Training is important, but starting by building a relationship with your dog is more important. Have you built a good relationship with your dog? Would you like to know how you can? This episode is for you.Support the show
Hello! How are you today? Do you like when someone asks you that or are you like me and think, “Do you really want to know?” I think in general people mean well and are really trying to connect but I do find myself often thinking - how much should I tell you lol. So we all say the usual good and you? Am I right? Sometimes yes I am good. But other times that is definitely an easy way out.
Have you ever stopped to think about what your dog is thinking? Or how they are feeling? How often do you ask them “How are you today? Right now? In this training session? In this real life moment?”
I find myself doing this more and more and I really enjoy what I get back. Today I want to talk about building relationships with our dogs. Why is it important? How do we do it? And how can I get better at it?
I always start with the why. If we don’t have a purpose to do something, we often don’t do it. The why behind what we do is important. Dogs do things that work for them. If it doesn’t work for them, they change their behavior and try something else until they find something that works for them. They also need a why. So why spend the time to build a relationship with my dog? Trust is important. My dog feeling safe is important. A mutual understanding between us is important. These three things all play into my dog being happy and healthy. These things build a bond between us where we feel safe, trust one another and work to understand one another. Is this not the framework of a good relationship? A strong relationship makes for a happy life together - one where my dog and me both enjoy being together.
How do we do this? First, I think we let go initially of our push to perform. It is easy to jump right into the task list we have for our dogs. For example, I may want to teach my dog to sit, down, stay and come. All worthy goals. These things are definitely important to me. BUT, by taking the time to first build trust, help my dog feel safe around me and learn to understand one another by communicating, we see greater results in positive behavior and have fewer behavior problems.
Start by spending time with your dog. Get to know them. What motivates them? What excites them? What helps them relax? What calms them down?
Communicate with them. Learn to read their body language and understand what they are saying with it. What does it mean when their tail is held high, wagging stiffly? What does it mean when they pin their ears back? What does it mean when they shake off even though they are dry? How will my dog react when they see another dog or a person? Does moving away and giving them space help their body language change into a relaxed manner? Just a tip for you - yes, yes it does - try it if you haven’t already!
If I reach in to pet my dog while they are relaxing and they duck away, what are they telling me? Do I give my dog space and choice in the matter? Knowing my dog allows me to better set them up for success. It gives me the opportunity to anticipate what they will do next which gives me time to then plan and make adjustments to help them succeed in the given scenario.
These things communicate to my dog that they can trust me. I am their advocate and want them to succeed.
Play with your dog. Play is powerful and a great way to have together, get to know each other and practice things they know from a training stand point. Find an activity your dog enjoys. This evolves over time so don’t give up on any one thing too soon and likewise don’t get stuck on just one thing too quickly. Present your dog with different toys like a ball, frisbee, bumper or tug toy and see what they gravitate towards. Maybe they really love scent games like Find Your Food or searching for random items. Hide and Seek may be their favorite. If your dog is fast and a mover, agility may be their ticket. Maybe they have several activities they enjoy - mix it up! Learn to have fun together. New puppies don’t have a lot of coordination yet so scent games, small games of fetch and gentle tug are often where I start. Interest in balls, frisbees and such comes in time. If you are starting out with an older dog, you can go there more quickly.
Help them think on their own. The more direction my dog needs from me, the more effort and stress I have in managing their behavior. However, if I can help my dog figure things out on their own, they manage themselves. How great is that? For example, I can ask my dog to sit, or I can wait for them to try it on their own, reward that choice, and watch that choice recur more often. Now my dog is making good choices on their own and I’m not saying anything. They are choosing it.
Anytime I can help my dog think on their own the better. When I’m out on a walk and I stop to say hello to a friend, my dog lays down and relaxes while I have a conversation. When I’m done, I check in and make sure my dog is ready - I even say, “Are you ready?” Then I follow it up with “Let’s go” once I see they are ready to go. It is a relationship not an I say, you do, way of living. I highly recommend it.
Relationship based training is so enjoyable to me. It takes the frustration out of me giving orders which I expect to be followed. What if those don’t get followed? Instead of trying to control a living breathing creature, I am working with them. We cooperate together and find success together. My dog trusts that I am there for them - caring and affection are always available - not something to be earned.
What are the key takeaways and things we can do to get better at creating good relationships with our dogs? Self assess - how well do you know your dog? Make a list of things you know about them and each day add to that list. Include the things we talked about such as their likes, dislikes, body language communications, etc. Spend time with them without giving orders. Ask more questions! Really try to understand them and how they feel about what you are doing. Take time. Patience goes a long way in allowing your dog to have a say in what is happening. Try not to be in a rush or push things too quickly. Step back and reassess if needed to determine how best to move forward - maybe your dog struggles to be groomed. Instead of forcing it, break it down into small achievable steps and go at your dog’s pace. Create a start stop button using a platform, chin rest or eye contact so the dog can tell you when they are ready. We are happy to help you get this started inside our program.
I hope I gave you something to think about. We are always learning, growing and striving to become better. We are in this together. Have a great week and I'll talk to you soon.