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Nine Steps to Growing a Great Relationship with your Dog
Does your dog (adolescent, rescue, or long-time companion) tend to ignore you, find more value with the environment than responding to you, pull on leash, refuse to come when called, and have more fun with the neighbour’s dog (or the neighbour for that matter!) than with you?
If yes, you may need to tune up your relationship. Growing a great relationship with your dog doesn’t happen by chance. A great relationship happens by consciously seeking out many positive interactions with your dog, identifying negative interactions, and turning those negative interactions into positive ones!
One way to do this is to think of the strength of your relationship in terms of a bank account; a Relationship Bank Account. The higher the balance, the better your relationship. The lower the balance, the more chance you have of experiencing dog owning struggles.
Struggles in the following areas may indicate that you need a relationship top-up. Your dog:
Doesn’t listen to or ignores you
Engages in too much sniffing
Exhibits high arousal around people often jumping up on them
Has low confidence
Lunges and barks at things they find scary
Ignores you when you call (recall)
Pulls on leash excessively when you are walking together
When you interact with your dog it seems to be human nature to ignore the good and punish the bad. Even when you are focused on building a good relationship with your dog, negative interactions can slip in without you being conscious of it happening.
Tracking the positive and negative interactions that you have with your dog is a tool that you can use to:
Positive interactions pay into your Relationship Bank Account. The more you invest in your relationship with positive interactions, the higher your balance will be and the better protected your relationship will be from those withdrawals.
What does a positive interaction look like:
A negative interaction is an interaction with you that your dog doesn’t enjoy. Each negative interaction is a withdrawal from your Relationship Bank Account.
What might a negative interaction look like:
If you’ve discovered that your negative interactions are higher than you would like, there are two things you can do to turn them into positives.
1) Management to prevent the behaviour.
2) Train an attention noise.
Let’s say that your dog loves to raid the kitchen garbage and you find yourself yelling “NO!!!!” on a regular basis. How could you turn the behaviour of getting into the garbage from a withdrawal to a deposit?
1) Management: put the garbage can away so that your dog can’t access it. Dogs get better at what they practice every day so if you can prevent the rehearsal, you have turned a negative into a positive.
2) Teach an Attention Noise.
Credit: Absolute Dogs Fb Video
How to train: Make a sound, give a treat. Repeat. Toss food away, make the sound, and when your dog returns to you, give a treat. Repeat. Add an easy distraction into the picture. Toss a piece of food toward the distraction, make the sound, when your dog returns to you, give a treat. Build lots of value for turning to you for a yummy piece of food.
When to use: As your dog is about to make a poor choice, use your attention noise. Interrupt the unwanted behaviour with a sound that says, turn to me for something better, and reward heavily. You’ve just added another deposit into your Relationship Bank Account!
When you have a high positive balance in your relationship account, you are more likely to have a dog who is relaxed, calm, loves to be around you, wants to listen to you, and can’t wait to interact with you.
Signs that your relationship is becoming healthier. Your dog’s:
Adolescents in dogs is a life-stage that usually starts around 7 – 9 months of age. Strengthening your relationship with your adolescent will help you survive this period of your dog’s life with your sanity intact.
During this time frame, hormones are surging, your dog is becoming more independent and adventurous, and they often respond to events with big emotions! Your dog isn’t being defiant, naughty, or stubborn, they are just being an adolescent.
By focusing on growing your positive interactions and redirecting and/or reducing the negative interactions, you will boost your relationship during this often challenging stage of your dog’s life.
1) Ditch the Bowl.
Ditching your dog’s food bowl and using their daily food allowance for games and training is going to transform your relationship with your dog by turning you into the centre of all things fun!
Think of your dog’s daily meals as a pot of value. If you pour that pot of value into training and games rather than into a bowl, you are giving your relationship bank account a daily boost.
Download the free ebook by Absolute Dogs "Ditch the Bowl" for ideas.
2) Work for Food.
Dogs prefer to work for their food, rather than get it for ‘free’ in a bowl.
In 1963, Glen Jensen, an animal psychologist conducted a study on rats that found that the rats preferred to work for their food rather than eat the ‘free’ food on offer!
Since this original study, further studies were conducted on other mammals, including dogs, with the same results!
Scatter feeding, puzzle toys, lick mats, stuffed Kongs or Topls are great outlets for dogs to work for their food. You can also teach your dog to hunt for food that you hide in your house and/or yard. Enroll in our free mini course “Get Yer Treats” to grow a dog who loves to hunt for all or a portion of their meal.
3) Play games.
Playing low pressure games with your dog that are fun and grow life skills will increase your relationship deposits.
4) Bring out the toys.
Playing with your dog is another way to boost your relationship bank account. Do you know what your dog’s favourite toy or activity is? Tug, catch, retrieve? What does your dog enjoy?
5) Explore new things.
Head out for a sniff walk. Go to new places. Explore together and add another deposit to your Relationship Bank Account.
6) Learn to communicate with your Dog.
Your dog is communicating with you all the time. Can you recognize what your dog is telling or asking you? Check out Body Language 101 by Fear Free Happy Homes to how to understand your dog’s communication. Learning to listen is another plus for your relationship.
7) Know your dog’s positives and negatives.
Do you know what interactions with you light up your dog? Can you recognize when your interactions are causing your dog discomfort? Tracking these interactions and seeking to change the negatives to positives allows you to change how you interact with your dog for a positivity boost throughout the day!
8) Prevent rehearsal of unwanted behaviors.
Dogs get better at what they practice every day. Help them practice the behaviours that you want by setting up your home environment so they don’t practice those unwanted behaviours.
9) Reward the behaviour you like.
Many owners focus on punishing unwanted behaviours (withdrawals). Why not ask yourself “what do I want my dog to do instead?” By looking for solutions and rewarding the behaviours that you do want, you will be investing and growing into your relationship.
What does your dog love? How can you add more of what they love into your day-to-day interactions?
Your positive balance can never be too big so look to pay into it at every opportunity. As that balance grows, it will be easier for your dog to choose you over the environment. This will benefit your recall, loose leash walking, and increase your dog’s engagement with you.
Get started growing your Relationship Bank Account today!
5 Things You Can Do Today to Improve Your Relationship With Your Dog
Enroll in our “Becoming Adolescent” class and learn the games that will strengthen and build your relationship during this stage of your dog’s life. Check out our Upcoming Classes for dates and times.
Download Optimism Rocks a free ebook by Absolute Dogs for games to play that will help you invest in your relationship.
My Dog Hates Me: Sexier Than a Squirrel Podcast. Tom and Lauren talk about how to top up your relationship bank account to truly balance out the withdrawals with so many more investments.
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