Our dogs have become our confidants, adventure buddies, judges of character for potential partners, and so much more. We rely on them in tough times, and share memories with them throughout our lives. They’re valued and loved members of the family. They make it easy to love them with their excitement when we come home, and their ability to live in the present. All that aside, they also have much to teach us about relationships! (Don’t have a pooch of your own? Check out six reasons why pet ownership is beneficial for women!)
As a professional dog trainer, I’m called upon when owners are struggling with their dog’s behavior. When they’re causing havoc in the house, causing their owners frustration that no one imagines or wants when they think of adding a four-legged family member. Oftentimes they dog listens less to the female owner in the house than the male. We as women nurture very differently than men. We nurture our dogs, forgetting sometimes that we also need to nurture by putting rules into place. The root cause of unwanted dog behavior? An imbalance in the relationship between the humans and the dog and a lack of effective communication.
We have to remember that our dogs are a different species, a predator no less. They speak a different language, and so often we forget that. We give them all the love, affection, and freedom that we think they need, and that they’re happy to take, but forget that they need guidance and boundaries to live successfully in our world. That balance is going to allow us to live a happier, less stressful life with our dogs, and take away much of the stress in our dog’s lives. This balance of affection and freedom is something we need to take into our relationships with both the dogs and people in our lives.
We know that we need boundaries and effective communication to have a good relationship. But learning how to do that can be challenging without practice. We can first strengthen our ability to create boundaries with our dogs, learn how to properly communicate with our dogs, and then carry that experience into our relationships with people, remembering that every good relationship is based on trust and respect. We build respect through consistency in expectations and build trust through being emotionally present.
Here are a few ways to start building a better relationship with your dog (and concepts that carry over to relationships with others in our lives):
Be present with your dog.
Walk your dog and leave your phone at home during that walk. Being present is the way dogs build respect. Our dogs are aware of just how present we are with them. When we’re not present, they create their own ways of making us be present with them. Simply hanging out with you on the couch while you watch TV or are on your phone when you get home from work won’t have the same effect as truly being present with them!
Give freedom as it’s earned, rather than giving it freely.
Does your dog chew on things they shouldn’t, or pull things out of the trash? Limit their ability to get into trouble by putting them on their leash in the house and keeping them close until they prove themselves capable of that freedom. Being free to make their own decisions in the house is sometimes more freedom than a dog can handle. Limiting their freedom teaches them to look to you for direction instead of making up their own rules in this confusing human world!
Cut back on your affection!
Affection is the one thing that our dogs can manipulate consistently. Affection in and of itself isn’t a bad thing, but it makes it hard for our dogs to focus on the rules and boundaries if we give them affection freely. Give affection when you decide rather than when your dog decides they want it. Trust doesn’t require affection. Building our dog’s trust in us will create better behavior both out in the world and at home! Trust is what will allow our dog’s to listen to them when we’re trying to communicate, and help them focus on us in the face of distractions.
Keep your body language slow and relaxed.
Dogs communicate with body language, and will reflect our body language back! If we move fast and hurried, our dog is going to move quickly and get excited. Move slowly and calmly, and our dogs will slow down too.
A more fulfilling and less stressful life with your dog is right around the corner if you’re willing to do the work. Balance out the freedom you give your dog with meaningful boundaries and you’ll notice a shift. Gradually, your dog will start to listen. They’ll realize you’re consistent, fair, and that you have expectations they need to meet. Once they start meeting those expectations, the freedom can follow.
Boundaries aren’t a bad thing. In fact, we need them so we can have a more reciprocal relationship with those around us. Freedom given freely only creates an unbalanced relationship where the other partner in the relationship doesn’t listen to you. Want your dog to listen to you? All you need is to build trust and respect in ways that matter to your dog. Take some of the stress out of your dog’s life and give them what they truly need. You’ll build a stronger relationship as a result!
Leila Shiekhy is the owner and Head Trainer at K9 Harmony, a dog training company helping dog owners have a well-behaved dog they can include in life’s adventures. When not working with clients, Leila enjoys gardening, hiking, baking, and spending time with her husband and their dogs.