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How Can I Strengthen My Relationship With My Dog?

Holly Leake
"One of the most enduring friendships in history-dogs and their people, people and their dogs." - Terry Kay
I'm sure you will agree that dogs have become our closest companions. They are a huge part of the family and you likely can't imagine life without them. However, like any relationship, we have to dedicate time and effort to keep it healthy and strong. Therefore, this blog is going to consider how you can strengthen your relationship with your dog.

Believe The Best of Your Dog

A relationship can easily become strained when we assume how another is feeling or why they are behaving in a certain way. Why is this the case? Well making assumptions can mislead us to believe the very worst of that person, even though our assumptions aren't necessarily based on fact. Similarly, you may begin to believe the worst of your dog because you are making assumptions about their behaviour.

For instance, we may assume that certain behaviours are an act of revenge or rebellion. Some will claim that their dog is being naughty on purpose and that the dog understands that what they are doing is wrong. This misinterpretation of behaviour often results in punishment, leaving both the dog and guardian despondent about their relationship.
"Our dog's potential is created of destroyed by the belief we have in them and about them. "- Susan Garrett
Nevertheless, you need to ensure that your perception of your dog's behaviour is based on reality and not assumptions that are based on misinterpretations of their emotions. Every behaviour has a function and usually it benefits the dog in some form.

For example, your dog may bark and lunge at other dogs because they have learned that this usually makes the scary dog go away. Your dog may chew your furniture when you're out because it releases dopamine and he has learned that it alleviates the anxiety triggered by separation. When your dog displays negative behaviour, remember that he isn't doing this to hurt or annoy you. The behaviour has a function and usually it’s a pretty simple one. So believe the best of your dog and avoid coming to conclusions that they want to cause trouble because in reality they love to please you.

Acknowledge their achievements

Relationships often turn sour when one begins to ignore all the positive things the other has done and solely focus on their faults. Dog guardians commonly ignore their dog’s positive behaviour, but then give lots of attention to negative behaviour. For example, we may not reward our dog for being calm around another dog because his behaviour isn’t causing any inconvenience and therefore doesn’t warrant acknowledgment or intervention. However, when the dog does bark and lunge, he is scolded and all attention is placed on the negative behaviour.

We know ourselves how disheartening it is if others ignore our strengths and achievements and focus on our mistakes. In fact it can lead to anxiety and even depression. We all want to be appreciated and your dog is no different. Let’s look at it another way.
“Don’t find fault. Find a remedy.” – Henry Ford
Have you ever received a gift from a friend or family member simply to thank you? How did that gift make you feel? It likely made you feel good about yourself and about the good deed that you did. It also likely strengthened your relationship with that person because your actions were acknowledged and appreciated. When our dog offers calm and positive behaviour are we missing opportunities to show them we acknowledge and appreciate their actions?
While being calm around another dog may seem like a small thing, it is still an achievement, and for nervous and/or reactive dogs, it’s a huge achievement. We may view our actions towards our friend as inconsequential, but you still appreciated the gift, nonetheless. Remember the saying, ‘It is the little things in life’? We should never underestimate the power or the influence of appreciating the little things.
So rather than focusing on your dog’s faults, show them you appreciate the good things they do by rewarding them and making them feel good about themselves. When your dog displays negative behaviour, recognise that this is an indication that your dog needs help and support to learn the appropriate behaviour. When you begin to acknowledge your dog’s positive behaviour and provide support to address the negative behaviour, you will find that your relationship with your dog will be so much stronger!

Love the dog in front you. 

We all bring something unique into our personal relationships. We recognise and accept the faults of others because these are outweighed by the qualities we love about them. We then hope to also be accepted for who we are in return. Despite every dog being a unique individual, many dog guardians do not accept their dog for who they are. They may want them to be more social or to be more confident and this can cause guardians to force their dog into situations they cannot cope in. 
“Being unique is better than being perfect.”- Unknown
When when the dog fails to thrive in these situations, their guardian may punish their dog. We all have a fantasy when we picture life with a dog but sadly having a dog may not be what we originally envisioned. Issues, such as reactivity and anxiety can leave guardians feeling disillusioned but we have to remember that every dog is a unique individual. We ourselves will have weaknesses due to our experiences and personality. For example, you may suffer with phobias or depression or you may struggle to socialise with others. No matter what it is, we all struggle with something and we are drawn to those that understand our struggles and accept us for who we are.
So even though we have training and behaviour modification available to us, you have to accept that your dog is a unique individual and they may always struggle with certain things. They may always have a nervous disposition and while its great to help them develop more confidence, you should never force them into situations they cannot cope with. While your dog may not be what you pictured, love the dog in front of you. Love them warts and all and remember that your dog loves you despite your weaknesses and failings.
Relationships thrive when we believe the best of one another, appreciate the small things we do for one another and accept each other for who we are. You would never settle for a relationship that didn’t allow you to be your true self and neither should your dog.

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