The King’s Speech

When I work with clients I often reference certain movies as insights into how animals learn and what the training and rehabilitation process is truly about. The “Karate Kid” is one long time favorite as in “Wax/On; Wax/Off” and then there is the “Horse Whisperer” —to paraphrase Robert Redford’s character: “Maam, I don’t help people with problem horses, I help horses with people problems.” And so, with the Oscars’ still relatively fresh in our minds I thought it might remain timely to offer an observation on the winning film as I have added “The King’s Speech” to my movie roster of how to mend a broken heart. (As an aside isn’t it interesting that we movie goers might even care whether our favorite movie or actor wins the Oscar? They already are afforded affluent and celebrated lives, why should we care whether or not they get an Oscar for the mantle? We do because we in fact have shared a profound emotional experience in their company, as removed and celluloid as it may have been, and this therefore means that we’ve emotionally projected a part of our “self” into their character and thus the award represents a validation of sorts to our emotional connection.)
As a human being I felt for the King, but as a dog trainer I empathized more with the speech therapist. And I say this because invariably when I work with the owners of problem dogs they believe that since their dog is “smart” that they perceive as its problem solving capacity should help in its rehabilitation, as if emotional repair is akin to learning a set of skills or absorbing a lesson. But consider that the King was highly intelligent and extremely well educated. He could easily grasp that childhood trauma was the source of his speech impediment and he was shown that there was no actual physical compromise to his ability to articulate given that he he could sing perfectly well and speak cogently when the sound of his voice was drowned out by music. Furthermore he understood the dire consequences of muffing a speech and how much glory could be his were he to find his voice. And yet all of that cognitive capacity was not only of no value but in fact served to compound his impasse. In an interview Colin Firth observed that the King would have rather faced machine gun fire than the microphone.
So when we’re rehabilitating an emotionally damaged dog, which really means repairing a damaged heart, we must always remember that trust is a muscle, it takes constant exercise and daily strengthening so that sooner but probably much later, the dog’s heart will one day have the capacity to bear a load that until then would break it.Β  There were a number of points in the movie where it seemed “By George I think he’s got it” but then dishearteningly the King succumbed to his stammer as for example when his brother left him muttering incoherently during the party scene at the country house. The speech therapist collapsed along with the King but thank dog he never wavered. He kept on pushing. So this is our challenge. We must always believe in ourselves and trust in the power of wax-on/wax-off so that one day the magic will happen with peals of salvation heard to ring from every steeple in the land. If you own a dog with a troubled heart, precisely because it’s your dog, you own the luckiest dog on earth. Keep on pushing and God Save the King!

Published March 6, 2011 by Kevin Behan
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22 responses to “The King’s Speech”

  1. Christine says:

    You have a most enjoyable wit β™₯ Your reference to wax on/wax off is lost on me…to what are you referring? What is the meaning and what are we to glean from it? Just curious…

  2. kbehan says:

    Thanks Christine. In the “Karate Kid” Sensei Myagi (?) who Daniel has turned to for help in learning how to defend himself, has Daniel waxing his cars and painting his fences. And he’s very particular that Daniel executes each stroke in a certain way. Daniel thinks he’s being taken advantage of because he believes Karate is magic moves and he’s not getting any Ninja training but in reality he’s learning some basic techniques that are the foundation for all subsequent learning. In a moment of frustration after many hours of drudgery waxing and painting he confronts Sensei who then throws a flurry of punches and kicks at him and with very little prompting, Daniel is capable of blocking with ease. So he was getting the magic but he didn’t yet know it. So it is with dog training, we work for the bite and the bark and we don’t see any progress but the breakthrough could be just around the corner if we only persevere. The heart as a muscle is always getting stronger, we just have to believe.

  3. mel says:

    I believe! Help my unbelief! πŸ™‚

  4. kbehan says:

    A good first step in unraveling the knot, is to identify incompatible beliefs that cohabit the overall belief system.

  5. mel says:

    Thanks, Kevin! I just read the Karate Kid section in YDIYM last night πŸ™‚ I totally believe in NDT and see it working to heal Bindi and I, as well as my relationships. The unbelief and doubt are directed toward myself, whether I “succeed” or “fail” with the dog. Yes, what a knot that is! The last few chapters of your book are such a tremendous help. So I am starting to, as you say, “play the tape backwards” and work to answer the questions, “What do I like about my dog, and what don’t I like about my dog?”

