Who’s your best (human) friend?
What do you do together? What do you talk about?
When your friend is super excited about a promotion or really worried about how the kids are doing in school, how do you react?
Do you tell her to calm down because the promotion is no big deal? Do you brush off her worries, act annoyed and tell her that she needs to get over it?
Or do you listen, celebrate the joys together and work through the worries so she feels better?
If she's really your best friend, you're going to do the latter.
A dog is called “man’s best friend” for a reason.
A dog is supposed to be your friend. Your buddy. Someone to share good times with and lean on through the bad.
Sometimes, this is forgotten.
There are so many ways to train a dog. So many philosophies, and the “right” method depends on your perspective. At the end of the day though, no matter how you train your dog, there’s one common goal: to have a dog who listens, so you can enjoy life together.
But are you listening to your dog?
After all sorts of training exercises, you might still be struggling.
“It doesn’t work,” “my dog won’t do that,” “my dog is stubborn.” Let’s take a step back, because if you don’t have this one thing, you’re not going to get the results you want.
You've got to treat your dog like your very best friend.
This mindset is the key to it all.
If you’re thinking you’re the boss, and your dog has to do what you say, you’re going to have a hard time creating lasting results and forming a strong bond.
If you approach the relationship as equal partners, you’re going to find that it’s not only much easier to get your dog to listen to you, but your dog will truly become your best friend, and you'll gain an everlasting bond.
1. Listen to what your friend has to say.
You call up your friend to chat. Exchange texts. Go out for brunch. You listen to what's happening in each other's lives.
Dogs don’t have words to speak. They communicate through their body language. With their behavior and energy. Dogs talk quite clearly, but you'll only hear it if you’re able to truly watch and listen.
If you’re a newbie or need a refresher, here’s a chart on dog body language.
Take a look at your dog’s facial expressions, the message behind the eyes, the way the body is positioned and the way the tail moves. Is your dog happy? Excited? Nervous? Scared?
Here’s an example:
There’s a noise outside and your dog goes running up to the door, barking. Is your dog excited or anxious? How can you tell?
Look at your dog’s body. Is it relaxed with a neutral wagging tail, and maybe your dog is slightly panting? Your dog is excited. Or is it tense, with ears perked up and tail pointed? Your dog is nervous.
When you know what your dog is saying, that’s when you can truly respond. That’s when training works, because your response matches their need. Your conversation is flowing.
So the next time your dog does something you’re not crazy about, put yourself in your dog’s position and think, what is my dog saying? Actually think about if your dog could speak, what would he/she say to you?
It really helps give you perspective!
2. Celebrate exciting things together.
You just got a call that your grandchild is born. Or you got your dream job. Maybe your favorite sports team just won the game. How do you act? Over-the-top, jumping up and down, squealing with delight. You’re REALLY excited!
Your friends congratulate you. You go out to celebrate.
How does your dog react to you acting like this? Your pup wonders about the commotion and gets excited with you! Your dog might jump up, bark, run in circles. Join in on the fun.
Friends celebrating together.
So, how come when your dog gets super excited for that pesky squirrel or rabbit, you don’t celebrate too?
How come it’s “no,” “come here,” “stop pulling?”
That’s not an equal relationship.
Leash walking is crazy hard because it’s all about impulse control and telling your dog not to go do all the great dog things.
That’s a buzzkill.
So that’s why it’s extra important to be wildly exciting and celebrate all that cool stuff your dog sees on a walk. How do you do that?
Body language, tone and movement.
Are you fully present on the walk, or are you on your phone? Are you interacting with your dog, talking to your pup about all the awesome things outside, or just wandering along trying to get this over with? Your body language and emotional connection matters. It sets the stage for the whole walk. “Is mom/dad hanging out with me or not caring what I do?”
Your tone matters. Are you saying “No, let’s go” in a stern voice, or a happy tone? Because no one gravitates towards a harsh tone. But a happy tone, sure, much more likely to respond quickly.
Here’s the best part - movement. Movement is powerful. Your energy comes through movement. Dogs read your expectations through your movements.
If a squirrel is running up a tree, why not run with your dog to the tree? If there’s a bunny in the middle of the yard, maybe you lure your dog with a treat and run backwards, sideways or zigzag. Maybe you have your dog do a trick to celebrate the critter he/she has found. Be happy to see the things your dog is excited for and give your dog something productive to do about it. An outlet for the energy.
Don’t be a party pooper when your dog is happy about something. Get excited too and give your dog an appropriate way to express it.
3. Support through tough times.
You had a fight with your spouse. Or are really stressed about finances right now. Maybe you got passed over for that promotion. How do you feel? Pretty bogged down, moody, and annoyed. You might take out your problems on the people around you, lose your patience and raise your voice. Then maybe you'll mope around, becoming a lump on the couch.
It doesn't really help if the people around you comment on your crankiness. It doesn't help if they get annoyed with you and walk away.
What does your best friend do? Give you a hug, and tell you it's okay. Doesn't solve the problem, but you feel a little better. You feel supported.
Then, what does your dog do? Comes up and licks your face, gets you to play, climbs into your lap. Your dog comforts you and pulls you out of the funk, even if for just a little bit.
Friends support each other.
Dogs barking at noises is a common problem. Most of the time, this is due to anxiety. Not seeing where the noise is coming from. Not knowing what's to come. The unpredictability of the noise.
A typical human reaction is "stop that," "come on," or "shh." But that's like someone telling you to stop being so cranky. Shift to being a source of comfort, like a hug, for your dog.
How do you do that? Through body language, tone and movement.
Be sure that your body language is calm. Don't get flustered and tense up. Approach your dog with a bunch of treats, and get down to his/her level.
Drop them on the floor and help your dog find them, or just hand feed your dog. When the noise is gone, the treats go away.
Your tone matters. If you sound annoyed, your dog isn't going to respond. This is already an unpleasant situation for your dog. You've got to make it better.
Instead, be encouraging. "Hey, look at this treat..." "this one looks yummy..." "See, it's not so bad."
You can also turn the nervous energy into purposeful movement.
When you're nervous, you might pace or tap your leg, which isn't all that effective. Going for a run or getting in a weight lifting session does wonders to clear your mind. You channeled the anxiety into purposeful movement.
Start with tossing the treats in different directions, tagging along with your dog to point out the yumminess. Then maybe lure your dog into a spin, or leg weave and end in a peek-a-boo position between your legs.
Get your dog engaged with you, instead of charging at the door. Turn your dog's anxiety into purposeful movement to clear his/her mind.
Acknowledge your dog's feelings, and act from a place of compassion. Be there for your pup!
So, the secret to training a dog?
Be your dog's best friend. Keep that mindset present in all you do with your pup.
The greatest part about dog parenting is that you get to be a parent and take care of this little furball, but also be a great friend.
Your relationship with your dog is everything. It's the foundation all the training is built upon. Without it, you won't have long lasting results.
Best friends listen, celebrate good times and support each other through hard times. Follow those 3 principles and you're on your way to living a great life with your dog.
It's really as simple as that. All the training stuff, that's piece of cake as long as you've got the right mindset.
Got the mindset? Want to hone in on the movement aspect when training your dog?
Check out Doggie PE Class, a FREE 3-part video series helping you manage your dog's unwanted behavior through fun, simple movement.
It's all about bonding through these fun activities, but also using them as an outlet when your dog is over-excited or anxious.
Sign up closes on Sunday 6/27 and class begins Monday 6/28.
Fill out the form here to sign up, or visit www.piperswalk.org/doggiepe for more info.