Building A Relationship With Your Dog

Relationship Building 3

Building A Relationship With Your Dog

Building A Relationship With Your Dog

Everyone who works with or competes with a dog knows that you need to have a solid relationship in order to perform at peak levels.  While people used to use the idiom, “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you” as a guideline for working with a dog, we now know that feeding your dog is barely the first step to building a bond with your dog.  While it is still a good idea to hand feed or hand treat your dog during meals, especially young puppies or newly adopted dogs, this is mostly useful in teaching your dog to accept people and hands in and around food.

What exactly am I referring to when I talk about a relationship between owner and dog? Most people love their dog. Loving your dog is natural and wonderful but it is not exactly the bond that leads to an engaged and happy worker or companion.  For the purposes of this blog, I am going to stipulate that I do believe dogs love people. There is a lot of research in dog cognition going on right now, but for the most part people agree that they can see love in their dog. Love is the reaction that your dog shows when you get home and they just can’t wait to greet you; but it is not quite the bond that keeps your dog from running out the door and off on a new adventure.  The bond that keeps your dog with you and motivates your dog to walk with you past moving leaves and other fun distractions is based on the relationship you have nurtured.

Building a relationship with your dog consists of creating a bond based on mutual respect and regard.  This means you need to learn to understand and respect your dog.  Once you trust your dog and clearly let them know that you respect them by listening to the information they give you and responding accordingly, you will quickly earn their respect.  This can sound fairly formal or complex, but really all you need to do is acknowledge your dog when they seem stressed or excited and respond appropriately.  Even if you don’t think they should be stressed, by responding to them, you are acknowledging their feelings. That is a sign of respect.  Responding to their behavior with praise and rewards is also a sign of respect because this gives your dog a measure of control by letting them know that their behavior has an effect on their environment (another great indicator of a mutual relationship). In most cases, you completely control your dog’s life: when they eat, when and where they walk, where the go in the car, etc.  By giving them the ability to control some outcomes, primarily through training, you build a less one sided relationship.

Another great way to bond with your dog is through play!  Playing with your pooch taps into many of their natural instincts and drives such as prey drive through fetch, foraging through any nose work or puzzle, hunting through running or chasing, etc. By engaging your dog in play, you add yourself to their pleasurable activity and therefore make yourself more fun to be around.  I know I use heel work as an example fairly often, but think how boring heel walking really is for your dog.  Now add a quick tennis ball throw every few feet or after an awesome heel turn and think how much more fun that would be for your dog, and how much more cooperative it feels.  Fetch, tug of war, recall chases, and helping your dog get a piece of food out of an extra toy are all great ways to build a solid relationship with your dog. Once you have a strong relationship or bond with your dog you can trust them in more challenging situations and push them to perform at higher levels, because you know you have earned their trust too.

Happy Training!


Tamar Paltin

Head Trainer- Perfect Pooch

BA, CPDT-KA, AKC CGC Evaluator