Being with dogs

Why do you like being with your dog(s)? ┬áSo much has changed with dog “ownership” since my childhood. Let’s call it companionship, as that sounds more like what it means to me!

My dogs are my companions. More than a pet and a teammate, but also those too! Dogs have been “man’s best friend” since the evolution of wolf to dog and way before competition sports evolved. Dogs are often described as our “fur kids” – having similarities to raising children. I agree. Pets and children require nurturing, guidance, boundaries and reinforcement. They are different also. Usually, hopefully, there is better communication with the human kids. You can clearly explain expectations and what’s right and wrong. With dogs, we are talking different languages and are always striving to improve that cross species communication!

Some may say I’m a bit lax with my dogs in general. Around the house my son will say to me “why do you let him shred that paper towel, he’ll think it’s ok and continue to do it”. Well, true, however I don’t really care if he shreds paper products. It’s my fault for not managing his access. I could scold him – but would he really understand why? Shredding is normal for dogs. And personally, I get a little pleasure out of watching their innate behavior. Drac’s other favorite pastime is retrieving a shoe we just took off. He doesn’t chew them (well, he did when younger), but now, he has a knack for finding our “hot” shoe and brings it to us or takes it to his bed. Being a scent dog trainer, I’m quite fascinated by this! It’s never a cold shoe, always a “hot” one with our scent. I’m going with it for now :).

I don’t punish my dog for shredding paper or moving my shoe to a new spot in the house. I don’t punish my dog for going to the bag of treats on the ground that I haphazardly placed. I instead make it a fun game – “what did you find?”. If I’m always saying “Noooo”, they could start to show avoidance behavior or develop a negative emotional response when being with me. Instead, marvel at the cool treat bag they found. Tug with it. Ask for a simple behavior/trick and give them a treat. Give them the treat bag then ask for it back. Let them know you will have a conversation or interaction without nagging or punishment.

The point I want to make is I’m not going to start nagging my dog with “Noooo” or “Savvy, NO” (although I do unfortunately seem to use their name like your parent might when in trouble, you know, when your middle name is used??). As teammates or companions – we want to be someone they enjoy being around. Do WE like to be around someone that nags us? No, it’s not very fun. We have a responsibility to manage the amount of trouble they can get into and train them properly on the basic expectations (potty training, recalls, impulse control, etc).

Do I ever say “Drac NOOOO” .. yes, yes I do. When it really matters. When he pees on Savvy (sigh…). Or if my dog was about to run into the road or pull a glass dish off the counter. I need to interrupt that behavior – I use it sparingly – or so I hope and try! Dog’s are opportunist. They will repeat behavior that is reinforcing. It’s our job to manage the environment. Keep food out of reach. Put paper trash away, etc. When we say “nooooo”, it usually just acts as an interrupter and does not change future behavior. One thing I have learned is that dogs, especially Belgians, can easily develop an aversion to something (which they rarely ever forget!). So if I “pair” a cue/stimulus with something they don’t like or enjoy, that cue becomes poisoned which means it resonates with a bad thing and therefore their response is not what I intended! We so easily poison our cues without realizing or meaning to. Let’s at least not poison their name!

To be fair, we shouldn’t be quick to judge and punish – think about it from the dog’s viewpoint – do they know this is wrong? Probably not. I want my dogs to be bold, confident, pushy and feel SAFE to offer behaviors around me. They are being dogs and we have to continue to understand that and respond in a way to build and nurture that trusted bond we so carefully desire and protect!

Oh, and why do I like being with my dogs? They love me unconditionally. They are playful and forgiving. They live each day to the fullest. I embrace their dogness and they make me a better person!

One comment

  1. Your techniques make a lot of sense. I try and use this same type of angle when I interact with humans, as oftentimes we don’t think to look at things through the other person’s filter. When we choose to do so, we understand the situation better and can meet them where they are at, interacting with them from that place. This allows the opportunity for a better relationship with them. Sounds like this is what you are doing with your “fur kids”.

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