What is your dog trying to tell you?
The field of canine behaviour and training is an area that I have always been fascinated by. Mostly, this is because dogs are incredibly important in our lives and the history between man and dog is one of great love and support.
But, if dogs were that easy to understand, I would be out of a job and a majority of dogs in pounds, would be happily living in homes without behavioural problems. For me as a behaviourist, it is not so much our need to understand our dogs, but our need to understand ourselves. Humans are complicated. We are also not very good at putting our own needs aside when it comes to the crunch and prioritising the emotions of our dogs, especially if there is no immediate result.
For me, one of the best parts of my job is when I see a human communicate with their dog in a way that is so true and honest, that both of them understand each other the way they need to understand each other. When an owner ‘gets’ their dog for the first time, it is an incredible outcome for me, mostly because the outcome for the dog is so good. And the best part is, dogs are so eager to understand us and speak our language, all we need to do is get better at listening.
I have come up with a few tips to help you open your heart and mind when it comes to understanding your dog. It’s not a quick fix and it takes time and effort. But when you ask a couple who have been happily married most of their lives, their ‘secret’ is usually the same thing – time, effort and compromise.
Observe your dog more. Sit and watch what they do when they are bored, anxious, fearful or angry. The behaviours you see are a means of communicating their inner emotional state.
Make a list of what makes your dog happy and what makes them unhappy. Offer more of the things that make your dog happy. You will see an improvement in their behaviour as a result.
Set your dog up to succeed more. This means that if you put your dog in a situation that makes them feel any or all of those above listed emotions, then you are setting them up to fail. So, expose them to things that they can handle. For example; don’t force an anxious dog into the middle of a dog park. Or, don’t expect a senior dog to sit on command, if they have sore joints. Or, don’t allow a child to hug a dog they do not know (or even a dog they do know for that matter).
Be more empathetic. Sometimes, we expect far too much from our dogs. Because we are highly intelligent evolved apes, we often expect our dogs to think in the same way.
- Capture the good. We focus far too much on the stuff we want changed with our dogs. I promise you that your dog does far more good behaviours than bad, and I haven’t even met your dog! The best way to do this is to adopt my method called The C Words. Reward your dog immediately whenever they are Calm, Cooperative or/and Controlling their impulses. If you look for the C- words, you will be able to seize good behaviours about 50 times a with a high value reward such as the Our Patch treats (or their daily intake of food from the range, so they don’t get too many treats☺). In essence, your dog could be getting their daily intake of nutrition, simply by making good choices each day.
The key to a wonderful relationship is about being an empathetic listener. So, take the time each day to go through these 5 points I have listed, and watch in awe as your dog thanks you. It’s about time we stopped and listened to another’s point of view, and who better to listen to, than our best mates?