The Energy Down the Leash – Emotions Affect Your Performance

k9 sports, human animal bond, dog handlers, dog competition sports, agility, nose work, scent work

There is an important concept every competitive dog handler must understand – emotions affect your performance.

Most handlers already know the power of a dog’s nose. After all, nose work is dedicated to the power of the nose. And we’ve all seen a sleeping dog raise their nose to the air when we try to sneak a treat without them knowing.  The nose knows everything, including how we are feeling.

Our emotions and hormones are closely tied together. Jen Jones, of Your Dog Advisor, said, “When we have changes in our emotions, our hormones change as well (think of stress hormones like cortisol or adrenaline, or happy hormones like oxytocin). These hormones are detectable by dogs in our breath and in our sweat.”

Emotions affect your performance.

Since dogs can detect very minuscule changes to our hormone levels, imagine what message you are sending to your dog if you walk into a trial or competition afraid or stressed out that you won’t compete well. While your dog may not know that you are worried about your performance, they will know that you are worried, and it will affect their performance.

If you expect perfection when you practice or compete and get frustrated when your dog doesn’t live up to those expectations, your dog can sense your frustration through your scent and body language, and maybe even lose their love of the game. Emotions affect your performance!

Handlers often talk about the energy going down the leash. It refers to the energy you bring to the situation. If you are worried, upset, angry, fearful your dog will pick up on it through scent and respond accordingly. However, if you are confident, joyful, and positive, your dog will pick up on those emotions and respond accordingly.

Your mindset is the most important element in becoming a winning handler. The first step is to release the emotions that are preventing you from recognizing your blocks to success.

Emotions to Release


When we are angry, we are slaves to our emotions. For some of us, anger is our natural state, it is our learned way of being. But anger puts our brain waves into a high beta state and our mind goes in a thousand different directions. We can’t make good decisions when are brain is in beta. Sometimes people choose anger because it dissolves them of responsibility – it was her fault, or his fault. It was the judge’s fault, or the dogs fault or the locations fault.  Anger is a means of misdirection. It allows us to place the embarrassment, shame, and disappointment of our actions on to someone or something else.

Sometimes we point the anger at ourselves. If only I was a better handler? I look like a fool in front of the judge. My dog would do great with a different handler. Why do I even spend the money to compete? Any of these thoughts sound familiar? It’s common to turn our anger on ourselves but it does absolutely no good. These negative thoughts are blocks to success, and they keep us from being present with our dog and working as a team.

Anger also is a sign of attachment. Are you attached to a particular outcome, winning for example?  Being angry, blaming, and attachment to outcomes, robs us of the joy in the present moment. Our dog’s pick up on this anger too. The energy of anger does travel down the leash, and while your dog may not understand that you are mad about being late to the trial or stubbing your toe when you got out of bed because your partner didn’t put away that thing that you’ve asked him to do a thousand times. No, your dog may not know why, but they definitely feel your energy and if you are angry, it’s chaotic.


Worry is another form of energy that can affect your dog’s performance. Just like with anger, when we are worried our brain is in a high betta state. Worry generally comes from the inability to relax into the unknown. If we look deeper into what we are worried about, we usually find that the underlying cause of worry is fear. It can cause us to go into fight or flight mode causing us to react rather than make good decisions. It also makes it more difficult to be part of a team with our dog.

Follow us for more blogs on how to create a winning mindset. If you’re ready to get started now, so you can approach every competition with confidence, contact us for our upcoming class designed especially for dog sport handlers. Find more information HERE.

About The Author

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top