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.
'Sparky' Smith is a Canine Behaviorist and Practioner, educated through the International School for Canine Psychology & Behaviour, earning her ISCP.DIP.CANINE.PRAC.