The (Not So) Basics
Like any good relationship, having a successful relationship with your dog involves communication, respect, and trust.
Clear communication of your boundaries (both physical, as in the house, and personal, as in your space), your expectations (for how you’d like your dog to handle a certain situation) and your feelings (making sure your body language and your words match up; I refer to this a lot as conviction) are critical in helping your dog understand how to live life with us humans. For example, if you’re not happy that your dog is jumping up on you or guests when you walk in the door, don’t smile/laugh and tell him to get off of you – this could give him mixed signals. Again, your conviction isn’t there, and that’s one of the most prominent things that dogs pay attention to. Instead, turn and ignore your dog completely by walking away and giving no energy to his jumping (like you mean it!) and he’ll get the hint that jumping up is no way to get your love and attention.
Respect can mean many things. It means understanding your dog’s personality, limitations, and comfort level and not pushing your dog beyond his means. It also means setting up situations in the right way to meet your dog where he’s at emotionally and mentally to teach him in ways he can understand. And of course, it means how to treat your dog so he can look up to you as a positive and confident leader that he wants to please because it’s enjoyable for both of you (not one that he fears or resents working with). For more tips on creating a respectable leadership, see my article R.E.S.P.E.C.T. – Find Out What it Means to Your Dog.
Trust feeds off of respect. If you don’t push your dog beyond his means, or do things that add an undue amount of stress to his life (whether unintentional or not), it will be easier for him to feel like you’ve got his back and won’t throw him into the fire. For example, if your dog is anxious about new places, take the appropriate steps to build him up and let him process these new places at his pace and comfort level. This builds trust, and a dog who trusts you is certainly easier to work with and more eager to please.
I know, life gets busy and it always seems like there aren’t enough hours in the day! If you have children, your life basically revolves around them. You make time for the kids, so why not make just a little bit of time for your dog too? If you just make a little bit of time, I’m sure you’ll find that it’ll mean wonders for your relationship with your dog, and you’ll see changes in your whole household as well. Dogs are social animals, after all, and social interaction is one of their critical needs!
And when it comes to your dog’s need for playtime, you and the kids can even participate together and make it fun time for the whole family! Just think – some of the things that your dog needs from you will do wonders for you as well! For example, taking your dog for a short walk daily or adding in a couple of games of fetch or tug gets you moving and is better for your health than sitting behind a desk all day. It could take the edge off of your dog’s energy too so he will be better behaved during downtime when you’re all trying to relax!
Yes, sometimes training can seem like an inconvenience – but only if you look at it like a bunch of extra hours you have to add to your day. Your dog is going to learn as he goes about life, and honestly, this is the best way to teach your dog how to apply his skills to everyday situations anyway (rather than taking an hour each night to run through obedience drills). While it does take some time to break lessons down into small slices to meet the dog’s needs for learning (like when building confidence or decreasing anxiety), putting in the work from the beginning or when you first notice the concern means less work (and frustration) later.
In my line of work, I find that teaching the humans is actually the primary part of my job. It is my goal to give you a set of tools so you can be a good dog parent and adjust to handling whatever comes your way together. Kind of like how a new mother might consult her own mom about how to care for her newborn baby, what I do is guide my clients through a better understanding of the canine members of their family and how to create harmony for all. And each day I am so grateful I get to do this!
The last part, and perhaps the most significant, in creating a healthy and happy bond with your dog is to make learning and your time together FUN! Play games, spend quality time doing things your dog loves and that you love, and lighten things up when life gets to be too serious. (For some of my favorite bonding suggestions, stay tuned for my top 5 Fun Experiences to Share With Your Dog, which I’ll be posting soon!)
Dogs live in the moment – it’s one of the things I love most about them. And it’s a lesson that too many of us fail to incorporate into our own lives. We are often trying to get our dogs to learn from us, but I think a lot can be said from learning from our dogs as well.
Happy New Year and happy bonding!
Maria Huntoon, CBCC-KA