The Deep Connection
How to matter to your dog... be relevant... find that deep connection with dogs we see and hear about in the movies and books. So many owners feel that their dog, even if they behave well, don't ever listen!!
Let me try NOT to get into the weeds by talking about initial genetics of a dog, certain behavioral limitations and just give some awesome foundational generalizations you can use with your pooch at home.
I'll start with human examples and then relate it to dogs. I know, I know, we shouldn't humanize dogs, which is incredibly TRUE, but in some ways we should (breaking the rules!)
Growing up I had several people I looked up to for different reasons and at the time I didn’t realize the impact they would have on shaping my life and who I am now. Some of those people were loving and kind. They made me feel safe and I wanted to do good things to make them proud of me. Others gave me life lessons, helped me see the world differently and taught me a thing or two, often by critiquing me and providing accountability. They challenged me mentally and at the time I rarely appreciated it in the moment. Looking back, they had the biggest impact. Then, if you are really lucky, you had someone in your life that represented both. If you had someone in your life that filled both of those examples, then you are very lucky and must have felt very close to them, or looking back, are very grateful to them now. That is what we need to be for our dogs to have a truly deep and connected relationship with them. Big shoes to fill, I know!
How do you do that with a dog? I’m glad you asked! My examples will sound generic, but I’m going to unpack them with examples and sometimes...it may not be what you think!
1. Setting Rules
2. Enforcing the Rules
4. Having New Experiences
5. Working through a Tough Situation
6. Snuggling or Belly Rubbing
Setting the Rules:
Dogs need rules just like people need rules. Rules make us feel safer and more confident. Many studies have been done on this. Humans are happier and less stressed with some structure and less choices. Of course we have the freedom to step out of that box, but that is what makes us different, rationalization. Dogs LOVE knowing what they can and can’t do. But here is the hard part...setting the rules and being consistent. In dogs changing the rules, which even means being lenient with rules occasionally, actually causes stress and anxiety. You can’t tell them that sometimes it’s okay to jump on a family member coming through the door and other times it is not okay. You work on the no jumping, then on a tired day you let them jump on that family member only to get upset about it the next day and try to work on it again. This confusion can cause anxiety that you don’t recognize because it manifests in other ways that seem unrelated. That is why number two is so important.
Enforcing the Rules:
When you are consistent with the rules you have set, they feel clear to the dog. You have consequences for not following the rules and that makes a dog feel safe, truly safe in the fact that they have a consistent leader in their world that they can depend on and trust in to lead them in this life. You become solid, confident and a rock in their eyes. This creates a deep connection based on respect and they have the confidence in you to follow you anywhere. This may sound flowery, but that doesn’t change the fact that it is true :) In situations like I mentioned above, jumping on a guest, you must find a way to prevent the jumping if you can’t work on it in the moment. That is what allows everyone to get a break when needed. That could mean putting your dog in another room, crate or a stay/place command and not interacting with the guest that day.
Now this is an obvious one right? When the person in your life that provides guidance, structure and food also plays with you? That feels like the whole package to a dog. They feel they have everything they could ever need in the world! Just remember, even that play should be structured. Play doesn’t mean run over the kids or refuse to give up a toy because they are so excited. Just like with sports, there are still rules to play that must be enforced. This gives you even more practice enforcing rules when your dog is in a highly aroused state of mind and being the source of that excitement and fun.
Having New Experiences:
Taking your dog somewhere new and outside can be a main part of owning a dog! Especially in the city people love to venture out and enjoy their pups. Even little dogs need to be a dog (because they are one) and really get out and experience new things. This is another way you become a leader and the giver of fun to your dog. The bonding experience can really connect between you, your dog and nature. This is what books and poems have been written about, experiencing life by connecting with nature and animal. More warm fuzzies, I know, but it’s true. If you don’t feel the same then you are missing out! Other examples are trying agility or nose work classes. Something where you are experiencing new things and navigating them through something fun. Many options, like agility, combine having new experiences with working through a tough situation.
Working through a Tough Situation:
I have touched on this in a previous blog, so I will keep this short. Finding something your dog is uncomfortable with and being able to guide them through it puts you in a whole new level of awesome dog owner in your dog’s eyes. A perfect example is my border collie loves to jump up, but was never comfortable jumping on things. That is no big deal right? That’s not even a serious behavioral issue and seems silly. I assure you, it is not. By teaching him he could jump on rocks, tree stumps, into the car, anything he was a little timid and unsure about, we built a new level of TRUST that deepened our bond and we continue to work on it. That led to me being able to overcome other insecurities he had of men even easier, because I had worked him through those moments, his trust in me grew. To tie into the agility I mentioned above, many dogs are scared of the agility tunnel! Perfect opportunity to work your dog through a new and scary situation that turns out FUN. I’ve seen some owners over come that in one class, whereas other owners took several classes before their dog enjoyed the tunnel. The owners that had to work the longest and hardest enjoyed the biggest reward...and such is life.
Belly rubs or snuggling!
Finally the easy one! Of course we should share softness and affection with our dogs, but I put this last for a reason. It should be the last, not the first thing given. When we often do it backwards, we create so much confusion in the dog that we can’t enjoy the other steps. When the dog and owner relationship is ready, bring on the snuggling!