It’s Valentine’s this month, so it’s a good time to celebrate the love for our dogs! Sure, they may challenge us at times, but overall we are so lucky to have them in our lives. They are always happy to see us, don’t talk back (well, in ways that we understand 😉) and demonstrate the true definition of unconditional love! We provide food, shelter and care for our dogs and most of them have wonderful lives because of the love we have for them. But, what if I told you that we could do better? As much as we do provide for our dogs, their lives can still be limited and their needs can easily be put aside due to our busy schedules. It happens to all of us at times! So, I wanted to share some easy ways that we can go that extra mile to show our dog some love and ensure their emotional, physical and behavioural health needs are being met. These are simple and fun ways to help your dog, regardless of your schedule or budget!
What does it mean to engage with your dog? I’m not talking about when we just go about the motions and feed them, take them out for a walk or play a game with them. I’m talking about absolute engagement. The definition of engage is to participate or become involved in or establish a meaningful contact or connection with someone.
Too often, I see people out walking their dogs while on their cell phones are visiting with the people they are with. Dog walks have become more of a march as well. Don’t sniff that, walk over here, look at me, stay at my side, don’t say hi to that person, ignore that dog and so on. Many do not allow their dogs to be dogs and they aren’t enjoying the walk together. Start by going on one-on-one walks with your dogs. Let them sniff and take in their surroundings. Explore with them. Take them new places. Talk to them and interact. Enjoy nature together.
At times, I also see people playing fetch with their dog while engaged with something else. They just stand there throwing the ball for the dog while their attention is elsewhere. The flip side of this is over-arousal with our engagement. We let the dogs become hyper-focused and find it amusing to see them ball-obsessed or toy obsessed. This is unhealthy engagement and is all too common. Toys can be a great outlet for our dogs, but we need to understand what healthy engagement looks like for our dogs.
I feel like many dogs have a limited life. They are in the same house for hours most days, get to explore the same backyard, and although they may get regular walks, they tend to go to the same places. The definition of enrich is to improve or enhance the quality or value of. Although getting our dogs out provides some level of this, taking them to same place and/or doing more of a march like I mentioned above, is not enriching their lives.
Some easy ways to enrich their lives is by taking them new places and introducing them to new experiences. If you are pressed for time, doing a short outing is better than not doing one at all. Or, hire a dog walker or send your dog to dayschool. And attend training with your dog! Yes, you may have experience with training classes before, but your dog does not. This is an excellent way to provide some mental and physical exercise and let your dog meet new people and dogs. Play and social relationships are incredibly important for a dog’s overall well-being.
If you are busy, there are so many ways to provide enrichment to your dog. You can read my post on enrichment ideas during cold weather here. These exercises cannot just replace getting your dog out in the world. They provide some excellent outlets, but they do not replace letting your dog explore new places.
To empower means to make (someone) stronger and more confident, especially in controlling their life and claiming their rights. I love this definition and feel it is very important to provide this for our dogs. Now I am not saying that we do not provide guidance and structure, but it does mean we need to get out of the habit of controlling everything in our dogs’ lives. This is where dominance theory and pack leader approaches have done the most damage to our dogs. Not only do some believe the nonsense that dogs are trying to assert dominance over us, but it has taught people that most normal dog behaviour is dangerous. This has caused us to not allow dogs to just be dogs anymore and many are living very sad lives as a result of this.
Empowerment is easy to do and is such a wonderful thing to allow a dog. Let them make their own choices when it is safe and appropriate for them to do so. For example, on a walk, let them lead the way. Follow them as they follow a scent, let them choose the route and explore the world around them.
I see the greatest impact with this when working with fearful dogs. Let’s say a dog is unsure of me. I stay low to the ground and avoid eye contact. I start by tossing food at the dog and reward them for moving closer to me. All of this is done at the dog’s pace. It is their choice to approach and they always have the option to move away. This is what builds their confidence and develops a positive relationship between us. I practice this theory with all of my dogs. We do things at their pace and I listen to them if they are uncomfortable with something. If they are unsure, I help them feel better about it, and in turn this enhances our relationship. It is truly a magical thing.
What are some ways you can further engage, enrich or empower your dog? Are you interested in learning more about what you can do? Join us March 24 and 25 for Dog Days of dogma! A unique and fun-filled weekend with the focus on how to engage, enrich and empower your dog. Find out full details at www.dogmatraining.com/dog-days-of-dogma!