The dogma of Relationship Building

Dogs are social animals and they are pack animals. I do agree that we need to guide and take responsibility for them and our family, but why does this have to be about being a pack leader and dominating them? I do teach my dogs rules, structure and manners, but this whole idea of being a leader has become about force and coercion. We used to discuss these as leadership habits, I changed it to relationship building, and now I am leaving out anything to do with being a pack leader. The whole concept has become so misconstrued and to the detriment of the dog. It has created fear in people towards our dogs as we view everything they do as a potential act of dominance and their steps towards taking over leadership of the household. I will discuss this more in part 2, but for now, let’s focus on relationship building.

In order to have a dog that is secure, happy, well trained and a great joy to the family, you will need to provide your dog with guidance. Building a proper relationship with your dog is essential to prevent conflict between you or other family members and your dog. This is not about force, but rather about training and activities that enhance the bond between family members and your dog. Majority of the skills we are going to discuss below are about teaching your dogs self-control, which in turn improves their manners and makes them more enjoyable to live with. These are also ways to incorporate training into your everyday life and work with your dogs to teach them the rules and structure of the household. Most problems develop from lack of training. These simple steps will enhance your relationship, build self control and create attentiveness in your dog!

  • Work for rewards. Make your dog work for everything they perceive as a positive (attention, treats, food, toys, etc.). This could just be something as simple as a sit. The dog learns to listen to you, be patient and be attentive. They also understand that you are what allows them access to all of the resources and fun stuff!
  • You should not free feed your dog. They should be fed two meals a day. This is not only a great training opportunity, but it also allows us an easy, consistent why to monitor our dog’s health.
  • Have your dog sit or down and wait for their food for up to 30 seconds. Their food should be on the floor. They must wait until you release them. This is a great exercise to practice patience and self control.
  • Focus on attention work. Reward offered attention and frequently practice name attention. Attention is the foundation of everything that you will do with your dog and is an excellent relationship building skill.
  • Ask your dog to sit at doorways. They should wait until you release them. This is an exercise about patience and manners. Do we really think that if our dog goes out the door ahead of us they are thinking that they rule us for the day?
  • Have certain toys that are only in your possession. By doing this, you will create high value items that you can use to further motivate and reward your dog.
  • Do not allow your dog to jump on you. If they do, turn your back and wait for all four paws to be on the ground. Dogs jump because they have been taught this is how they say hello, not to dominate you.
  • Have your dog’s bed in the bedroom. This allows you the whole night for you to spend with your dog bonding. This communicates to your dog that they are part of the family.
  • Rough play such as wrestling and play fighting encourages dogs to be physical with us. Play games like fetch, find it, and tug-of-war instead. By teaching them the rules for these games, you are building excellent impulse control in your dog.
  • Work on teaching your dog to calmly accept handling and spend time each day interacting with them physically. This could be just some petting or it could be through grooming.

There are many things that we may do that will discourage relationship building with our dogs. Below are some of the key items and ones that we should actively work towards avoiding when interacting with our dogs.

  • Yelling. The only thing that yelling tells our dog is that we have lost control.
  • Physical Corrections. By physically correcting (punishing) our dog we may be putting them in a position where they feel that they have to defend themselves. We don’t want our dogs to be scared of us, or think negatively of us. This will only create relationship problems.
  • Using your dog’s recall cue negatively. Don’t call your dog to you and then do something negative like clipping their nails. Then, quite simply, your dog won’t want to come to you. Teach them coming to you always means good things.
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