Building a better relationship with your dog

Many people love the relationship that they have with their dog, as their dog is a source of affection and amusement.  However often that relationship can be improved from the dog’s point of view (more on this later if you want to know about building a better relationship with your dog!).  Whereas other people get in touch with me to help them with building a better relationship with their dog because things have started to go wrong. Their dog may be growling at them, being assertive and/or dominant, refusing to come over when called, and generally not being a joy to live with.  This was the case with Alfie (pictured).

building a better relationship with your dog

While his relationship with his male owner was quite positive and affectionate; his relationship with his female owner left a lot to be desired. He was treating her very differently, pushing the boundaries, being very challenging…  Often growling at her, and refusing to come over to her when she called him, wanting to play or give him a fuss.  This is both worrying and upsetting for owners to deal with, so if this is the relationship you are currently experiencing with your dog, fear not!

How to create a better relationship with your dog

The first thing which needs to happen is for your dog to understand that you are no threat to his or her safety.  Obviously you aren’t, but that doesn’t mean your dog knows this!  So it’s important to avoid the following:

  • Held eye contact
  • Approaching your dog (going into their personal space)
  • Shouting at your dog
  • Hugging them (sorry!)
  • Any other “confrontational” behaviour (e.g. trying to take items off them)

Think for a moment how you would feel if someone that you didn’t quite trust did any of these things to you… they are all going to make you feel more uneasy, not less so!  By avoiding these behaviours you become non-threatening to your dog.

Teach them to WANT your affection…

Now think about classic human dating situations, and the old adage “Treat them mean, keep them keen”…  Now I’m not suggesting that you be mean to dogs (or your partner/potential love interest).  All I’m suggesting is that if something is available all the time and continuously being thrust upon you, it’s less desirable.  If that something didn’t text or call you, you may feel a sudden pang of wanting!  You can create the same scarcity factor with your dog.  Instead of trying to gain favour by continuously asking for attention and affection, change the relationship around.  Follow these simple steps:

  1. Whenever you enter a room your dog is in, initially ignore it.  Don’t pay him/her any attention at all, including eye contact.
  2. Once they have totally left you alone and relaxed, give them a few minutes then you can invite them over kindly for your attention, with a little food reward.
  3. If they come over praise, gently stroke briefly and give the reward, then resume your own activities and go back to ignoring them.  Repeat again after a longer period has passed (at least 30 minutes).
  4. If they don’t come over initially go back to ignoring them for at least another 30 minutes.  There’s every chance they will come over on their own terms later, you must ignore this.  Keep things on your terms.
  5. Don’t allow them to come and sit/lie with you for several days.  Keep interactions brief and positive, and on your terms.

Keep this ignoring technique going on an ongoing basis, and slowly build up the length of time that you allow them to stay with you, receiving fuss and affection after they have relaxed.

How do I reprimand them for bad behaviour?

So if you are ignoring your dog and not shouting at them any more, you are no doubt wondering how you will teach them right from wrong.  The thing is that “bad” behaviour from a dog is often some kind of test or challenge and they are doing it to see how you will react.  If you can ignore it, ignore it.  If it’s something more serious like growling at you, toileting in front of you etc, then calmly walk out of the room and shut the door behind you.

If your dog is prone to jumping up at you, don’t tell them to get down, as this means they got attention on their terms.  Simply push them away gently, without saying anything or making eye contact.

Alfie’s owners followed this advice, with a few other things for other behaviour as well, and they are really pleased with how much their relationship has improved in only 2 weeks!

Improving an already good relationship with your dog.

If you consider your relationship with your dog to be good, that probably means that they are very affection and quite attached to you.  This is good in that it means that you have a loyal companion.  But’s it’s not so good for your furry friend, because it actually means that your dog feels responsible for you.  And with that responsibility comes stress.  Now I don’t mean to tell you this to rain on your barbecue.  I simply wish to shed light on the understanding we could have with our pets that would mean we could enjoy a wonderful relationship with them without causing them any stress…  Who wouldn’t want to do that?!

If that sounds like you then I’d really recommend a read of “The Dog Listener” by Jan Fennell.  It’s an excellent read which will help you to understand you pet even more, and what you can do to make sure they are relaxed.

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