How can I bond better with my dog? How do we connect more? I’m not even sure she even likes me! We care about our dogs and, as a consequence, we worry about questions such as these from time to time.
Certain situations or scenarios mean they just pop into our head from time to time and, most likely, they’re completely unfounded. Having said that, there’s definitely room to think about how we can be a little more ‘in tune’ with our dogs – if we are, both our lives benefit.
What Kind of Dog is Your Dog?
Whether we choose pedigrees or cross-breeds, all dogs have innate instincts, so think about what that actually means.
So often behavior traits or training issues are labeled as problems, when really they’re just manifestations of normal breed behavior.
A little understanding here goes a long, long way. For example, we may have sighthounds, such as whippets or greyhounds, that become terribly distracted with lots of visuals – even at long distance – as well as small furries or other dogs running around them. This may interfere greatly with our desire to get their attention or coming back when called, but it’s what these dogs do. Instead, we can understand this and work with it.
Understand and Adapt
Do we expect everyone we meet to be the same? Of course not! Dogs are living, sentient beings and will adapt to situations and the individuals they meet in completely different ways. Some are more reserved and some more outgoing. The effects of past experiences, deficits in socialization for instance, will also have an effect and we must respect this, not be impatient and be able to assist the dog with behavior change where needed.
Respect the Dog as an Individual
We can do this by accepting our dog’s own merits and flaws and providing every assistance we can where necessary. Understanding and accepting that the dog we have now is not the same as our previous dog is also part of this.
Help, Don’t Chastise
We need to stand back and ask ourselves why our dog is behaving in a particular way. Why is she lunging at another dog, aggressive toward strangers, barking in the night etc.? Shouting or chastising is a nonstarter. There is a reason why this behavior is happening and, as our dogs’ guardians, it is our task to understand and help them through it.
We all like some quiet time away from it all and so do our dogs. We can help here by keeping a safe area for them where they can retreat and where deep sleep can occur. Many dogs with behavior issues are so highly aroused, they are absolutely exhausted as a result.
Providing lots of mental and physical enrichment can help alleviate boredom, as can varying walks. We all get bored with walks around the same block. Introducing puzzle toys, different games, activities, novelty toys etc., especially for high energy dogs, is another great way to channel energy and give dogs opportunities to engage their brains.
Actually stopping and listening to what our dogs are telling us is essential for effective interspecies communication. Not enough time is spent doing this in my opinion. If a dog stops on walks, shows appeasement signals, barks, doesn’t like the harness being put on etc., we should be taking notice and asking ourselves why that is, rather than seeing it as a frustration.
We can all learn a lot about our dogs by taking the time enjoying things together. This may include switching off our phones on walks, stopping when our dog stops, talking to him, wondering what he’s sniffing, letting him mix and socialize (if he and the other dog(s) want to), and watching how he communicates with others.
Consider, then, whether you need to change anything. Is your dog’s food working. Is his walk regime okay? Is your training class/daycare/dog walker really okay? What about the way you interact with your dog and your training methods, are there better, or kinder, more modern, methods you could employ?
Have patience! We’re all struggling for time, all the time. It’s hard to fit helping our dogs and their schedules into our busy day and sometimes our frustration builds. I recommend you take a deep breath each time you feel like this, walk away, and remember the one person who is always there for you, no matter how snippy you’ve been with him, and who will always welcome you with that smiling face and waggy tail!