Catch Your Dog . . .
. . . Being Good. When your son is worried about a big event he can feel better going with a friend. If your sister is anxious about being sick she can call a doctor. If your Mom is fretting about fixing her roof she can sit down with an expert and come up with a plan.
When your dog is anxious about how to behave when you are gone what can he do? Your dog can only hope that you will see the situation through his eyes. He can hope that you will recognize that he knows his very life depends on you taking care of him. Some dog experts believe that a well-mannered dog who got some training for manners will become a happy dog. Couldn't we just flip that script? Let me explain! When I first brought home my rescue dog (a so-called unruly dog) I decided to temper the stories, warnings, and pre-conceived expectations by deciding to simply get to know my new dog with an open mind.
What were his fears? Was he a coach potato or driven by high energy? Why did he hang around the door taking in deep air by sucking it in through his nose for long drawn out breathes? What emotions did he seem to experience? When? Why did he slump to the floor when he thought he was in trouble? Why were his eyes full of fear if I seemed even slightly displeased with him? Why did he seem to love to calmly sit & watch the world go by at his happiest? We were both figuring each other out. My guess is he spent more time doing this than I did. My guess was that it was vitally important to him to analyze my every move, habits, moods, and preferences.
Dogs are social animals. And since I adopted him to feel a sense of connection and love, I put time in to get to know him, over ordering him to "get things right" now that he was in my home. I trusted that good things would come in tandem with the slower process. What developed was a mutual kind of respect. When I found him resting on my couch one morning, I angrily demanded he get off. Triggering what? An old sense of fear? Instead, I gave him a second chance. I leaned in and used power body language saying "off." It was when I smirked and asked him again with a firm but kind voice - as if I knew that he knew this was not allowed - that he was able to show me he understood. No couch. Not here in this house. He has never been on it since.
Now, I know every dog is different. Every dog has a history. What would happen IF you tried to lessen the dictator role and use your Natural Influence - the most powerful tool you have in your arsenal? Your dog depends on you 100% and is motivated to please you. Help her to trust you. Never make her feel she has to always earn your love and caring. That's exhausting and impossible all of the time. Help your dog learn. Your dog will learn what keeps her world in sync and she will develop a strong bond. Isn't that why you brought a dog into your home in the first place?
Give your dog a chance to self direct - just as it does for human beings - self direction is powerful and allows for a greater understanding. Having some bit of control over one's environment helps pets (and kids) have greater mental well being.
When my children were little, I received some basic guidance that is easy to forget. It was to be mindful of this: how did I look at my kids when they got into my car after a day at school (and work for me)? What about when they walked into the kitchen or a room? Did my children get eyes of love? Or, of bother? Did my eyes tell them "I adore you and love you?" Were my eyes ones that said "I am tired," or "what will I need to do for you next?" Look with eyes of love.
Dogs are like kids.
So here is the flipped script: A dog that receives love, attention, adequate exercise, and an owner tuned in to the basic reason she is driven to please - and who will not take advantage of that drive - this dog? This dog will become a happy dog. She will try her best to learn what you want her to do. After she feels safe in that you trust her to do her best. Not before. You can train and train and train, but a happy, relaxed dog is one who feels safe in making a mistake and then what follows will be pretty good.
I am not a professional dog trainer. I do train my own dogs (Sadie is pictured here) and I hang around some dang good canine trainers. Much of this Blog is adapted from the bond-based training approach by Jennifer Arnold. Her book is called Love is All You Need: The Revolutionary Bond-Based Approach to Educating Your Dog.
I love the word "educate." Guide and teach are words I like, too, for canines and our youth. I see the same magic happen when we trust kids of all ages - who are learning about the wider world. So, instead of New Year resolutions, I am ending the year with my plea for all dogs to be on the receiving end of a heap of patience.
Here are some ideas for games, sports and fun with your dog (and maybe your kids, too!):
Agility, Animal Assisted Activities such as Therapy Dogs, Bikejoring, Canicross, Carting, Coursing and Racing, Day trips and vacations, Disc Dog, Flying Disc, Dock Jumping, Dock Diving, Dog Camps, Dog Scootering, Earthdog Trials, Flyball, Flygility, Games, Herding, Hiking, Backpacking, Hunt and Field Trials, Mushing, Musical Freestyle (Dog Dancing), Obedience, Precision Drill Teams, Pulling, Racing, Rally Obedience, Ring Sport, Rollerblade, Schutzhund, Skijoring, Sledding, Sniffer Dog, Stock Dog Trials, Tracking, Treibball, Water Work, Weight Pulling. Get to know your dog, its breed characteristics and have fun!
From my family to yours: HAPPY, HEALTHY, NEW YEAR!
Now, Over to You and Your Dogs! HAVE A BLAST TOGETHER !!!!!!