain this meaningless, power-grabbing, hate-filled act.

I can guarantee based on my personal experience that she probably did nothing or something so inconsequential that it should not have even warranted a discussion. But his sense of self-worth was so low that he was on guard for any type of perceived criticism. And when she did something that shamed him, he acted out in rage. Period. His low self-worth and lack of ability to handle criticism were the cause not some “argument” or something she did or said.

When in a relationship with an extreme Dominator, the phrase “walking on eggshells” is true because you may never be sure what you do or say or don’t do or don’t say can trigger his rage and violence.

Reporters:  Stop putting throw away statement in these news reports about what argument triggered these incidents. Nothing triggered it except his emotional immaturity and lack of self-control.



Are All Relationships Based on Dominance and Submissiveness?

I was catching up on reading blogs, when I saw this one: “Are You Dominant or Subordinate in Your Romantic Relationship? Clear-cut dominance in couples increases stability.” Posted on May 13, 2012 by Dario Maestripieri, Ph.D., at Psychology Today’s blog “Games Primates Play” also the name of his book.

He asserts that 95 percent of relationships and all stable relationships involve one clearly dominant partner and one submissive partner. While I agree that most people need to have a pack leader somewhere in their life to help guide and protect them, what Maestripieri is describing is an unhealthy, unbalanced relationship that uses power to manipulate and control.

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The Dog That Taught Me About Leadership


Reilly, the Muse for “Pack Leader Psychology”

As I say in “Pack Leader Psychology,” a growl instantly moved me from pack member to pack leader with my dog, Reilly. But if I hadn’t had a dog that understood how to be a pack member, I might never have learned this lesson. And I might never have made the connection that being a pack leader to people might also be a good thing for my interpersonal relationships as well.

The story begins when I got Reilly as an eight-month-old dog. She had grown up in an outdoor kennel with her birth pack and several adult dogs. Living for so long with this normal dog pack taught Reilly how to recognize and honor the pack leader or leaders — probably her mother and father.

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