    “If you own a dog with a troubled heart, precisely because it’s your dog, you own the luckiest dog on earth.” Woof!

  6. Annie says:

    I have just finished reading YDIYM and I’m so inspired to be a better communicator with my dog Luke. He is a large Pit/mix and surprisingly sensitive.
    Last week, seemingly out of the blue, he destroyed a Christmas gift I had given to my boyfriend that was sitting on a low table in our livingroom, in its original box. The gift was an expensive pair of heated insoles for cycling in the winter. One night last week, I mentioned the fact that it was almost March and they hadn’t been used. Luke appeared to follow our conversation, as his eyebrows played “ping pong” ….of course, Kevin, I know he wasn’t comprehending my actual words, but I was angry at the waste of money and accumulation of “stuff”. I brooded over it all night! The next morning, viola!
    Luke had disposed of that problem! Had I not read your book, I may have dismissed it as coincidence….but he easily could have chewed up this box before this time, as well as anything else lying around within reach. Animals do read energy. I’m going to be very aware of where I direct mine!
    Thank you so much for spending the time and effort to educate dog owners. I know I will find myself going back to your book many times. It’s fascinating.

  7. Christine says:

    Great post Annie, it provided me with a good morning chuckle. Thanks for sharing!

  8. Lacey says:

    Well this encouraging post could not have come at a better time…

    Spring has sprung and Lou is raging. I am still Waxing On/Waxing Off both of Lou’s meals every day. Husband states: “I see no improvement.” I could use a little magic but for now I’ll work towards trust. Push. Speak. Tug. Sweep. Repeat. At least I have found good use for my stubbornness and hardheadedness.

  9. kbehan says:

    New energy always comes out through the “fault line,” in other words through the dog’s flaw, the crack in its temperament. Until “you know” you don’t know. So when there’s a shift in the weather, especially seasonal, the dog feels new energy and this comes out through the oldest habit of mind in the battery, just like when the tectonic plates shift the energy released comes out through the fault lines. Concurrently, keep on pushing for the real source of one’s anger. Our dog is our daily penance.

  10. Lacey says:

    My daily penance, huh? I must have been BAD! πŸ™‚ Seriously though, I am conscious of my source(s) of anger. I am speaking the truth to myself about this. Resolving it will take time, maybe even a long time. Must I reach resolution for Lou to get relief?

  11. kbehan says:

    You have to find an area where you are internalizing rather than expressing directly and actively (at a minimum to oneself). Then there isn’t an internal vibration of a judgment holding oneself back. Doesn’t mean you have to be perfect, simply notice when you are “vibrating” with personality rather than being centered so that more and more charge isn’t being added to the battery which the dog then expresses with the direct/active expression of the charge. Generally such a vibration has to do with approval, and so working with the dog is seen as validation of working with emotion. So the question becomes, validation and approval from whom?

  12. Christine says:

    Good question Lacey. I have wondered this many times myself. The answer is so very illuminating to me and reassuring. I think I can almost feel that lead ball in my center lately as I am feeling so much more grounded. I can actually feel my feet — a new sensation for me. I am also paying close attention to my dreams as they are very revealing as to how I really feel about things. Sometimes I am able to invoke a desired dream, which then allows me to bring something deep down up into my mental awareness. That allows me to process and release or internalize, whichever is more appropriate. Sometimes the approval we seek (and need the most) is our own. At least, that’s what I am now beginning to realize and so my dreams are reflecting that I am internalizing self-approval; a very good feeling indeed.

