Downeast Dog News
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There Are No “Stubborn” Dogs

Twelve Steps to Becoming Best Friends for Life
By Don Hanson, PCBC-A, BFRAP | Jun 01, 2022
Photo by: Debra Bell

Steps 1 thru 7

For the past two months, I have addressed why dogs can appear to be "stubborn" In my following two columns; I will introduce twelve steps to help you and your dog become best friends for life, a far cry from stubborn. I believe that dogs are never "stubborn" but simply misunderstood.

Step #1 – Focus on being your dog's best friend, not its master. Be committed to the idea that you and your dog are a team working together. Make it your goal to thrive on a life of companionship and the adventures you share, not blind, perfect obedience. Your dog will notice your positive and considerate attitude, and it will respond in kind.

Step #2 – Take time to learn about dogs. Your dog is a sentient being very different than a human and far more complicated than your smartphone. To make the best of your life with your dog, you need to take time to learn about your dog. You need to understand its senses, how it communicates, how it interprets communication from people, the best ways to teach it, how it expresses emotions, what constitutes normal and abnormal behavior, and what it needs to have a long and happy life. A dog training class taught under the direction of a credentialed professional dog trainer or canine behavior consultant should address all of those subjects. Meanwhile, an excellent place to start is with these two books; Dog Sense: How the New Science of Dog Behavior Can Make You A Better Friend to Your Pet by John Bradshaw and On Talking Terms With Dogs: Calming Signals by Turid Rugaas.

Step #3 – Build and nurture a relationship based on mutual trust. You cannot be a best friend or have a relationship with your dog unless you trust one another. Trust is earned. It takes time and patience, especially if you have a rescue dog who may have had a rough start. While it can take weeks to achieve your dog's trust, that trust can be lost instantly.

Step #4 – ALWAYS be kind and patient. Smile at your dog instead of making "frowny faces." Speak softly and gently, not loudly and with an authoritarian tone. Handle your dog gently, and don't grab at them. Never use force or fear to intimidate your dog; instead, be patient and help it learn.

Step #5 – Show empathy and understand your dog's emotions. Dogs have a rich emotional life and experience positive emotions such as joy and contentment and negative emotions like fear, grief, and anger. Help your dog through those negative moments just as it may try to help you when you feel bad. Understand that an emotional response cannot typically be "trained out" of a dog. If you need help addressing your dog's negative emotions, seek help from your veterinarian or an accredited dog behavior consultant sooner rather than later.

Step #6 – Let your dog make choices. Trust your dog's instincts and understand that it will feel better when it has options like you. Be its advocate when it is out in the world. Do not allow others to force your dog to interact.

Step #7 – Understand the world from your dog's point of view. While we share our dog's five senses of hearing, sight, smell, taste, and touch, it prioritizes them differently. For example, we might enjoy a brisk walk around the same block every day, letting our minds wander. However, most dogs will enjoy a walk that involves following its nose and making frequent stops to sniff and explore. Your dog may even choose to go in an entirely different direction at any moment in time. These are pretty incompatible ways to walk, so it is our responsibility to take your preferred walk without the dog and then take the dog on a walk it will enjoy. Think of it as your dog helping you increase your daily steps.

Next month, steps 8 through 12 to be a canine best friend.

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Don Hanson lives in Bangor, Maine, where he is the co-owner of the Green Acres Kennel Shop ( greenacreskennel.com ) and the founder of ForceFreePets.com, an online educational resource for people with dogs and cats. He is a Professional Canine Behavior Consultant (PCBC-A) accredited by the Pet Professional Accreditation Board (PPAB) and a Bach Foundation Registered Animal Practitioner (BFRAP). Don is a member of the Pet Professional Guild (PPG), where he serves on the Board of Directors and Steering Committee and chairs the Advocacy Committee. He is also a founding director of Pet Advocacy International (PIAI). In addition, Don produces and co-hosts The Woof Meow Show podcast, available at http://bit.ly/WfMwPodcasts/, the Apple Podcast app, and Don's blog: www.words-woofs-meows.com. The opinions in this post are those of Don Hanson.

©17-May-22, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved