The Polyvagal Theory: Know It And Know Your Dog, With Sue Mimm - The Online Dog Trainer

The Polyvagal Theory: Know It And Know Your Dog, With Sue Mimm

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Today’s Guest

Sue Mimm – Reactive Dog Expert

I’m so excited to introduce to you today’s guest, dog trainer and behavior therapist, Sue Mimm. For someone who describes herself as “not very sciencey” she sure has a great understanding of what’s going on when our dogs are reacting! Sue is a fellow dog behaviorist, and we found a great deal of common ground when it comes to our ways of working with reactive dogs. We both understand that dogs who’ve had some sort of trauma, or even just a lack of socialization, can be reactive to other dogs, strangers and a variety of other stimuli. We know that we need to help these dogs learn that the things they think are dangerous, actually aren’t… and we know that our barking, lunging dog is not just doing this for the fun of it. Our dog is actually distressed.

Now what Sue brings to us today is a scientific explanation of what’s going on in our dog’s brain and body while they are reacting to things they think might be dangerous. Driven by her own desire to understand and help our distressed dogs, Sue’s research led her to the Polyvagal Theory, developed by Dr. Stephen Porges, Ph.D. This has enabled Sue to understand and to pinpoint the times when we can work on desensitization with our dogs versus the times when we need to just allow our dogs to feel safe and happy, and highlights the importance of the Social Engagement System.

When we understand what’s really going on inside our dogs, and we understand the science behind what makes our training methods so successful, then we are far better equipped to help our reactive dogs.

I just loved having this chat with Sue because it helped me to understand WHY we aim to work with our dogs when they’re in the Green Zone. I knew that our dogs learn best when they’re calm, and that trying to work with a dog who has spiked up into the Red Zone is simply not helpful, but it was such a buzz for me to learn the science behind why this is the case!

If you’re trying to help your reactive dog then you absolutely MUST tune into today’s podcast with Sue Mimm. You’ll be seeing things in a whole new light!

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You’ll Hear About

  • [02:15] The Honeymoon Period
  • [04:30] When things start to go wrong
  • [05:30] The Polyvagal Theory
  • [09:00] … and how it operates in our dogs
  • [12:10] Why dogs “don’t listen”
  • [15:00] The incredible benefits of being in the “Green Zone”
  • [17:45] Why many types of “Desensitisation Training” don’t work
  • [21:15] Keys things we can do to calm down our Nervous System
  • [25:00] Co-regulation: How OUR moods and feelings can affect our dogs – and the role of the Vagus Nerve
  • [33:00] The importance of helping our dogs to feel safe
  • [36:40] How to do “desensitisation” the right way
  • [40:30] Where to learn more from Sue

How You Can Get Involved:

Contact Sue for a chat about helping your REACTIVE dog. Sue is based in Tirol, Austria, where she runs her business called Heart Connection Dogs. She offers both online services and in-person coaching in English and German.

What are YOU doing to help your own energetic state? Remember how important this is for helping YOUR reactive dog. Consider meditation, yoga, and being in nature. Perhaps make a list of things you ALREADY do that help you to be in your Green Zone, and give yourself a pat on the back!

Links & Resources

Learn more by tuning into the podcast!

Thanks for listening—and again, don’t forget to subscribe to the show on TODT App / iTunes / Spotify to get automatic updates.

Cheers,

 

 

~Doggy Dan 🙂

Voiceover:

Welcome to the Doggy Dan Podcast Show, helping you unleash the greatness within your dog.

Doggy Dan:

[00:00:30]

[00:01:00]

Hello and welcome everybody to another Doggy Dan Podcast Show. Today, as always, I'm so excited. I know that's becoming a catch phrase. I have Sue Mimm with me, and she is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer and Holistic Behavior Coach. She comes from Austria. She runs ... Where she comes from really doesn't matter these days, she does online and in-person consultations with people helping them develop a stronger and better relationship with their dogs. Now, I want to jump straight to the piece that we're going to cover off today, because there's a lot of stuff I could share with you about Sue; however, the bit we're going to cover off today, which is going to be so cool, and give you such a better understanding of your dog, and actually give you some really cool things that you can put in practice today, is the Polyvagal Theory and how that term is so important to understand how your dog behaves, acts, and reacts to life, to you, to how you're feeling, to what you're thinking. Sue, thank you for coming on the show today.

Sue Mimm:

Thank you.

Doggy Dan:

Wonderful to have you here.

Sue Mimm:

Brilliant, and thank you so much for having me, Dan. It's good to be here.

Doggy Dan:

Now, is there anything you'd like to say that I've missed out? I know you do a lot of great stuff. You have a lot of incredible knowledge. Is there anything that you'd like to say before we just jump into the Polyvagal Theory and all that lovely stuff?

Sue Mimm:

[00:02:00]

No. I think you've covered it all. It was a great introduction. Thanks so much. Yeah, I'm looking forward to sharing a little bit about what I've learned through my own experience about rescued, re-homed, and adopted dogs, and dogs who are anxious, and reactive, and how to better understand them and how we can help them in a different way.

Doggy Dan:

[00:02:30]

Now, I know you work a lot with fearful and reactive dogs, and we spoke a bit earlier. In fact, it was such a lovely chat that we chatted, it was going to be 10 or 15 minutes, we ended up chatting for about an hour. It could have been a podcast itself. So, you mentioned something called the Honeymoon Period. I wondered if you could touch on that because a lot of people listening to that probably know about the Honeymoon Period where you have a dog and all is well and then things change. Explain what is the Honeymoon Period when we get a dog and it's good for a while and then it changes?

