From kindergarten to eighth grade, I attend a very small private school. The bar was high and the teachers and nuns ran a tight ship.
I am a lifelong people-pleaser (now in recovery). As a young girl, I figured out what things or actions made the adults happy. And then I strived to do those things.
But, I was just a kid. And of course, there were times when I did things that did not make those adults happy. It was definitely not intentional – the idea of just a verbal reprimand was absolutely terrifying and would induce tears almost immediately.
When these occurrences happened, whether to me or another student, first the teacher would call you out. And then you would likely get sent to the principal’s office.
For a few years, the principal was a nun that I was scared of the most. Her verbal lashings were the worst and her most noted thing to say to a student in her office was to call them a “disobedient thing.”
I still remember the furrowed brow, scowl, and red face that accompanied the comment.
I barely understood the word at the time but made a mental note of what things were disobedient and made sure not to do those things.
Not because I admired this nun or respected her. But solely to avoid punishment.
(Like I said, lifelong people-pleaser).
Fast forward a few decades and I refer to my group classes at the pet supply store as “good manners” and not obedience training. Just hearing the word “obedient” makes me cringe a little and mentally transports me back to the 4th grade.
If you’ve been here a bit, you know the emotional and physical effects that are happening in your dog when they have a reaction. It’s not that they have “bad” manners.
So if we aren’t teaching obedience or good manners, what do we do?
When I dove head first into learning and understanding all things reactivity, I came across Susan Clothier and her Relationship Centered Training (RCT) approach. And things just clicked.
Focus on building and enhancing the relationship between you and your dog.
“But I love my dog,” you say.
Yes, I have no doubt!
But how is your relationship?
And how do you grow a relationship with another species?
Here are three ways to focus on the relationship between you and your dog.
#1 Bond with your dog by partaking in shared feelings, interests, and experiences together.
Bonding with your dog is a fantastic way to build your relationship and it is as easy as doing something your dog enjoys together. Bonding activities might be sitting on a bench just soaking up a view, playing tug together, going on a sniffari, giving a good belly rub, or teaching a new trick.
On a recent beach trip, Rosie was entertaining herself digging up sand crabs. When Matt kneeled down and started digging with her, I swear I could see her face light up!
Think how nice it feels to share something you enjoy with someone you care about. You can do that for your dog, too!
#2 Learn your dog’s consent cues and honor when they say no.
We ask our dogs to do a lot of behavior that probably doesn’t make sense to them: Sit to greet a person, walk nicely on a leash, ride in a car, hold still for grooming, and stay calm when a complete stranger comes into your home.
We often ask our dogs to opt-in for so many behaviors.
We must give them the opportunity to opt out, as well.
Giving your dog the OK to say “no thanks, I’d rather not” can go a long way to fill up your dog’s trust bank with you. You become someone safe your dog trusts.
How do you do this?
- Skip the pets when your dog’s body language says they aren’t into it.
- Avoid making your dog “say hi” to a stranger if they don’t want to.
- End (or skip) a training session if your dog is not feeling it.
- Stop and let your dog sniff to cope with an oncoming trigger.
It is lots of small things over time.
#3 Foster a safe learning environment for your dog.
Much like a child trying to be obedient to avoid punishment, dogs who are afraid to make mistakes are going to be less inclined to try new things.
Mistakes are part of the learning process. When you are working on behavior modification with your dog and learning new skills, mistakes are going to happen – for you and your dog.
Rather than view them as a failure (or worse, something to reprimand), think about what you can do differently to be more successful the next time.
How do you build and maintain a relationship with your dog? Tell me all about it in a comment!
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