Let Dogs be Dogs! This is something I am just so passionate about.
We all love our canine companions, but we often just expect them to fit into our human world and do everything we expect of them, without really giving much thought to what their needs are in order to live a happy fulfilled life.
Following are 10 suggestions that will help you strengthen your bond with your canine companion.
1. Spend quality time with your dog every single day. Be fully present. Our lives can be so busy and chaotic that sometimes dogs may feel ignored. Talk to your dog, play with your dog, tell him often he is a very good boy. If possible, take your dog on adventures, whether a day in the office accompanying you to work, or a family day at the beach, the woods, or a picnic in the park.
2. Have fun together. Spend 10 minutes each day on a play and training session. Play fetch, Tug-of-War and other games your dog enjoys. This will improve your dog’s overall feelings of happiness, and when they begin to associate you with playtime, the bond between you will continue to strengthen. When you fully engage with your dog, you will find that your dog is less likely to run away or get distracted because they are having fun with you. Spend some time getting to know your dog and finding out what they find rewarding. Some dogs are all about food, while others prefer toys and yet others like physical touch and affection or words of praise.
Once you know exactly what your dog finds rewarding, you can use this to keep them engaged with you and make sure they are responsive to you when you are out and about. Dogs love interaction with their humans, and some may request your attention with barks, by bringing you a toy or even with a play bow. I strongly believe that you should try to accept your dog’s invitation to play as often as possible. The more you play with and interact with your dog, the stronger your bond will become.
3. Let your dog sniff! Sniffing is crucial mental stimulation. If you are walking your dog on a lead, please do not hurry them or pull them away from the things they want to sniff. Walks should be about your dog and sniffing safaris are one of the most enriching activities you can provide for your best friend.
Imagine if every time you found something interesting, you were physically pulled away from it? How would that make you feel? I know that I would find it incredibly frustrating, and dogs do too. Sniffing is a basic canine right. Please give your dog lots of opportunities to sniff. A 10-minute sniffing safari is much more enriching for your dog than a 60-minute power walk.
If you really don’t have time to take your dog on Sniffing Safaris, collect lots of leaves, sticks, twigs, feathers, stones and anything else your dog might find interesting and scatter them around your backyard so your dog can experience a Sniffing Safari safely while you cook dinner or are otherwise occupied.
4. Teach your dog a strong recall, so that you can let them off-lead when it is safe to do so. Dogs need to run, play, jump, sniff and explore. They deserve the opportunity to jump into bushes, use their amazing sense of smell to sniff everything they are drawn to, and safely practice their innate need to chase. Dogs deserve to have friends of their own species, if they enjoy other dogs (not all dogs do and that’s okay) but if they do, they should be given opportunities to run and chase and play with nice doggy friends.
5. Let your dog roll around in the grass, and in all the smelly things they find irresistible. I know the idea of your dog being stinky or needing to give them a bath when you get home after an already busy day sounds incredibly tiring. But this is such a natural and fun activity for dogs - and when we understand this, we can rejoice and feel happy for their bliss and enjoyment, stink and all.
6. Let them hunt! No, I don’t mean let them actually kill real animals. But hunting, scavenging and working for food is an innate need that dogs require to be truly fulfilled. So, ditch the bowl and scatter feed them in the garden, use food puzzles, offer them a KONG®, give them something to chew; raw carrots or deer antlers, for example. Give them dog safe foods in a muffin tray, some blueberries, natural Greek yoghurt, natural, safe (preferably home-made) peanut butter, cheese, raw steak, cooked chicken, broccoli, etc. Let them actually work for their food. I promise you they will be so much more satisfied than eating the same old boring kibble day after day from a bowl. I can’t imagine eating plain Weetbix every day of my life for every meal, can you? Giving your dog the opportunity to problem-solve and to chew, both naturally relaxing and mentally stimulating activities for dogs, is absolutely vital for their mental and emotional wellbeing.
7. Be mindful of your tone of voice. Dogs respond much better to happy voices than to scary, angry voices. Shouting at your dog will not make him want to respond to you, but if you use a happy silly voice, and use words such as “treats” and “good boy/girl”, your dog will be much more likely to respond.
8. Exercise with your dog. Go for a walk, take a hike together, or try a dog sport such as agility if there are classes in your area and that seems like something your dog would enjoy. Both dogs and people need exercise to stay healthy, so look for ways you can exercise together. This will improve the mental and physical well-being of both you and your dog.
9. Respect your dog. Just like humans, every single dog has their own personality–a combination of genetics, environment, how well they were socialised in the critical period, and individuality. Some dogs are shy, timid, or introverted, whilst others are confident, boisterous and extroverted.
Some dogs can be quite snappy and reactive, while others are very submissive. It is important to know your dog and respect that they are an individual with their own needs and desires, likes and dislikes. Do not force your dog into situations that make them uncomfortable or anxious. To have a strong bond, your dog must know that they can trust you to listen to them, protect them and advocate for them.
10 Give your dog choices, and autonomy over their own body. If your dog enjoys physical affection, make sure he gets plenty, but dogs who are constantly touched and picked up without consent can become anxious and snappy. I know I don’t enjoy being touched without consent, and neither do our dogs. It is very simple to give your dog a choice by conducting a consent test. Pat them under the chin or scratch behind their ears for a few seconds, then remove your hand. If your dog moves away, he does not wish to be touched right now, stop. If he nudges your hand or moves in closer, he is enjoying your touch so give him some more pats and then stop again. Rinse and repeat. Your dog will tell you when he has had enough. Dogs are actually very effective communicators if we just learn how to listen to them and read their body language.
©Rebeca Mas 2021
If you would like to know more about how to strengthen the bond with your canine companion, click here to purchase your copy of Sniff Play Bark – Your Essential Guide to a Happier Dog.