    It is my dogs who have brought me to this “emotional awakening”. I do not believe that I would be on this journey if I hadn’t brought them into my life and I am convinced that each of them were/are necessary to begin, engage in it completely and then to complete it; or at least to finalize and complete the most pressing issues. At that point I will be able to engage in the journey free and unencumbered and let it take me where it will. I look forward to being able to enjoy many more canine companions for who they are, without the interference of my discordant emotions. Happy Day indeed! β™₯β™₯

    Most especially do I appreciate the gentle guidance and direction I’ve received from Kevin and Natural Dog Training. This has been an important part of my journey, without which I would not be able to complete it. I truly do see the Universe in a whole new light; it’s as if a light has been turned on for me. Also, believe it or not, it has deepened my appreciation for my God, Jehovah and the outworking of his will and purpose for the earth. I feel a stronger, truer connection to Him than ever before. My understanding of what perfection really is has altered as well. I honestly do not have the words to express how profoundly my spirituality has been impacted by Kevin’s awareness. There is much to look forward to.

  13. Lacey says:

    Thanks, Kevin. I’m going to think about that. Who’s approval? (Yeah Christine, probably my own…)

    How interesting that you use language about fault lines and tentonic plates shifting – because I think they are! For about a year or so I’ve had a reoccuring dream about a tsunami. I’ll be going about business as usual in my dream and then I look up and see a skyscraper-height wave just about to break. My first thought is always, “How am I going to protect Rudy?” even though until that point Rudy isn’t even in the dream. Rudy is my heart-dog. I had a bit of an ‘ah ha!’ moment about all of that while reading your book and another ah-ha! just now. After watching the news clips from Japan I’m glad that in my dreams I wake up before the tsunami wave breaks.

  14. hi kevin! i guess your wax on wax off analogy is right. i have a female working line gsd and for 2 years we are training her for personal protection. in our group, my dog was not doing well compared to other dogs do. shes is hard headed and i usually need to repeat the commands before she follows and would get angry to me if i stop her during bite works.
    but all of the training paid off when we went swimming in a river where accidentally an adult cow with very big horns got loose from her rope and tried to attack us. the cow chased me, i was running as fast as i can and my dog bit the cow on its stomach. then they fought. the cow was really big. she was using her horn to fight with my dog. my dog was able to bit onto the horn and tried to pin down the cow but it was really strong. the cow was shaking its head to get my dog off its horn until my dog was able to reach a rope attached to the cow’s horn and was able to pin down the cow. after a few seconds we tried to remove my dog but the cow keep on shaking its head and tried to attack us again. after minutes of struggle, the cow got tired so we were able to took my dog off. its was a real shocking unforgettable experience for me and my dog. my dog wasnt able to eat for a month because her teeth and tongue was wounded.

    to the readers, like what kevin said, keep on training. youll never know, the breakthrough i just around the corner.

    – sheila
    a.k.a. magnum, eton properties

  15. Alwynne says:

    Kevin:

    Thanks for your comment back to Lacey about the weather because I’ve noticed that with spring hitting DC, Cholula has become unbelievably charged about dogs again on our last few walks, whereas she’d been relatively calm and increasingly centered around me when the weather was cold. I would love to know if you have suggestions as to how to productively use that new energy coming out as I admit my initial reaction was fear that this is a set back calling into question all the improvement that seemed to be taking place over the winter… Also, I’ve really enjoyed your book and am thinking about how to integrate your descriptions in the last few chapters into my experience with Cholula in order to improve my training efforts. But incidentally, something struck me with my kids last weekend. We were at a gymnastics party where the kids had to go in a line together without parents (but with the gymnastics helpers) into a room full of fun stuff for them to run, jump, play on. My three kids were all in line, happy and excited and totally ready to go in, when a 3 year old we know freaked out about going in and started to cry. I made the mistake of trying to comfort her by asking if she wanted to go in with my 4-year old, soli, which caused Soli to look at the other child and then burst into panicked crying herself that took me quite an effort to extricate her from. This made no sense to me at the time, as the other child was younger, alone, and primarily Spanish speaking, whereas Soli was already excited and standing between her brother and sister. But when I read your book about dogs and the concept of empathy, it really made me see that Soli panicked because her energy, or grounding, or whatever, had entered the other child when she noticed her distress and at that moment of panic Soli could make no distinction between herself (who had moments earlier been happy and excited to enter the gymnastics room with her siblings) and Kyara, who was alone, doesn’t speak English, and experiencing that anxiety.

