How often do you feel you really connect with your dog? I mean really? Do you feel that you understand how she feels? Do you recognize that things have changed? For example, maybe healthwise your dog is not quite as fit as she used to be and doesn’t want to walk as far. Maybe she is experiencing some pain in her muscles or joints. Maybe something else is going on.
Is she less social with other dogs or people as she used to be? Is friction occurring in situations where it previously would not have? And when you walk your dog, what is the real purpose, and how do you feel about that walk? Do you count it as a bonding exercise, a time to switch off from work, a chore, or maybe a time to continue working, just out of the office?
During these so-called pandemic times, where I, like so many of us, have been forced to take some time off from a regular 9-5 schedule, I’ve been observing the relationships between owners and their dogs specifically at walk times and it amazes me just how switched off many seem to be. I must admit that I find it quite frustrating because, in some cases at least, it’s like watching the development of behavioral issues in slow motion.
Of course, we all live such busy lives and any amount of down time is immediately seen as an opportunity to catch up on a call, a text, a message, news etc., so we don’t have to do it later on. The problem is, however, that if we’re constantly on the phone or plugged into music or otherwise distracted when we’re out with our dogs, we may end up being entirely tuned out to them and personally I think this is a real shame.
While I’m not advocating we do this every single walk, maybe we can sometimes at least devote a little more time to just us and our dogs. We risk missing out on so much when we’re not paying attention. We may be totally zoned out as to how our dogs are communicating with us –or at least attempting to.
We may be blindly walking on by, ignorant of our dog’s check backs, upward glances, tactile touches, engagement, bouncing back from distraction, play with other dogs etc. – all of which we could readily reinforce if we were not so absorbed in our own little world. It’s such a shame because, of course, dogs will readily repeat behaviors if they are profitable to them.
Occurrences such as these take no effort for us to engage in, but if we don’t pay attention they become missed opportunities, not only for reinforcement but also for bonding and positive connectivity.
Dog Being Dogs
We may also miss out on watching our dogs be dogs! Even if we spend just 10 minutes simply observing their behavior, it’s so fascinating and we can learn so much. But because we’re always pushed for time, dogs taking their sweet time to sniff, watch, scratch, trail etc. can become frustrating. Yet they are doing what dogs do and engaging in their natural behaviors.
I recommend spending some time, whenever you have it, watching, understanding and observing your dog’s interactions with other dogs. Notice how she postures differently with dogs of various characters and how she mimics their behavior or initiates play. Canine interactions are intriguing to watch and really tell a story.
Once you’re a little more tuned in to your dog’s behavior, you might start to notice some small changes. Perhaps all is not well in a specific area for example. Maybe your dog is becoming a little more anxious, fearful, excitable, or exuberant.
There may be some surprises if you start to focus more closely on how she reacts to unfamiliar people and novel stimuli when walking down the street, or how she interacts with specific types/colors/breeds of dogs, for instance.
If there are potential behavior issues brewing, the sooner you can recognize them, the sooner you can seek professional help to resolve them.
Lone Dog Syndrome
I think one of the most frustrating things for many is ‘lone dog syndrome,’ or maybe this should be ‘lone owner syndrome’ since the two seem so disconnected! In such cases, the owner is in a world of their own while their dog is roaming miles away without a care in the world. This can be extremely problematic if you have a dog that is anxious, or fearful, or reactive for any reason.
My view is that if you’re out with your dog, you should know exactly where she is at all times, as well as what she’s doing and who she’s with. Not everyone is going to be happy about your dog interacting with theirs, and they may have good reason for this. Be quick and alert to this fact and recognize that you will have to put your dog on a leash if someone else also has their dog on a leash.
Aside from all of the above though, the time with our dogs, however long or short, is a privileged time. It is a unique opportunity to bond with them and revel in the companionship and pleasure our dogs give us.
In my opinion, to view walk time as a chore is sad (although there are times when it’s pouring down with rain when we all think twice about it!). Instead, my recommendation is to view your dog walks as a time for mutual destressing, an opportunity to escape the constant demands made on us and take a nosedive into the multisensory, unconditionally loving, and observationally fascinating world of our dogs.