By the time you’ve chosen your new family member, the nature has already set in and your role in the nurturing process begins. You may not be able to control his DNA, but you CAN control the environment in which he lives. And while stimulation, food, water and resting sites are important essentials, the most critical aspect of a dog’s life is his relationship with you: the family leader.
What can you do to help create a positive environment that will allow your dog to flourish and be the companion you were hoping for? While dogs are not children, many of the same rearing philosophies apply. Consistency, stability, respect, understanding, compassion and guidance are key components to creating and maintaining a healthy relationship with your dog and getting the best behaviors from him.
First and foremost, understand how your dog is communicating, and respond to her communication cues. If you watch carefully, dogs are constantly communicating to us, to other dogs and to the environment around them. They will tell you when they are in conflict, and it’s in these moments where we can seize the opportunity to be a good leader.
Dogs share a universal language with a natural goal to keep the peace and avoid conflict. Calming signals in dogs are a means to illustrate their unease and desire for resolution. For example, that “guilty” look we so often misinterpret is actually a calming signal – he doesn’t want to get yelled at!
Other calming signals include:
Turning the head away
Laying down with belly on the ground
Splitting (coming between you and your spouse when you hug, or between two posturing dogs, to diffuse perceived aggression)
Often times, we’ll see the dogs who rule the roost inside, yet when they get outside they lack the self-confidence to get them through a stressful encounter. Try looking at this situation from your dog’s perspective: He has finally figured out how to manipulate the situation inside your home, yet you go outside and there is a complete lack of control. Your dog is suddenly in conflict…how are YOU going to respond to it?
When you see these cues, you know your dog is in conflict. It’s your job as head of the family to let your dog know that you are there, and to be the steady and calm guide he needs in that moment. Your response to each conflict-riddled circumstance should comprise the following characteristics:
Your dog is entitled to feel how he or she is feeling. Respect who your dog is, and try to honor your dog’s individuality in every situation.
Display a quiet, steady perseverance and even-tempered care. Let her know you’re there without having to raise your voice or yank on the leash. Just be present. If the situation is too escalated, remove your pup from the scene.
Be self-assured and positive — your pup will trust in your confidence, guidance and ultimate decision.
If you decide your dog needs to be removed from an uncomfortable and potentially dangerous situation, be sure to display little or no hesitation. Be resolute and determined in your decision.
Be clear about your course of action. There is nothing worse than giving your pup a solution and then changing your mind…your dog will be left confused and frustrated.
Let your dog know when they are doing something you like. Knock down that communication barrier by using universal signs of happiness. Praise, smile, treat, touch to show your support for a job well done!
Last but not least, commit to your dog. Commit to being a good leader for her. Commit to the decisions you’ve made about the structure and rules you’ve put in place. Your steadfast determination will allow your pup to trust in you.
Not only can we make our relationship with our dog better, but we can improve their quality of life by giving them the confidence to succeed. This relationship should enhance your life, and with the proper leadership that’s bound to happen!