by Sandra Roosna, CCDT, FDM, & owner of Benny’s Best Dog Training
Want your dog to listen to you? Be someone worth listening to.
Establish a relationship with your dog.
Your relationship is the basis for trust and safety. It is what helps your dog to recognize that you make the right decisions, so they don’t feel the need to step up to the plate when a situation may call for it (what we define as “misbehavior”).
Consider this: would you be more likely to trust and work for an employer who berates you, claims your work is inadequate, underpays, and is known to make wrong decisions for the company, or would you be more inclined to have faith in and work at a company where your employer acknowledges your hard work, doesn’t judge, pays well, offers help, encourages open communication, and is experienced in building a successful company?
As it turns out, dogs are no different from us in that regard. Encouragement, reinforcement, and providing a safe and comfortable environment means the world to your dog. They deserve to know that they can hang their hat on you no matter what.
A common way to think about it is in terms of Relationship-Trust Account. It is your communal bank account, where you contribute a little at a time as soon as you open that account. Let’s say you’ve had largely positive experiences with your pup throughout their life. Inevitably there is going to be a time when you have to make a withdrawal, either in the form of bathing your pup, brushing their teeth, or restraining them at the vet office during an unpleasant procedure. You want there to be enough in the account to ensure that when you occasionally have to make a withdrawal, it won’t affect the relationship you’ve built. So the more you have in your account, the better.
Here are the key ways to help build and maintain a relationship with your pup:
● Meet your dog’s needs: provide proper nutrition, vet care, mental and physical stimulation, routine, companionship, and safety.
● Learn how your dog communicates with you and the environment. Read up on dog body language (I highly recommend “Calming Signals” by Turid Rugaas), and pay attention to when your dog is excited, anxious, happy, uncomfortable, or frightened. Most stress signals are incredibly subtle and often misinterpreted by us.
● Be fun to be around and vary your rewards. Want a solid recall? Ensure you practice it early on and continuously, using anything your pup enjoys, from toys, sticks, access to certain areas, praise, treats, to your chipper disposition. Avoid getting angry and only calling your dog over to end fun things (e.g. going home from the dog park or getting their nails clipped).
● Manage your environment: keep all surfaces clear if your dog is a counter surfer. If they’re a digger, set up barriers around the areas where they dig and provide them with a dig box. We can’t expect our dogs to behave better if we can’t at least meet them halfway.
● Do not force your anxious dog to socialize with other dogs. It is okay to not want to be friends with everyone out there, just like you don’t like every person you’ve ever met. Make it clear to your dog that you hear them and will keep them safe no matter what.
● Practice cooperative care procedures. This once again boils down to reading what your dog is telling you. You’d be surprised by how willing your dog will be to say “yes” if you respect the times they tell you “no”.
● Avoid punishing your dog. Nothing puts a bigger dent in a relationship than coming off scary and unpredictable to your pup.
About the Author
Sandra Roosna is a born and bred Estonian who shares a home with three couch-hoggers: Benny, Jess, and Waffles. Her career path began during her undergrad years at Brooklyn College, where she worked as a dog handler and overnight attendant at dog daycares around New York City. She went from managing daycares to working and volunteering in animal rescues in New York and Phoenix. Sandra puts a strong emphasis on forming solid relationships between people and their pups. While treats and toys are great for building and maintaining engagement, the ongoing strengthening of bonds with your dog is what leads to a happy and harmonious life together. When she works with dogs, she has fun with it, and encourages their humans to do the same. She approaches every case with compassion and sensitivity.