  16. Lacey says:

    Lou’s collar broke (!) this morning as I was talking to my neighbor using him as a trigger for push/speak/down. In a split second (or maybe longer since my heart stopped beating) Lou was at my neighbor’s side and my neighbor, who affectionately calls Lou “wildman”, leaned over and put his hand down. Lou put his mouth on his hands. My neighbor laughed – Lou was barely mouthing him. There was no barking,shrieking or growling. I reached for Lou with my tug toy (no tug from Lou) and my neighbor asked me to let Lou go free to see what he did. Lou walked around sniffing things. Neighbor walked a few steps and Lou walked over (no shrieking or barking)and put his mouth by the guy’s shoes – biting shoe laces is Lou’s thing, but he didn’t bite. He sniffed the guy’s hands. Neighbor then asked Lou to speak and he did. Then Lou went to the nearest bush to pee. I said Ready! to collect Lou – we pushed and I leashed him up and we went home. Funny, minutes later we were doing box games as someone walked by – he watched me send Lou to the box from about 30 ft away – and he said, “Wow you have a really well trained dog!”

    Perhaps healing at this stage should be evaluated in shades… I’ve noticed several times that the trigger and initial fear/aggression behaviors haven’t changed much but the heat and duration of the charge are significantly less: shriek shriek…oh! do I smell hotdogs/dog pee?…wanders offs to find the scent. He really is perfect and all Heart πŸ™‚ I’m lucky he’s mine.

  17. Christine says:

    Shades…that’s a nice way of looking at it. It allows much more room for evaluating/taking stock of behaviors than simple black/white. I’m going to add that to my mental data bank and use that. Along those lines…I’ve noticed over this winter that Diva’s vocalizations are much more pleasant than they used to be. She used to literally shriek at the boys and me whereas now her voice has a soft growly, conversational tone. Even when she’s reacting to the boys when she’s crated and they are not, her vocalizations are far less shrieky/screemy sounding.

    I have connected her shrill vocalizations to the stress I hear in my voice (been there since i was a child). As my stress diminishes, so does the shrillness in Diva’s voice. Plus her ability to make a coherent howl has shown improvements. I do so love canine vocalizations and am happy that Duncan also is getting his voice back.

    So…Thanks for the new frame of reference!

  18. Annie says:

    So interesting to read all of your insights! Especially with the references to fault lines and breaks….I’ve noticed my dog being more charged around children, of course, now that the weather is warmer and they are all outside on playgrounds, shrieking, running, etc. Because he’s a rescue, I’m guessing, here, that his particular circumstance involved an issue with children. Chasing, nipping, jumping, etc. He’s a big and muscular dog, so probably scared someone badly enough to want to get rid of him. He’s friendly to adults and other dogs…and to those dhildren who approach him calmly and gently. While he’s not aggressive toward children, he is overly fixated, and this worries me.

    I’m trying to relate this to my own reaction to children. I’m the oldest of 9, often had to babysit, and have had a long career as a teacher; which I’ve enjoyed, but am taking a year off. I have no children of my own…growing up, we were always taught to modulate our voices, no screaming, shouting, running, even in play, but especially not indoors, or in a public place such as a market, or on a sidewalk, or in a park. It’s hard for me to relax when I walk Luke in Manhattan, because there are children running and shouting everywhere! I know I can work with this situation and help my dog feel more relaxed, I just have to find my way into it!

  19. Lacey says:

    I think I heard peals of salvation off in the distance this morning! I had 4 neighbors in my driveway this morning and Lou calmly and quietly and voluntarily went up to each one, hup’ed on them to say hello and let them all pet him. Then he relaxed and rolled over for a belly rub while everyone was talking. I had a death grip on his leash, heart in throat. I didn’t even have food with me. He was great!

    My house was flooded (twice!) this week and so there have been lots of construction types coming and going all week. Lou did a LOT of panic work and pushing … and a lot of shrieking. Was this marathon of training the final hurrah the final healing event? I will hope, but probably not πŸ™‚ Even so, it was fabulous and my neighbors were happy to finally get to pet him.

  20. kbehan says:

    You’ll know when you know, but the most important thing in that breakout moment that you and Lou just had is what is happening within you when triggered by such a situation. You’re learning how to be conscious when your heart “is in your throat.” Soon you’ll be as soft as Lou even when in a situation that would otherwise have triggered panic. Good job, give Lou a big rub-a-dub and Keep On Pushing!