Sue Mimm:

So, what happens is generally if people first get their dog and they're very excited, and talking mainly about re-homed, rescued kind of dogs.

Doggy Dan:

Yes.

Sue Mimm:

[00:03:00]

[00:03:30]

They bring their new dog home and they kind of phone you and say, "Oh, I'm looking for a trainer but in the meantime everything is going perfectly. He's just a little gem, this dog. He does everything I say. He sits lovely. He waits kindly. He doesn't bark. He sleeps when I tell him too. He's just a gem. He's absolutely brilliant." I say, "Yes, that's great." Sadly, through my experience this is just what I call, or refer to, or many people refer to, as the Honeymoon Phase, because really what the dog is doing is he's kind of shut down. He's in survival mode. He's been shipped into a completely new environment. He's not used to anything around him and so he's laying low. His nervous system has just checked out and he's saying, "I'm just going to tow the rope and do anything and everything they say because I just need to check it out. I don't feel safe yet."

Doggy Dan:

You mentioned that this is a bit like when you turn up at a dinner party. Even if you're an outgoing person you'll turn up fairly quietly generally ...

Sue Mimm:

Exactly.

Doggy Dan:

... just to test the situation before you start coming out of your shell, which I think is a great analogy.

Sue Mimm:

Correct, before you kind of warm up to people. You're in a new place and you just got to, yeah. That's really it's a biological thing. We are, as mammals, we are wired for connection, but we are also wired for safety. We're wired to check out safety.

Doggy Dan:

[00:04:30]

Yes. Yes. That's a beautiful phrase, we're wired for connection and we're also wired for survival almost. Okay, so the Honeymoon Period, then things start changing. Why does that happen?

Sue Mimm:

So, first of all, what I've observed was suddenly dogs start ... It can be anything from two weeks, to six weeks, to a couple of months later. Suddenly you get the phone call, "Oh, my dog has started barking at everything," or, "My dog doesn't want guests to come in the house and starts barking at them," or is chasing the cat suddenly or becoming reactive on leash. It comes like out of the blue. They said, "One day it was there and the next day it's not."

Doggy Dan:

Totally.

Sue Mimm:

[00:05:30]

It was like quite a shock to the system, and it was a bit of, it reflects to me as a trainer, as well, like where did that come from? Why the sudden turnaround. That's when I started to do a little bit of investigation, because my perception was it's some kind of trauma that's coming out. When trauma is released in humans you see this type of behavior, so I kind of started looking into it. That's when I found the Polyvagal Theory.

Doggy Dan:

So, what is this Polyvagal Theory where dogs go, I think you put it, you said, "They go from being quite shut down and cautious, survival, into almost action?"

Sue Mimm:

[00:06:00]

[00:06:30]

Yeah, yeah. So, the Polyvagal Theory was developed by Stephen Porges. Basically, he looked at our nervous system, at the Autonomic Nervous System, which is common to all vertebrates and mammals. There's three kinds of planes to it, which is the shutdown, the life threat, the helplessness which we call the red zone, and then there is the middle zone which is the fight or flight, which is the danger zone. That happens when we are motivated to take action in order to get rid of that danger. So, our nervous system picks up that we're in danger. There's something called Neuroception. We discussed this in our last chat, and this is happening all the time in our subconscious. We're not conscious of it. Our nervous system is looking for cues in the environment, whether it be inside our body or outside our body, and it's looking for these cues in the environment: Is this safe or is this something dangerous? If it picks up something dangerous they're going to go automatically into the fight or flight mode.

[00:07:00]

If, however, they have developed a good Social Engagement System, which is a newer development in the mammals only. This is not found in reptiles. This is found in mammals, [which] have developed this social engagement system which is where we connect with people. We connect, we form trust, we communicate with people. That's called the Social Engagement System. Now, let's say you, in that room, let's go back to that room of people where you just walked in. Somebody comes up to you and says, "Hey, Dan, I don't like your shirt." What's your reaction? What is your immediate reaction?

Doggy Dan:

[00:07:30]

Well, depending how I'm feeling, nervous wise, I'd either kind of back off just for survival and shutdown and withdraw, or I might go a bit more on the, I don't know, the offensive and say, "Who are you?"

Sue Mimm:

Or, would you perhaps, because you're the kind of guy you are, aren't you going to say, "Hey, hey, what's wrong with my shirt?"

Doggy Dan:

Yeah, I could be that mellow guy that just, yeah, yeah.

Sue Mimm:

Exactly.

Doggy Dan:

Well, that's my offensive kind of, I'd probably be a bit more like, "Who are you? What do you mean?"

Sue Mimm:

[00:08:00]

[00:08:30]

[00:09:00]

Yeah, exactly. So, that's our Social Engagement System. We're engaging our social skills to try and negotiate the situation here before we go into that sort of argument or attack mode. We're going to first try and socially engage. This is the social engagement system which I said Stephen Porges kind of developed in the Polyvagal Theory and he said, "This is where we should all be, and this is the good place to be. This is where we should live most of our lives, in this green zone, in the safe zone where social engagement is important and we use our social skills." If, however, we haven't developed that, if we don't feel safe then, our automatic system is going to go to the danger, the fight or flight. That's when you're going to take action. You're either going to start getting angry, you're going to start shouting, or if you're scared you're going to flee from the situation. Let's think about it in a dog situation for instance.

