The Human-Dog Bond
What does it mean to have a healthy Human-Dog bond? Every dog lover knows that dogs can enrich our lives and make us happier, healthier, and more compassionate. Science has proven that dogs have a calming effect to their owners whether that's in the form of snuggling on the couch or being the watcher of the house while we sleep. And if your reading my posts, there is a pretty good chance you are dog lover! It doesn't take much for us to think of ways that our dogs improve our lives.
But how do we improve theirs? I'm pretty sure everyone reading this provides for the basic needs of their dog; food, water, shelter, medical care....the list goes on and on.
Our dogs show us unconditional love. Do we show it back to them?
Do our dogs seem happy?
What are some of their favorite things to do?
If given the choice, would our dogs choose US as their people?
Those are just a few of the questions we ask ourselves when we think about the bond we have with our dogs. I've found there are 2 basic types of dog owners: Those who believe that dogs should do as their told, be seen but not heard, and be ready and waiting to serve us. And those who believe that dogs should have a full and meaningful life of doing activities that we both can enjoy together. Of course there are a few people who tend to be somewhere in the middle, wanting to have it both ways.
And I'm guessing I just had about half of the readers decided they were not reading this post any further! (That is their choice and that's fine!)
But for those of you that want to stick around, we can dive deeper into our dog's needs together!Let's start with food! I'm sure we all agree that our dogs need food every day. And I'm sure we all agree that our dogs need food that will keep them healthy and fit. But there are a few things we disagree on when it comes to feeding our dogs; what to feed our dogs, how often to feed our dogs, should we use a food bowl, should we feed in more enriching ways. I'm not going to try to change your mind on those issues, because that is personal choice with what works best for your team & family. But I'm going to encourage you to really think about how and why you feed your dog. There is a well known dog myth that has to do with possession of the dog food, either I gave my dog the food and I can take back if I want to or never let the dog think that the food belongs to them. I'm from the generation where we taught as kids to leave the dog alone while they were eating, yet somehow grew into adults that thought it was a demonstration of training to play with dogs or their food while they were eating. Yep, I'm just going to say it...that was Alpha training at it's worst! I'm going to challenge all of you to think about how your dog views meal time; is it fun, is it work, is it alone time, can it be a team activity? Then I'm going to challenge all of you to allow yourself to consider that meal time can be a bonding period between you and your dog. Who doesn't love going out for coffee or ice cream with a friend! As people, many of us are social eaters and don't like to eat alone. Now I'm not saying you need to play with your dog's food! What I am saying is look for a way to use food, which happens to be a primary motivation to many dogs, as a way to grow a stronger bond. Just search for K9 Enrichment Ideas and most of what you turn up will have to do with FOOD! Let's learn how to use meals in our favor. For me, that means sharing people food, when it's something healthy, with our dogs. (I take a lot of criticism when I tell people this and I realize that is a personal choice that is not for everyone.) My dogs know the quickest way to enjoy some of my food is to calmly lay down by my feet while I'm eating. If they are sitting there drooling or harassing me for attention or a bite of my dinner, I don't share. But if they are calmly resting nearby and out of the way, I'm going to reinforce that. Now I'm not saying YOU have to share your dinner with your dogs! All I'm saying is what can you do to make meal time more enjoyable and have more value added to your relationship during that meal time.
Exercise is another huge need we provide for our dogs. We take them on walks. We buy way too many toys for them to play with. And some of us even schedule doggy playdates for our furry friends. But when was the last time you put their needs first when you give them exercise? A really big one that many of us do is walk our dogs. To many of us means we strap a leash on our dogs, walk at our pace, with our rules, on our path, at our speed, until we decide to go home. Let's face it, we control most aspects of our dog's exercise time. Of course it's important for our dogs to learn to walk nicely on a leash without pulling us all over the world. But is there something you can do to make that exercise time a little more enjoyable for your pup? For example: We have lots of places in and around our property where I can walk Azul and Cam staying close to home, so I rotate through those places maybe doing our hillside one day, a side road another day, a nearby snowmobile trail yet another day, then I also take Azul on a wide variety of trails further away from home. Changing up the location and/or path that you walk can make that time much more enriching to your dog. Taking a longline walk in an area with reduced distractions, allowing your dog to sniff around and choose which direction to head makes an awesome enriching activity for your dog! There are many other ways to make walks more enriching and enjoyable. Take a moment to think about your dog's exercise needs and look for one small change that you can make that will help you both enjoy that time together.
Training is another area where we need to take a step back and look at how we do things. There are several different training styles; clicker training where you shape behaviors toward the good behaviors you want to see repeated, capturing the good behaviors your dog does automatically with rewards for good behavior, luring your dog into the behaviors you want them to do. Of course all of these methods are great and add value to your relationship. But does your dog prefer one method of training to another? Which method works quicker for your dog? If you find it hard to find the time to do training with your dog, then your probably tackling your training sessions all wrong. A great training session is one where both you and your dog are having fun together and both of you are engaged in doing the activity together. This is something I don't see very many dog trainers focusing on. Most focus on teaching this skill by doing that activity in a one-size-fits-all approach. But our dogs are individuals who excel in learning when it's done in a manner that they find reinforcing. That means the path between Point A and Point B, may not be a straight line! It's not about reaching the end point, but more about the path you take to get there. So again, I challenge you to really think about your training sessions...are they fun for you and your dog? And if not, what can you do to make it more fun!
If you're not sure how to make meal time, exercise time, and training time more fun so that both you and your dog stay engaged and look forward to that time together, then you really should consider joining the Winter Workshop: Building a Better Bond! The workshop includes 20 weeks worth of activities that you and your dog can do together in just 5 minutes a day, every day. We run a blog based website and a Facebook group dedicated to this workshop where you can read about the activities, watch videos of each activity, and ask questions to get feedback from our great admin team. You can join at the Early Bird rate of just $30 if you register in October. November 1st the price goes up to $50 which is still an amazing deal for the training and support that is available throughout the workshop. All of the admin team are passionate about using force free training methods to help our dogs be the best teammate they can be!
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