  21. Lacey says:

    I just had a visit from animal control. Now THAT triggered some anger. Monday night Lou escaped from me and the yard and chased a down a runner and bit her shoe. That’s Lou’s “thing” – the shoe biting. Understandably, she wasn’t happy but she also said she wasn’t hurt. I apologized profusely, explained that he had escaped from me, he was dragging a leash, etc. I got a lecture and then she continued on.

    That same evening, 2 other runners had gone by without trouble but the dogs next door were barking at this runner, so it got Lou worked up. I thought they were barking at me.

    Yep, anger is a response from fear. Of course, I don’t want anyone to get hurt, but my more deep sentiment is that I fear that *my dog* will get hurt or that I’ll lose him. I am angry at that lady. AC said that he foot was bruised…but nope they actually didn’t go look to see if that was the case. The woman also said that “others” told me that he’d tried to bite them, which just isn’t the case. The bottom line is that it doesn’t matter: Lou’s behavior IS unsafe.

    Husband told all my neighbors about this event. Fortunately, they all know Lou and like him. One of them said that the next time she runs by that we should put a saddle on Lou and let his 18 month old child ride him just to tick her off – she’d commented on how unsafe Lou was for neighborhood children. Of course that’s a dreadful silly idea, but it is nice to have relaxed supportive neighbors.

    My anger response (well, one of them…) at the moment would be to go do about 3 hours worth of speak-work with Lou right in front of her house. But that would be just about as productive as Lou attacking sneakers from fear. But maybe some pushing in the street in front of her house would soften me up…

    This is the problem with this type of fear and anger – there is no recourse! In the end, no real harm done no ticket was written and Lou wasn’t hauled off. The AC officer warned me to keep my dog in the yard.

    So, Kevin… how about Lou comes and sees you next week πŸ™‚ and I’ll book a week with a human psychologist for myself πŸ™‚

  22. christine randolph says:

    we used to get neighbors bitching to animal control about our dogs touching the grass in their front lawns and silly stuff like that. we were able to prove to ac that half the times the neighbors were reporting on us we were out of town so it has somewhat calmed down
    the other day my dogs got out and were going into the neighbors horse enclosure (this is at our vacation home)

    i was freaked because the horses can do serious damage to a dog and she was freaked because her horses could break the perimeter and run out onto a busy road
    i said just the way her horses get spooked, my dogs also get spooked
    she must have been exercising her horses (it was the weekend) and she had her dogs out too so my dogs probably got riled up and wanted to join the fun.

    so she did not have much to say to that
    i admit i was harsh with her
    did not apologize too much
    i guess i had a grumpy day

    i did not tell her for instance that we are getting materials for a new gate this weekend
    right now we only have snow fence with bamboo sticks which i rigged up as an interim solution when we started renting the property in january

    dogs sometimes get out by mistake thats the way it is
    they sometimes get into ultercations and that is also the way it is
    i am always thinking of better safer ways to keep the dogs contained
    build better gates, tie out, play pen, etcetc
    still accidents happen

    my friends dog got out because he was scared of a thunderstorm
    he ran about a mie and hid in a field for two hours…

    you just have to hope that somehow all the work you have so far done with your dog and their feeling part of your household will make them come back sooner than later

    my dog also nips at heels but only with people she knows really well. i am really lucky
    she challenges and barks at people if she is out by mistake and they get close to our house or to me
    which somewhat scares them and you can tell they get ready to complain

    some people. like my mom, has an exaggerated fear response to dogs, even little ones,she cannot convince herself that these dogs cannot hurt her. she freezes up and goes to panic mode.
    luckily this is very rare
    every time my dogs are off leash i try to be a bit mindful of people who do not like dogs etc.,
    however, they would of course not go to an off leash dog area
    still…
    one of my dogs occasionally fights with other dogs and scratches their faces or ears bloody
    not a fun thing to apologize for

    anyway, all of us dog owners have to go through these motions and prove to ourselves and others that we have reasonable control of our dogs and that they are not specifically dangerous

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