Doggy Dan:

Yes.

Sue Mimm:

[00:09:30]

So, let's talk about the little dog that you've just brought home and everything's great but he's been pretty shut-down and pretty disassociated about the whole thing. You take him out for his walks every day. He feels pretty trapped because he's on a leash, and you are perhaps walking a little bit too close to other dogs which is completely new for him. He doesn't know this neighborhood. He doesn't know these dogs. He doesn't feel safe, but he's on a leash. So, automatically his nervous system wants to say, "Hey fight or flight here, Buddy," but he's still pretty shut-down and he actually can't flee because he's on a leash.

Doggy Dan:

Yes.

Sue Mimm:

We haven't picked up on his signals that he's showing us, that's he's really uncomfortable in the situation, that he's not feeling safe. When your dog is just obeying you by walking very quietly on a lead, and I'm not talking about good dogs. I'm not talking about those who really are happy to walk ...

Doggy Dan:

Confident.

Sue Mimm:

[00:10:00]

... with you on a leash. I'm talking about those who really are still shut-down, very nervous dogs. We don't pick up on these signals. Their nervous system is really putting them into this fight or flight mode and yet they can't escape.

Doggy Dan:

I say this to a lot of people, I mean that's basically why so many people say, "My dog's better off-leash," because when they're off-leash with other dogs around they can kind of move and avoid the other dogs or turn in a way which kind of ...

Sue Mimm:

Correct.

Doggy Dan:

[00:10:30]

... gives them that bit of freedom, and when we put them on a leash we force them to do the body language, or move into places and positions that they do not want to be in because their nervous system can't handle it. It all makes total sense.

Sue Mimm:

Also, when they're off-leash like that they're also free to make, if they have already learned social skills with other dogs, that's when they're free to do that. They're free to, as you said, just like we talked about the guy who didn't like your shirt, they can use their social skills to kind of negotiate whatever the interaction is with that other dog. If they don't like it they can run away, or move away.

Doggy Dan:

Just going back to that. If a guy came up to me and said, "I don't like your shirt," I am the sort of person who I feel like I'm very happy sometimes just to walk off and go, "I just don't need to talk to that sort of a person."

Sue Mimm:

Exactly.

Doggy Dan:

It depends on the energy of that guy, because I'm quite good at picking up on who wants to have a fight, and I just walk off. I just don't need it.

Sue Mimm:

Exactly.

Doggy Dan:

[00:11:30]

I'm just gone. That's why I walk away. If I feel like somebody actually needs to be kind of challenged a bit I will challenge them, but if I feel like he was joking, and it was his way of communicating, then absolutely I'd stand and chat. The point is I have all three options.

Sue Mimm:

Exactly.

Doggy Dan:

Imagine if you wanted to walk away, and get away, and you were forced to stand there. It's like, "Oh, man," it would be terrible.

Sue Mimm:

Exactly. So-

Doggy Dan:

Such a good analogy.

Sue Mimm:

[00:12:00]

So, basically what I like to do with all this knowledge is to say, Okay, so now we know how the nervous system works. We know how our bodies automatically go into these zones, and also something interesting to know, once you're in that fight or flight mode, ...

Doggy Dan:

Yes.

Sue Mimm:

... if you're standing there with your dog and you're saying, he starts barking at the end of the lead for instance, he's gone into fight mode because he can't get away.

Doggy Dan:

Yes, yes.

Sue Mimm:

You say, "Oh, Mojo, stop it. Stop barking, come over here," or whatever. Even if you say it nicely, if you just say, "Come along, let's go this way, Boy. Come on." He actually cannot hear you when he's in that mode.

Doggy Dan:

Now, stop, just one second. How many people are going, "That's my dog. That's my dog!"?

Sue Mimm:

He just doesn't listen.

Doggy Dan:

Yeah, 99% of people will be saying, Yeah, when your dog is stressed, when your dog is doing that thing, especially barking and protecting, "They just do not listen." How cool is this to actually understand why? Can you go into a bit more detail, so why is it they can't hear us because they are, it's survival and everything else shuts down. Is that right, basically?

Sue Mimm:

[00:13:00]

So, basically, your nervous system is saying ... Can you imagine if your body said to turn on the fight or flight system and then suddenly something came in and said, "Oh, but, hang on a sec, let's just negotiate this." You would have been eaten by the lion! So our brains have learned to turn off that whole negotiation system thing and they are just in fight or flight then. They cannot, and they physically because of the way the vagal nerve is wired it actually turns off human voice in that they can't ... When I say human voice, those frequencies of human voice are not audible to them.

Doggy Dan:

Makes total sense. They've learned to just ignore the human owners when it's survival. I'm just ... Yeah, go on.

Sue Mimm:

It's not even that they've learned to do it, it's physically, biologically, they cannot hear you in that moment.

Doggy Dan:

Well, it makes total sense. It's like if you're being chased by a lion and you know you're going to be eaten by the lion unless you get up the tree, then if somebody starts shouting at you, even if it's your mom or dad ...

Sue Mimm:

Exactly.

Doggy Dan:

[00:14:00]

... you just won't hear. If you gash your knee as you're climbing up the tree and it's starting to pour blood you still don't stop, you don't go, "Oh hang on, I've cut my foot. Hang on a second, Lion."

Sue Mimm:

Exactly.

