How To Love Your Dog
By Sarah Fulcher Cert.CBST, CTDI
A relationship with a dog is like nothing else in the world. They bring to us undying love, devotion and forgiveness of errors that can seldom be rivaled by other inter-species relationships. The bond we have with our dogs is deep, meaningful, and lasting. However, the relationship is not one-sided: dogs have needs too and in order for your dog to become what you want, you have to give them what they need. In honor of Valentine’s day, here are some of my tips on how to love your dog.
Meet Their Needs
Your dog is not a human in a furry suit. They can not sit at home reading a book or watching TV to pass the time. We are everything to them, while we have so many more things to occupy our time. As guardians we are solely responsible for our dog’s physical and mental well-being. Make sure your dog gets enough physical exercise. Walk them frequently, taking the time to let them explore and sniff – this is what they enjoy about walks, not trotting along at a brisk pace. Get them a front-clip harness if they pull; it’s better for their neck and makes walking much more pleasant for you. If you can, let them run free. Either train them to have great recall or find a safe, fully fenced area and let them just run.
Many people neglect the importance of mental exercise for dogs. A bit of training, a puzzle game, or food enrichment can go a long way. Mental exercise is also a great way to tire out your dog! You don’t have to burn them out with a 2 hour run every day.
Respect Their Right To Say “No”
Your dog is not a robot. They have emotions just like we do, as we as fears, likes, and dislikes. If your dog is afraid of something or doesn’t want to do something, unless it is necessary for his safety respect his right to say no. Giving your dog choice (or even the illusion of choice!) and the means to communicate them (listening to them) to us is one of the most empowering gifts you can give them. If you need your dog to do something, train them! Teach them what you want using positive reinforcement. It’s fast and easy, I promise. If your dog has severe fear issues and you need assistance, contact a professional trainer.
Training is not optional. Dogs do not come into this world equipped with the tools to understand the human world – that is where training comes into play. Behaviour problems due to lack of training are the number one cause of death of the domestic dog. Without training, dogs naturally: poop and pee where they want, pull on the leash, chase small animals, protect their resources, don’t come when called, don’t stay when asked, don’t accept being poked with needles or thermometers, don’t sit and wait nicely for food, steal food when they can, jump up on people, bark, dig etc. All the “annoying problem behaviour”s we see in dogs are all natural dog things to do. Your dog cannot understand what to do instead of these things unless you teach him. Train using positive reinforcement: it is kind, respectful, and increases the bond between you and your dog.
Make Doggy Friends
I’m not necessarily suggesting you take your dog to the dog park, as they can actually be dangerous and many dogs do not enjoy them (think of it like a night club for dogs). However, I feel it’s very important for dogs to have at least one friend of their own species. If you dog is young and very social, a dog park or well-run dog daycare can be a great option. If your dog lacks social skills or is a bit older, carefully introducing to compatible dogs and setting up hikes and play dates is a great option. A group off-leash hike service might be fantastic for a dog like this as well. If you think your dog is aggressive and you are afraid or hesitant to introduce them, contact a professional trainer to help you.
Give Them Proper Medical Attention
I would hope it would be common knowledge, but part of being a responsible pet owner is to ensure they get proper medical treatment. Feed your dog the best quality food you can afford. Vaccinate your dogs (talk to your vet about what vaccines they recommend for your dog’s lifestyle), spay and neuter your pets, attend routine yearly health check-ups and don’t hesitate to take your dog to the vet immediately if you think they might be sick or injured. Denying an animal medical needs is animal cruelty, straight up. If you are worried about finances, consider pet insurance. PetCare has plans that start around $20 a month. It can literally be a life saver!
Don’t Neglect Psychological Illness
While we are on the subject of medical needs, don’t neglect your dog’s emotional needs as well. Dogs are social creatures and need love and affection as much as they need good food, clean water, and exercise. If your dog has a behavioural problem that negatively affects their life such as anxiety, fear, or aggression, it is not fair to let them live this way. It is equally important to treat emotional wounds as it is physical ones. If you and your dog struggle with a fear, anxiety or aggression problem don’t hesitate to contact an experience professional trainer who uses humane methods.
Play With Them!
Animals love to play. It’s bonding, great exercise, and just plain fun. Play with your dog! Find something interactive you can both enjoy that ideally gives them an outlet for their natural predatory instincts. Tug, fetch, or flirt poles are great ideas. My dogs love to play hide and seek around the house with me.
Accept Them For Who They Are
Your dog is a unique individual being just like us. They have different likes, dislikes, fears, and joys. Instead of trying to make them fit into a preconceived mold of what they should be, let them be who they are. Find activities that you can together that bring out the joy in your dog. Don’t force them through agility or obedience if they hate it. After all, don’t we do those sports to have fun with our dogs? It can be heartbreaking to realize your dreams might not come true with this particular dog but letting go of those preconceptions and beginning a journey to find your unique joy together is wonderful and liberating. If you hoped your dog would be a social butterfly and they end up a shy wallflower, accept it. You can do something things to change their behaviour through training, but you cannot change their personality. Accept them, let their personality shine – quirks and all. The benefit that comes back to you will be completely worth it.
Sarah Fulcher is a professional dog trainer and owner of Barks and Recreation Pet Services in Trail, BC, Canada. For more of Sarah’s writing, click here.