Does your dog know that you love her?
With humans, we use words to express our love, but more imporant, we use our actions. We interact physically by hugging, kissing and playing, especially with children. We interact emotionally by offering support when times get tough, and we interact intellectually by working, learning and talking about mutually interesting topics.
When we love someone, we express joy when we see that person, especially if there has been an extended absense. We take the time to slow down and pay attention, because our well being is closely linked to the well being of those that we love. We accept them for who they are, even when they make mistakes or make us angry. Deep down we always love them, even when we forget to show it. When our loved ones have successes in their lives, we celebrate with them, because we share in their feelings of pride and accomplishment.
And with our dogs?
If you think about it for a moment, it's not so different.
For the next week, spend five minutes a day with your dog, giving her your undivided attention. No toys, treats, or training during your special time, nor should there be any other dogs present. Sit together and talk to your dog about anything that comes to mind. Scratch her ears, the top of her head, the sides of her neck, and along her spine. When she looks at your face, smile at her. If she walks away, let her go without judgement, but if she looks back at you, encourage her to return for more interaction. If she's playful and expresses an interest in some quiet play, go ahead and throw that in. Belly rubs are fine, but maintain eye contact. You can make silly sounds if she likes that, but keep the tone of the interaction at whatever level is most comfortable for your dog.
Five minutes. Alone. No other dogs. For one week.
It is possible that your dog will be confused; she might even avoid you or search you for food or toys. To minimize this, you might want to start in a place where you never train because this activity is not about food, toys or work. This is about you, your dog, and your friendship.
When you love your dog, you'll make better decisions for both of you, and your dog will be more forgiving if you make training mistakes. When you love your dog, it's harder to make bad decisions in the first place.
Sometimes we focus so much on our training goals that we lose sight of the big picture; the reason we got involved with animals in the first place. All dogs have strengths and weaknesses, and the more time you can spend loving your dog as a unique individual, the easier it will be to remember the qualities that you most value in her.
Taking a deep breath and petting a soft, furry head is good therapy. Sometimes its hard to do, because we're human beings and our dogs frustrate us, just like our human loved ones. Taking a few minutes a day to celebrate our personal relationship will help us remember to focus on what is right - what is special and wonderful and unique about our canine friend, regardless of what happens in training.
Try it and let me know how it goes.