Doggy Dan:

[00:14:30]

So, it makes a lot of sense. One thing I'd like to say right now is something I've always said, and it ties in with this, which is why I'm enjoying this podcast so much is, I talk about the energy meter where our dogs at level 1 are, or 0 they're asleep and relaxed, and at 1 they're very calm. At 10 they're in the red zone. I'll often say, at 8, 9, or 10 the adrenalin's pumping. It's just too much, way too much. We want to be working with our dogs at sort of 1, 2, 3, 4, and that's the calm learning zone. Then, at 5, 6, and 7 they're starting to get quite a little bit alert, and aware, and stressed. I've always said, "If you think your dog is at a level 7 they're probably at like a 9."

Sue Mimm:

Yeah.

Doggy Dan:

[00:15:00]

If you think they're at a 3, they're probably at a 7. So, we are so not aware of understanding if our dogs are stressed or not.

Sue Mimm:

Correct.

Doggy Dan:

It ties in with this.

Sue Mimm:

Correct. So, one of the things that is really quite exciting about this Vagal Theory is that if we learn to spend more time in the safety zone, in the social engagement zone, we can actually put on a brake to our dogs going into this danger zone, going into the fight or flight.

Doggy Dan:

Got you.

Sue Mimm:

[00:15:30]

That's what we really want to aim, as you said, just like you've been talking about now about keeping our dog's stress levels down. That's what we do by staying in the green zone.

Doggy Dan:

Yes.

Sue Mimm:

[00:16:00]

Then, if you think about it, if you've just been on a two-day, it's a long weekend and you've been out with your friends on Friday. Saturday you had a chill day. Sunday you watched TV or you had a barbecue with your friends, and Monday you went for a massage. Everything is cool in the world. Or, you grabbed your surfboard, I know you live at the beach so you grabbed your surfboard, or you went to the beach, and you come home. By the time Tuesday comes around you're pretty mellow and you've had a good time. Your body's cortisol's all dropped and you're kind of ready to take on the world on Tuesday. If you have stresses that come by your way. Let's say the guy who commented on your T-shirt came by on Tuesday you're more than likely going to say, "Hey, Pal, not interested," and walk away.

Doggy Dan:

Totally.

Sue Mimm:

If, however, that weekend was spent rocking at nightclubs and having a big party, and-

Doggy Dan:

Had a few arguments with the wife, and an argument with my mates, and got stressed with the kids and ...

Sue Mimm:

Exactly.

Doggy Dan:

... embarrassed by my own dogs...

Sue Mimm:

Doing things that they shouldn't be doing. Yeah, then comes Tuesday and the same guy asks you about your T-shirt, what are you going to say to him then?

Doggy Dan:

Yeah, probably snap at him.

Sue Mimm:

[00:17:00]

Exactly. So, that's why we want to spend more time in the green zone, because that's where we can build our resilience. That's where we can build a trust that we have in our dogs. We can help them to learn social skills, and we can help them to be resilient to stress. Stress is always going to happen. We can't negate it. It's going to happen in our lives. It's how we deal with it and bounce back again.

Doggy Dan:

So, the more time we can, basically, spend relaxing with our dogs and not putting them in that stress state, probably the better? Is that a fair comment?

Sue Mimm:

Absolutely. Absolutely. That's what we want to do. We want to spend more time doing things that we really enjoy doing with our dogs, that they enjoy doing, that we both get pleasure out of, that we're not pushed into that stress zone.

Doggy Dan:

[00:18:00]

[00:18:30]

I think this is where, what we're talking about here might not sound that significant, or different, from most training, but most training is actually the opposite of this. A lot of dog training is all about taking your dog ... I mean, how many people have been to a trainer with dog-dog aggression. What you do is you get one dog on one lead, and you get the other dog on the other lead, and you bring the dog who's scared. You look at them, they're all right and you bring them a bit closer and you say, "Good dog," and you give them a treat. If it's okay you bring it closer. Well, you know what's happening don't you? We're going from the green, to the orange, and then if it's okay you bring it even closer, and very often people don't read the dogs very well. They don't realize that the dog who's scared is really getting scared, and we bring it even closer, and closer, and closer until the dog fails, and then we tell the dog off.

Think about that pattern repeated again, and again, and again, and again. What we really want to do is just find a place where the dog can relax. There may be a dog in sight 100 meters away, or 20 meters away. As long as the dog is in the happy, relaxed, calm state, that's the training we're saying we really want to be doing with that dog. Is that a fair comment?

Sue Mimm:

Yeah. Absolutely. If you think about it, like you said, the training, if you're putting your dog in that situation imagine if you had something that you didn't like doing and your mate every day would say, "Come on, Dan, we're going to go and do that today, because maybe today you'll be better and you won't be scared of it." Everyday he said, "Come on, Dan, let's go and do that." Instead of saying, "Come on, Dan, let's get our surfboards and go surfing."

Doggy Dan:

Yes.

Sue Mimm:

Who are you going to trust more? Who's the person you're going to look to and say, "Here's a real mate and a real guide in your life?"

Doggy Dan:

Yes.

Sue Mimm:

Is the guide who's the one who's helping you, who's supporting you, who's not putting you in situations the whole time and saying, "You've really got a problem and I'm going to help you get over your problem."

Doggy Dan:

Yeah, it's the one who creates the amazing life for you that you start to trust more and more and more.

