Readers Note: For ease of reading, 'he' is used. Please substitute 'she' if you have a female dog
He lifts his head backward, looking at you with soft eyes, pressing his head into your chest. He is leaning on you, lying on his side and looks at you in his funny little way that you adore. HIs mouth opens and the corners of his cheek stretch just a little and there it is...a small lazy grin that seems to say, "Rub my belly, please?" Who doesn't melt at this display of affection?
When your best friend is in a mental state of comfort, as with all dogs, they will move along a continuum from comfort to pleasure, and why not. It is at these heart-warming moments that you feel the most bonded to your dogs. The endorphins fire and you both feel the pleasure in your relationship.
In my daily career of caring for Guest Dogs whom I have often never met before, my goal is always to achieve an affectionate bond. Nothing is more gratifying than when a Guest Dog slowly comes to you, placing their head on your person and leans in. This is a dog hug, given willingly and joyfully. It can't be forced. I tell you that there is nothing like it in the world. It is also especially gratifying because it tells us that we have bonded with a dog under our care, and that they feel safe, happy and loved.
In our line of work, we don't have a lot of time to bond with a dog. We don't have days, weeks or months. We must achieve an authentic bond within hours of a dog's arrival at the Resort. Our training and skill requires us to be masters at reading dog signals and be capable of sending signals back to effectively shift a dog's mindset from worry, to a relaxed confident state of mind. Then, we must further move a dog's mind from seeing us as strangers to seeing us friends, then from friends to trusted caregivers, trusted caregivers to fun playmates, and from fun playmates, we build towards an affectionate bond. We must do this over a course of hours and we work hard to continuously honed and tweaked our reading and sending signals to our Guest Dogs.
When we are working on behaviourial cases, we support the Caregiver to bond more deeply with their dogs. We examine the way they display affection. We see the good, the bad and the ugly. In a large majority of cases, we see good-hearted Caregivers not reading the signals the dog is giving them accurately. Loving owners want their dog to be affectionate instantly or in some cases, feel entitled to having their dog's affection because they feed and exercise it. Willing affection displayed from a dog must be gifted by the dog himself, and if the mindset of the dog hasn't moved to an affection bond, then they will only tolerate a human touching them. Sadly, we see this sometimes after years of a caregiver and their dog being together. We watch the insistence that the dog loves being hugged, and the ugly faces of dog's tolerating it. In other instances, we take note of the bad body position of a caregiver, leaning over a dog to pat its head, promoting a dog's sense of being low in the social order of his family. We watch owners make their dog sit, hold the jowls to raise their pets head, directly lean over and place a kiss on their nose. All good and kind intentions, but bad execution.
By learning more about how to communicate with dogs, read their body language, and understand how they think, feel and act, we can learn how to develop a deeper and lasting bond, full of willing affection.
To foster your dog's emotional spirit, use this 1-minute booster-shot a day and learn to say in Dog-language:, "Hey I like you and respect you":
This should take approximately a minute, and easy to do daily. By doing this small act regularly, you will see your dog begin to enjoy the moments when you say: "Hey, I like you and respect you." Be patient. If you have never communicated effectively with him to let him know you like and respect him, it may take awhile for it to sink in. Affection is born out of consistent signals that you are to be trusted, that you respect him, and his body, and that you value him in your life.
It is the most powerful gift to have a dog give you their own version of what we call 'hugs'; when their eyes soften, and they lean into you. By respecting who they are as complex emotional beings, and by being patient and focused, this gift can be yours. My wish for you is to take a minute a day and begin unwrapping the gift only your dog can give you; wonderful affection given willingly and joyfully.
Martin and I have always seen a dog as gifts that enter into our human lives. Souls that for whatever wondrous reason, share and teach us about life if we are willing to listen.
A dog is not a 'thing' in our world. They are beings, just like us, who interact with the world but in a different way. To study a dog is to learn more about who you are and how you connect with nature. Much like you perhaps, our dogs play a dual role providing wisdom, and learning new things from us. Above all, they are vital members of our family.
Thinking about what we wanted for our dogs, helped us shape our business, Executive Pet Services & Resort. For us, it was all about trust. We wanted a care partner to take into account our way with our dogs and to balance this with professional insight, experience with positive reinforcement and total love for all animals.
What we want for our dogs is a level of care and compassion that closely matches our own and in finding that care to feel not a single moment of worry.
When care is outside of your control, we want you to know that as your care partners, we work first to establish trust with you and your dog, and then provide the same quality of care that we would for our own dogs, with deep experience and up to date knowledge on dog care.
