Do you struggle to get your dog’s attention? Do they just NEVER listen to you?
Do you wish you had a better relationship with your dog?
Do you find that they’re absolute angels and always listen to you and then all of a sudden, they start to ignore you when you call them?
We’re going to talk about how kindness is the key to building a lovely bond between you and your dog, and why NOT being kind will land you in a difficult relationship, where they don’t listen to anything you say.
The relationship between humans and dogs is such a special one and as we all know, they are more than man’s best friend, they are family.
But it’s difficult when you and a family member don’t see eye to eye or just can’t get along isn’t it? Especially when you live with each other!
If it were your child, partner or parent, we all know that shouting at them, punishing them when they didn’t do something the way you wanted or removing your love from them would just be cruel and unhelpful to any relationship.
Well the same is true for your relationship with your dog…and all dogs that you meet for that matter.
Understanding how our dog sees the world and how they feel is the first step in building a great relationship with them. Once we can see that they view the world very differently to us humans, we will be able to look past any other methods other than kindness, and focus on what is going to encourage them to do more of what we want from them… and build on that special bond.
I have been asked before why a dog seems to listen to me when called but not when their owner does… It isn’t because they love me more than their owner! It is simply the way that I communicate with the dog that makes them WANT to listen to me.
Here’s an example for you to think about:
You’re walking your dog along the side of the road and up ahead, on the other side of the road, is another person with their dog. Both dogs are on the lead and spot each other before both you and the other owner have a chance to. Your dogs lead goes tight and their eyes are now fixated on that other dog and person. What do you do? …Well, we have two options:
- We say (in a worried tone) “FIDOOO! Nooooo!” And when they start to pull towards the dog on the other side of the road, pulling you towards the edge of the curb, we shout “NO FIDO! Come on!” whilst yanking on his lead. His eyes are still fixated as we pull him away with the lead calling him “FIDO! FIDO!” “OI FIDO!”
- We say in an excited and encouraging manner “Fido, what’s this?! Ooooh what’s this?!”, waving his favourite toy or treat in front of him. As soon as he looks at us, we give him the treat and say “Good boy!” or play tug of war with the toy” If Fido’s focus turns back to the other dog, then positively and patiently gain his attention again… “Yoohoo, Fido? Get it!” He swings his head straight back to us and we continue to play tug of war whilst walking away from the other dog and their owner.
It may sound obvious that the second option is going to be more beneficial, but it is very easy to unintentionally go with option 1, especially when emotions are high and ESPECIALLY if this is a common problem for you and your dog. And even more so again, if your dog or that other dog has bitten another dog before.
We MUST Be Kind!
Let’s put ourselves in your dog’s shoes / paws for a moment. How do they see the situation?
- How exciting! There’s a dog ahead that wants to play with me!
- New human! Yay I get extra cuddles and strokes and ‘aren’t you gorgeous!’ compliments.
- My human is shouting at me, I’d much rather be over with that dog playing right now! Maybe if I pull harder, I can get to them!
- My human gets really tense and upset when there’s another dog around, it must be a threat! I must scare them off to protect her!
How the dog does NOT think:
- Right now, I’m not allowed to say hi to the other dog and that’s fine because there are plenty more dogs in this world
- My human is looking out for me because that dog has attacked another dog before, so we must both stay away and not make eye contact with them!
- My human’s angry voice means that I must listen to them
As much as we would LOVE to give them credit for being as smart as humans, they just don’t have the ability to think in the way that we do, and their world is just a lot simpler than it is for us. It’s unfair for us to believe otherwise and quite dangerous to the dogs wellbeing.
They want to play, or sniff that dogs butt, or chase that squirrel even if it means losing their owner, or getting bitten… That is it!
So, what we must do to get that beautiful relationship with our dogs is to make ourselves the MOST interesting, exciting thing in their lives and on walks, in the car, at home and just about everywhere they go. There are so many benefits to this that it’s kind of the ultimate kindness!
How many of us can say that we do that for our dogs? It’s likely, that we are NEVER more interesting that a running squirrel or another dog’s bum or a new human! … It’s sad but it’s true. But that doesn’t mean we can’t be!
Yes, there are some dogs that have a high prey drive or an obsession with humans and therefore it will be much more difficult, but never impossible!
So, how do we do this?
Firstly, ALWAYS using their name as a positive.
Their name should mean: “Something good is about to happen!”, and it should be their cue to stop, turn to you with their undivided attention and wait for their next instruction because you’re THAT exciting and good things ALWAYS happen when you call their name!
What we don’t want is for their name to mean: “I am angry at you, bad things are going to happen! Either now or when we get home or when I put you on the lead”.
*NOTE ‘bad things’ doesn’t necessarily mean physically punishment, bad things could be as simple as going back on the lead, which means going home, which means end of walkies. Or it could be a disappointed look towards them (And yes, they do unfortunately pick up these cues!).
This is a sure way for your dog to stop listening to you.
We have all heard this phrase thrown around a lot since the dominance theory was rightly thrown under the bus but what does it actually mean?
It is simply ‘rewarding the behaviours that you would like to see more of.’
We can very easily forget to do this with our dogs in daily life and quite often dogs are only recognised for the bad behaviours (being told off / punished for doing these things). If they’re getting attention for those bad behaviours and being ignored when they’re doing the things that they should be doing, they’re going to continue doing the thing that gets them attention, even if it is negative attention.
Kindness to humans
What would it look like if you were to show kindness to another human being?
- pay the a compliment
- give them a hug
- buy them a gift
- take the time to talk to them
- spend quality time with them
- understand their struggles
- smile at them
- show appreciation when they’re kind to you
Now think about applying these to your dogs. Having a relationship/bond with your dog is the most important thing when it comes to getting what you want from your dog and both of you living a happier life together.
It’s about deciding what relationship you’d like to have with your dog, what behaviours you would and wouldn’t like him to do and working on that relationship in a positive, mutually benefiting and enjoyable way.
- For 1 week, refrain from using your dog’s name in any negative situation. Just focus on using it when you’re praising them for those behaviours that you want to see more of. So, if for example, your dog is quietly lying down, minding their own business, you can say ‘Good Fido!’ and treat them. If instead of usually barking at the postman, he sits with his focus on you, ‘say good boy Fido’. If on the other hand, they do bark at the postman, just ignore it. (There are other ways of redirecting those behaviours which we can talk about another time)
- Remember, when trying to get your dog’s attention, to use option 2 in the earlier scenario rather than option 1. Think about what this will do for your relationship with them.
- And think about the kindness behaviours towards humans that we talked about and apply them when communicating with your dog.
And give them all a big hug!