Sue Mimm:

[00:20:00]

Exactly. That's what we want to be for our dogs. We want to be the person that they look to in situations like that, that they do feel uncomfortable and they can look to us and we can say, "No problem, Jack, come on let's go this way. We'll make an arc here and we'll go past this other dog and I'll make sure you've got plenty of space."

Doggy Dan:

Exactly. That's why I often say to people, "Step in early." When you see another dog coming down the road, people say, "What do I do?" Step in early, cross the road, get out of sight and just do whatever you've got to do to keep your dog calm and relaxed. Like you say, the dog then looks at you and goes, "Oh, okay, well you've made a good decision there. We just avoided it. What a great idea."

Sue Mimm:

[00:21:00]

Correct. That's the full engagement, the social engagement system, that we're talking about in the Polyvagal, because that's what people, children, animals, do. When they're in a group of people and they're sensing danger they look to what the other social members in their family group are doing. What are they doing, are they showing? If you take a deep breath and you say, "Ah, it's okay I've got this all under control," "Okay, she's got it. Okay, I'm with her, I'm going to go with her, she's got this under control."

Doggy Dan:

Totally, totally.

Sue Mimm:

That's how we want to build their trust.

Doggy Dan:

It's such a powerful thing, and it's so subtle, and it's kind of so obvious and yet we've kind of learned, and trained, ourselves to do the opposite, partly, I think, because we're so impatient. We just want to fix the problem and make the dog change.

Sue Mimm:

Correct.

Doggy Dan:

[00:21:30]

So, can you share with us a couple of key things that people can do differently which will calm their nervous systems down, which will help them be more calm and relaxed when they see other dogs, which will have an impact on their dogs? Is there any stuff you can?

Sue Mimm:

[00:22:00]

Yeah. I had a reactive dog myself so I know what it's like. It's really, if you're living with dogs that are reactive, or fearful, life can become pretty miserable because you're trying to dodge other dogs, you're trying to dodge other owners, you're trying to take ... Some people have to take their dogs for walks in the middle of the night because they can't go during the day. Sometimes it can be pretty upsetting for dog owners, and frustrating, especially if they had, like most of us we have a vision of what we want the dog to look like, or what we expected it to look like when they came into our life. Suddenly it looks very different.

[00:22:30]

[00:23:00]

So, what we want to do is also concentrate on ourselves learning to be in this safe social engagement system, and we need to learn to become that calm sense for our dogs that they can look to. So, what are the things that we can do to get to that place? It's pretty straightforward stuff. This is not dog stuff, this is like human stuff. What do we do? For me it's, my sort of calming stuff is a bit of meditation every day, or listening to some really cool music, or getting a nice massage, or doing things that I love with my dogs. I love to just cuddle on the couch with them, and we have a good tickle, and that kind of thing, or play games, tug-of-war, whatever it is, whatever you and your dog enjoy doing. That's when you're building those ... First of all, you're flowing oxytocin off and that's going to help all your stress hormones to come down. You just want to do things that you really enjoy doing and that help you.

[00:23:30]

Breathing exercises, for one, is awesome. I love ... This goes back to the Vagal System, as well. This is how we can stop our nervous system from going into the orange is by breathing. You remember I said the body picks up cues from inside and outside the body, so if it picks up our breathing is slowed then it's going to say, "Ah, check out, we can go back into the social engagement system. We don't have to go into the danger system." That's the one way we can actually control it is by controlling our breathing.

Doggy Dan:

[00:24:00]

So something, just to clarify, so something as simple as breathing will not only affect our biology it will be picked up by your dog, and your dog will go, "She's breathing calm, she's calm."

Sue Mimm:

Yes.

Doggy Dan:

Or, "He's breathing calmly, so he's calm." I've noticed this. I do meditation and breathing exercises, and I do quite a bit of yoga and stretching, and I also play something called the harmonium, which ... Actually the harmonium is like an Indian wind instrument. It's like a piano, and I sing, and I may even put a link to it.

Sue Mimm:

Sounds very cool.

Doggy Dan:

It's a beautiful sound, and I love it, and I'm calm and I relax so quickly. What I've noticed when I'm doing my yoga stretches and playing my harmonium is my dogs will very often come sit next to me, just be with me. They choose to be with me, almost like they pick up on the vibe of, "He's calm. I love the energy that's coming off him." If that's the only thing you take out of this podcast today I think it could change not just your life but the dog's life.

Sue Mimm:

So, what you're talking about there, Dan, I don't know if you've heard the word, Co-regulation.

Doggy Dan:

I haven't but I've probably heard of similar things. I think I know where you're coming from but tell me more. Co-regulation, what exactly is it?

Sue Mimm:

Co-regulation. Co-regulation just simply means that you regulate -  your nervous system regulates with the person next to you who you're with.

Doggy Dan:

Beautiful.

Sue Mimm:

[00:25:30]

So, let's say, again, you walk into a really calm room, let's say, not walking into a room full of strangers this time, you walk into a room of people you know and you trust. You start sitting next to the person next to you and you start having a chat. You can feel yourself really relaxing to them, and you relax into their mood. So, if they're in a really relaxed, jokey mood, you also take on that relaxed, jokey mood. Do you know what I mean?

Doggy Dan:

Totally.

Sue Mimm:

Or, if you're sitting next to somebody who's really sad and depressed sometimes you can do the same, and you could also become sad and depressed.

Doggy Dan:

Yes.