We are here to provide exceptional care for your best friend.
Picture by S.Carter, used by permission under the following licence.
Look at your dog. Is he looking bored? Not sure? Is he lying down, heads between his paws, position with his legs under him so that he could spring to action at any sign you may do something with him? Are his eyes constantly watching you move around and does he vocalize with a ‘hrumph’ or sigh? Or perhaps he is pestering you by dropping toys at your feet and staring at you to get your attention? Is he following you around the house, not settling down?
If your dog is regularly awake but not settled and relaxed, these could be signs your dog is under-stimulated, and this can lead to dangerous conditions for you and your dog if left untreated. Limited stimulation may result in the following symptoms: destructive behavior, aggression, depression, excessive and compulsive behaviors, and other mental illness and physical ailments.
When we consider providing the right environment for a dog, there are common misconceptions that the breed type alone will determine what a dog needs. I have heard many dog owners state they selected their dog because the breed is known to be ‘easy-going,’ ‘low maintenance,’ and 'good with children.' The dog's environment may then be in danger of being constructed with minimal exercise, little stimulation, and surrounded by children. Well-being is threatened when decisions are made on breed alone to define the emotional and physical needs for our friends to thrive and for happiness to be found.
Research has shown that a dog’s emotional intelligence and cognitive ability is highly variable within a single breed. Besides, a breeder’s care of the mother pre, during and post-pregnancy may also change the temperament of a dog. Desirable dog characteristics during the breeder’s dam and sire selection process is also a factor in a dog's temperament. The only clue that may be provided by a dog's breed is the origin of the work the breed was created to perform as it came into existence. In some cases, the intended work is so diluted from what is needed today; it provides no help at all. For example, a wolfhound was originally bred to pull soldiers off their horse during battle! Also, a dog who has all the advantages of being well-bred, and properly socialized as a pup, but who lives in an unenriched, constrained or chaotic environment, can become a dog with undesirable temperament. Every dog requires stimulation that is customize for it’s unique personality.
If you don’t know a lot about the environment in which your dog was conceived, or the history of early socialization and care, creating an enriched environment for your dog provides the best chance of fostering personality traits to become a well-balanced family member. How do you create a richer environment? You begin with our shared basic needs: a nutritionally-balanced diet, fresh water, shelter, love and cuddles, and activities which stimulate the mind. For a dog stimulation may be exploring smells on a woodland walk, or playing in the surf while walking on the beach.
From these basic needs, you then increase the quality, such as exposing your dog to confidence building adventures, introducing new routes, new people, and other dogs to your walk and activities. You may wish to provide gentle touch massage or cater to the dogs comfort with updated beds as they change from puppy to geriatrics.
You could add significant quality to the way you communicate with your dog, by having your dog tested in a variety of cognitive games. These specialized tests are fun for your dog and understanding who your dog is on an individual level enriches the ways you train, communicate and even select games. Check out our "Who Am I?" Vacations if you are interested in learning more.
High-quality dog care appears may be linked to greater long-term physical and mental advantages for your dog. Not only is the best and right thing to do, but it also will likely save you financially on vet bills.
If all of this sounds remarkably like taking care of a toddler, you are right. Dog’s evolution has created greater complexity in emotional range and bonding with the human race. Similar to a mother bonding with her infant, Oxytocin, or the ‘hug’ hormone, is released from our brains and proceeds to course all the way through our nervous systems making us feel exceptional. So if you enjoy looking into your dog's eyes, you are likely performing an ancient bonding ritual, similar to a mother and baby, as found by Professor Kerstin Uvnas-Moberg.
You will also find the longer you look into a dog’s eyes, the better you feel. Caution should be taken to not to force your dog to stare at you if it shows signs of reluctance and looks away. It must come naturally and reluctance may be signs of an introverted dog, or a dog that is still learning to trust you. If you dog is not comfortable with eye contact, try sitting with the dog and pet it, speaking softly and gently. You and your dog will still get a rise of oxytocin in your blood stream, as well as other good hormones like beta-endorphins, which help with pain relief and can create euphoria.
An enriched environment provides additional stimulation and experiences designed to build confidence and balance. It is all about making your dog happy.
What do you do to make your dog happy? Please let us know, we would enjoy hearing your stories.
'Sparky' Smith is a Canine Behaviorist and Practioner, educated through the International School for Canine Psychology & Behaviour, earning her ISCP.DIP.CANINE.PRAC.