Sue Mimm:

[00:26:00]

So, our nervous systems regulate to the person that's around us, or the thing, or the animal, that's in our environment. This is called co-regulation and that's what you said now about when you're chilling out. When you're doing a meditation, or playing your music, or doing something you enjoy that you're really chilling and you're really bringing your energy into balance, a dog senses that. They are so in tune with that, and they co-regulate with that, so they like to come into that. They're drawn to it because their nervous system gets balanced at the same time.

Doggy Dan:

[00:26:30]

How do the dogs pick up on that? How does that co-regulation actually happen? Is it done through sound, or sight, or is it done through our voices, or is it something which is more subtle? I mean, is it actually being picked up through the feelings and emotions? Is it that sort of a-

Sue Mimm:

[00:27:00]

Correct, yeah. That's that neuroception that I was talking about. That's that system that's helping in our subconscious, we don't even know about it. It's picking up those signals and it's reading the energy and the tone of our voice. That's why things like you said you like to play music, but things like singing, chanting, humming, smiling, laughing, all of those actually tone the Vagus Nerve, so actually it's like a muscle. So, the more you do that, the more you tone that muscle, as it were, and those also, those are signs. Laughter is very contagious. We all say laughter is contagious. Why is it contagious? Because it's our systems picking that up as a sign of safety, and we are co-regulating with that and we start laughing, too.

Doggy Dan:

[00:27:30]

[00:28:00]

So, if you're listening to this and go, "Oh, I'm not into meditation, and I can breathe, I do my own breathing, I'm fine and I've never done any yoga, and I can't sing, don't sing, don't dance, don't laugh." if you're going, "I don't know about this stuff," then maybe this is for you. Maybe if you got into this you might go, "You know what, this is a whole other area of life that I could expand into." If you're already doing it well do it some more, good on you. Yeah, fascinating stuff. It's interesting because we're often ... We chatted about this when we last chatted, we are taught that everything kind of goes from the top down, our brains and our bodies. When we were chatting last time you said it's actually our gut instinct can actually pick up on stuff, and that's the way, this is actually the other way around. Is that right?

Sue Mimm:

[00:28:30]

Correct. That is, again, that's the vagus nerve. That's what the vagus nerve does - it picks up signals from our heart, and our lungs, and our gut, and sends it to the brain, and that's when our brain decides which zone it's going to go into. So, it's not just what's happening outside, it's not what we physically perceive through our sight or our hearing, it's what's happening inside. So, if we're feeling good, if we are feeling in a good mood, that's sending those signals up to our brain, and our brain says, "Ah, the Social Engagement System is turned on. My stress is turned off."

Doggy Dan:

[00:29:00]

Wow. It's so fascinating because I, obviously, study a lot of dog trainers, and I work with thousands of dog owners, and I study other animal trainers. One thing I've noticed is that what I feel is the greatest animal... I'll put animal there rather than just dog, but we could say dog, the greatest dog trainers - they are sensitive people. They can feel, so they're not just in their heads full of knowledge and theory. They can sit and if you sit with them they're often quite quiet, they're feeling.

Sue Mimm:

Correct.

Doggy Dan:

[00:29:30]

They're feeling how you are there. They're looking at you. They're watching how you respond. They're together with you. It's that sensitivity that we really, if we develop that with our dogs I feel then that's how we can help our dogs by feeling them, because then it's like we're better able to parent our dogs, and cooperate with them.

Sue Mimm:

Absolutely.

Doggy Dan:

Is that?

Sue Mimm:

[00:30:00]

Yeah, it is. It's so true. As you say, what you would see in a good dog trainer, but look at our dogs themselves. Look how in tune. They don't have this huge prefrontal cortex that we do where all the thinking and the processing happens. They live in that feeling mode. They live in their hearts.

Doggy Dan:

Yes.

Sue Mimm:

They live in that emotional space.

Doggy Dan:

[00:30:30]

Yes. That's what happens when they meet a new person isn't it? They meet a new person and they just go straight into, they have no idea why this person's turned up at the front door, or on the street is probably a better example. They will gauge very quickly whether to trust this person. Yeah, what are they using there? They're using their gut instinct aren't they.

Sue Mimm:

[00:31:00]

[00:31:30]

Exactly, yeah. Unfortunately, what does go wrong, because some people might say, "But, my dog's just always done that. He doesn't like any person. He thinks everybody's a stranger, even if he knows them well." That's when our whole system here is not functioning properly. It could be because they've been put into a dangerous situation, or what they perceive as dangerous, too often, and they're not spending enough time in this green zone, in the social engagement zone, they're only spending time in the red zone and the orange zone. Then, their nervous system automatically defaults to one of those systems without even considering the social engagement system of how can I negotiate this situation? That's the problem where we, we do have dogs who are severely traumatized, or are constantly in this danger fight or flight system. It takes a lot of rehabilitation to get them back into the green zone, but that's what we have to aim for, not more training, more green zone.

Doggy Dan:

[00:32:00]

I think that's the key part, isn't it, it's understanding that a lot of these dogs are... they almost feel like they've had their lives threatened and they've learned helplessness as a learned reactivity almost. They're just in the orange zone, that danger, that fight or flight. We don't realize that so many of our dogs who are classed as aggressive they're just reacting to situations ...

Sue Mimm:

Exactly.

Doggy Dan:

[00:32:30]

... and they just need that whole nervous system to settle. Are there any other ways you can touch on this? Is there anything else you'd like to chat about, I don't know, how we can build those new social skills, or become resilient to stress, or do you really focus more on ... I would say the method that I use is almost... Develop leadership so you can say to your dog, "Trust me," and then almost the same sort of thing, just get your dog in the green zone, just create safety for the dog. Then, when you step into a new dangerous situation your dog will look to you and you stay calm.

Sue Mimm:

Correct.

Doggy Dan:

[00:33:00]

Is there any other stuff you could give us around that that you share with people, or ways that the dogs can help develop new social skills and become resilient to stress? Any other stuff you'd like to touch on?

Sue Mimm:

[00:33:30]

So, exactly what you said. I really also focus on that. I focus on me as myself as the person as your guardian for the dog, that you become that person the dog really wants to listen to. When I say listen to, follow because they know that you've got their best interests at heart, and that you've got their back. They're not going to do that until you've proven that, you've proven that over, and over, and over again, and the way you're going to prove it is by doing, as you say, giving them the chance, showing them when you can see your dog is stressed you say, "I hear you. I can see you. Let's move away from the situation."

[00:34:00]

By doing that, as well, you're also teaching him a social skill. You're teaching him to not react as opposed to react, just like you were willing to negotiate with the guy who was rude about your T-shirt instead of just aggressively attacking him, or shouting at him. We can teach our dogs there is another way. There's a social way we can do this. This is how we do it. By, literally, taking your dog out of the situation you're teaching them to turn their back and ignore that.

Doggy Dan:

I think you put it a beautiful way. You said something like, "We need to recognize that our dogs are having a hard time feeling safe and they're not just giving us a hard time for the fun of it," sort of thing.

Sue Mimm:

[00:34:30]

Absolutely. When our dogs are barking and screaming at the end of the leash, or shut down and fearful, it's not because this is something that they've chosen to do. This is an automatic reaction that their body has sent them into, and they are asking for help and guidance. They are not giving us a hard time. They are screaming at us, "We need help here. If you're not going to give it, this is the only way I know how to cope with it.” So, we need to teach them new ways of how to cope with their stress.

Doggy Dan:

[00:35:00]

Beautiful. Time is the great healer in many ways. When we get it right and we just take the pressure off ourselves and slow everything down and just love ourselves and let our dogs just relax a little bit. Relax and-

Sue Mimm:

Remember why you got a dog in the first place.

Doggy Dan:

Oh my gosh.

Sue Mimm:

[00:35:30]

You had a dog to have fun with him, to do things that you love doing together. Find ways. Be creative. I know sometimes people say, "I can't do this." Find ways. If we are in a creative space, and we can find things to do, and there is plenty we can find to do with our dogs that we love. That's where we start. That's where the whole journey starts, it’s getting into the green zone. Find safety, find fun, find happiness with your dog and your relationship, and start building it from there.

Doggy Dan:

[00:36:00]

When I look back I had a dog who when I was singing, or chanting, or smiling, or laughing, she would come alive, and there was a specific type of dance music, my dear dog Peanut, and Inca. They both knew I was in my happy zone, and they would come. My wife does a lot of kind of craniosacral work and massage work with essential oils, all that sort of stuff. My dogs know, they know when she's in that space.

Sue Mimm:

Absolutely.

Doggy Dan:

They come and join in, and they'll often lie down. That's why people who are in that calm, relaxed space, whether people are gardening, or whatever. Often when my wife and I are relaxing and snuggling next to each other on the TV, the dogs will come in. They're like, "Oh, could we have some of that," because we are producing oxytocin.

Sue Mimm:

[00:36:30]

Absolutely. Even, as you said, you don't even have to be physically doing something with your dog, just doing something that you love doing, your dogs are going to pick up on that and they're going to say, they're going to co-regulate to their energy and say, "Oh, this feels good. This is good."

Doggy Dan:

[00:37:00]

What we're doing here is we're taking the pressure off ourselves and feeling like I have to do five sets of exercises of marching past the other dogs on the street. I'm not saying you don't have to do the training in terms of you do need to if you want to get out there and have your dogs socialized. At some stage, I think you do need to do something, but you need to be aware of first of all settling your dog's nervous system and then whatever you do you have to, I always say keep your dog in that calm zone, or the green zone, as you call it. It's no good just pushing them into that orange or red, because we're often so unaware of how stressed our little dogs are, or big dogs.

Sue Mimm:

[00:37:30]

Correct. It's really, like you said, first of all you've got to get that cortisol down, you've got to get them right into a really de-stressed kind of place first before you even want to consider anything like teaching them new social skills.

Doggy Dan:

How long does that take, just roughly?

Sue Mimm:

It really depends. I can't even say. Some people it happens really quickly because their dogs just needed that cortisol holiday. They just needed to drop all the cortisol.

Doggy Dan:

But it can be a couple of months?

Sue Mimm:

Other dogs, yeah. Other dogs, it can be a good couple of months before they really calm down.

Doggy Dan:

Sorry, carry on. You were saying, once you've done that then?

Sue Mimm:

[00:38:30]

So, once you're at that space you start, I call it like an elastic band. You need to stretch it just a little bit each day, little bit each day and it slowly becomes softer and softer, and wider and wider. If we try and take too big of steps then we're going to, again, be reacting, putting our nervous systems into that stress state for too long a time, or too often, then we're defeating the object. It's got to be done in small, tiny baby steps, tiny increments, and that's the way to work, because that will give you a solid foundation going forward and really build resilience.

Doggy Dan:

There you go, guys. How is that? You need to do more yoga, more lying down relaxing, more listening to music, more laughing, meditating, singing.

Sue Mimm:

All those holistic tools that you spoke about, you know craniosacral, aromatherapy, T-touch (Tellington Touch), acupuncture, all of those things are brilliant, brilliant for getting us into the green zone.

Doggy Dan:

[00:39:30]

I will never forget seeing my dog, we thought she ripped her cruciate ligament on her leg, or something. We took her to a lot of places, and somebody suggested a Chinese acupuncturist guy and we took her to this very well known guy. He hardly spoke any English so it was kind of hard to communicate, but anyway he said we'll put needles in her. Peanut Butter stood there whilst he popped five or ten into her head, around her face and 15 into her leg, and back leg, and thigh, and hip. These things are going in a good between a centimeter and an inch, not into her head into the bone but the ones in the face were quite short, but some of them were in the muscles like a good half inch maybe. She stood there like she was just the happiest dog in the world, and she had to stand in the same spot for about 20 minutes. She didn't move. I was like, "Stay there, Love." She was like, "Yeah, this is just awesome."

Sue Mimm:

Cool.

Doggy Dan:

[00:40:00]

She was so happy. I was like, there's something going on there. That's incredible. There's a lot of stuff we don't fully understand. I guess it's all about trying new stuff.

Sue Mimm:

Yeah, like I said, be creative. There's a lot out there. There's a lot out there.

Doggy Dan:

[00:40:30]

Now, it's been absolutely fantastic, Sue. I've loved it. Time's flown by. Is there anything else you'd like to add in or say? Where can people find out more about you, your website, or if people wanted to have a one-on-one session with you, how can they find you? A little bit about that maybe.

Sue Mimm:

My website is heartconnectiondogs.com. There's not much on there at the moment. I'm not very good about keeping my website up-to-date. There is a contact form on there. Please write to me if you've got questions. I'll give Dan some show notes. Dan you can put some show notes down.

Doggy Dan:

Beautiful.

Sue Mimm:

Maybe a draft, or something, just a recap of what we've done.

Doggy Dan:

Awesome.

Sue Mimm:

If you've got any questions give us a shout. I would love to help you.

Doggy Dan:

[00:41:00]

Yeah. Awesome, Sue. It's just reminded me so much of kind of what I feel. I feel everything that you've said is so true. It ties into my method of training, The Online Dog Trainer, so much so, ...

Sue Mimm:

Brilliant.

Doggy Dan:

[00:41:30]

... brilliant. It's been fantastic. Now, for people who are listening to this and go, "I want to see the show notes, and I want to listen," all of this will be transcribed so people can read these show notes and all the videos and links. If you go to theonlinedogtrainer.com/... Let's just have your name, Sue Mimm... So it's theonlinedogtrainer.com/suemimm. That's really easy and then you can go find the show notes and find the links to, or you can go to heartconnectiondogs.com, and then you'll be able to get in touch with Sue if you want to know any more. I think that's a wrap, Sue. We could go for hours. I'm fascinated and want to know more.

Sue Mimm:

Yeah, it's a great subject, and there is, there's a lot to it. It's been great, good.

Doggy Dan:

[00:42:30]

What I love about it is I've kind of come from one angle, you kind of come from a similar, slightly more scientific, biological. I've come from a more kind of just figured this stuff out. I've always said to people, "Well, you know what, I've kind of figured out that through testing, trial and testing, that if you just give your dogs a massive break for kind of two weeks, just don't take your dogs for a walk for a week, and then when you take them out they're more relaxed and they're better. Just avoid dogs for two weeks and then don't go up to dogs for kind of two or three weeks." I've never really understood how, or

why, or why are dogs always better off the leash than on the leash, but you've explained it.

Sue Mimm:

[00:43:00]

Well, we do. I'm not actually a very scientific person, to be honest with you. For me it was just suddenly, "Ah," it explained everything that I was observing, what I was experiencing. Some people need that. Some people say, "Hey, but I don't get this." If they know that there's a science behind it they go, "Okay, now I'm all right with it."

Doggy Dan:

[00:43:30]

Yes, yes. Well, I've always said that dogs are my judge. So, people may say, "Oh, your theory's wrong." Well, it's like, "Well, you know what, well the dogs are telling me it's actually bang on." I have always then liked to understand the why. So, the dogs are telling me I've got it right, I don't understand why, but they're telling me this works and they like it, and then the science, like you're just saying, the Polyvagal Theory comes in and it explains why. So, for me it's kind of joined the dots up, so been brilliant. Thank you, Sue. It's been wonderful having you on the show today.

Sue Mimm:

Awesome.

Doggy Dan:

To everyone listening who has loved it as well, so thank you so much.

Sue Mimm:

It's been awesome. Thank you so much for having me, Dan, it was really a great chat. Thank you.

Doggy Dan:

Yeah, thank you, thank you. Alrighty, guys, so you've been listening to another edition of the Doggy Dan Podcast Show. Thank you for listening. Thank you, Sue, and, as always guys, have a great day and love your dogs.

Voiceover:

You've been listening to another episode of the Doggy Dan Podcast Show, bringing you one step closer to creating harmony with your dog.

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Doggy Dan

Doggy Dan is the founder of The Online Dog Trainer, a wildly successful online training program for dog owners. His goal is to continue to share his unique approach to dog training with like-minded people who wish to make a difference in the world of dogs. His training methods focus on creating and building the connection between dogs and dog owners, and are shared and used around the world.

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