Man's best friend is famous, of course, for his devotion, unconditional love and natural predisposition toward human affection. But for many owners, a little more insight on how to strengthen the bond with their canine friend can certainly reap rewards. Behaviour expert Linda Robins A.P.D.T. explains how to get an even closer relationship with your dog.
When choosing a puppy pick a breed that suits your lifestyle. Many people choose a dog for the way it looks. Big mistake! It is well worth seeking expert advice from your vet or a behaviourist. These people see different breeds on a regular basis and will be pleased to advise you.
The ideal age to collect your puppy is in his 7th week. This will ensure you have him at a time when his bonding is at its natural peak.
Spend time playing with your puppy. Socialising is very important from an early age. Carry the puppy (if he has not had his injections yet) around public places. Without a doubt people will be stopping you to talk to and touch your puppy - a wonderful way to socialise him.
Arrange to have plenty of spare time when you collect your puppy. This will give you the opportunity to get house training well on its way.
To house train a puppy without stress or worry means being with him for most of his waking hours, to be able to go outside with him at regular intervals. If you are unable to do this, house training is likely to take a long time and may cause frustration for you, which the puppy will also pick up. This is not conducive to strengthening the bond.
Keep the puppy with you at night. Put his bed beside yours or crate train him and use this as his bed. Having him close to you will help strengthen the bond. Having him beside you will help with house training, as you will be aware of when he wakes in the early hours, as is likely to happen. "Puppies should be carried upstairs, rather than going up themselves as damage could be caused to their joints."
When I am asked to take a puppy in for house training I crate train (for the night time), and let him sleep next to me. I then get up at around 6-30 AM, carry the puppy outside, and wait with him until he “goes”.
I also take him outside at night at around 12 so he has every opportunity to learn to control his bowels. This 6 hour period can be stretched quickly once the routine is established.
It is important for your puppy's long-term routine that he learns to be comfortable whilst on his own, so use these first few weeks to teach him this. Give him time out occasionally throughout the day with SAFE toys and SAFE nylon bones. Fill a couple of hollow toys with part of his daily rations. Hide them (in obvious places for a puppy) so he has to search and forage for his food. This will give him pleasure and tire him. Arrange for somebody to pop in a few times each day if you have to go out for longer than 3hrs, to give him time and company and to feed him. A young puppy needs 4 meals daily (more if under 14 weeks and depending on the breed you have)
When you arrive home do not expect your puppy to be calm. He will be very pleased to see you, will have slept while you have been out and will be expecting some fun and games. Ensure the play is constructive by slotting in some basic commands followed by joyous praise and a game with a ball.
Strengthening the bond with older dogs
Start with basic obedience exercises. Exercises such as sit, down, stay, walking to heel, recall, retrieve or trick training will develop interaction between you and your dog. Use tasty teats or a favourite toy to encourage your dog's attention and motivation to respond. Guide your dog into position using a treat THEN put the command in.
When out walking, if the recall is not reliable, use a flexi lead as back up if your dog does not come on the first command. When he returns to you, always praise and reward. NEVER be cross if he doesn’t come back. Consider it your fault not his and start the recall training again from scratch.
Teaching a happy responsive recall helps strengthen the bond between you. Do this frequently, praising and rewarding each time Play with your dog in the house. If you have a sensitive dog play on the floor to increase confidence. If you have a bossy/independent dog use constructive play with a toy on a rope.
Retain or strengthen your dog's respect for you by being fair, rewarding good behaviour. Remember that dogs are conflict solving animals and really want to get it right. By being fair to your dog he will give you his trust.
With some dogs you may have to work hard to achieve this, especially if he has his wires crossed as to what is right or wrong. But with guidance and the proper type of advice and training an amazing amount of improvement is possible. I have turned around horrendous cases and clients have been amazed at the improvement and change in their dog's behaviour generally. By strengthening the bond you too can improve your dog's behaviour.
It is not a good idea to send a dog away for behaviour counselling if he does have serious problems i.e. biting visitors/family members. This may lead to increased anxiety/insecurity, resulting in even worse behaviour. When asked to take a case such as this I prefer to visit the dog in his home and meet any people that play an important part of his daily life. These consultations are aimed at enlightening owners on how to strengthen the bond with their dog to dilute and avoid behaviour problems.
Don’t be tempted to send your dog to a large training establishment that may well increase his behaviour problems. However, if you do need to look for residential training make sure your dog lives as one of the family while being treated. When I take in a dog with training or behaviour problems he lives as one of the family with the emphasis on domestic training, to make him socially acceptable.
Strengthening the bond with a rescued dog
Don’t underestimate the lengthy process of rehabilitating a dog that has suffered the stress of re-homing and rescue kennels. Let him settle in, but above all, make sure he understands the house rules from the start. Don’t over indulge him in an attempt to strengthen the bond between you. Give him a week or so to settle in, then start with very basic obedience exercises, rewarding good behaviour. When he comes over to you praise him with your voice and a treat. When he sits freely praise again and reward. Avoid correcting him wherever possible....he may have developed bad habits in his previous home through no fault of his own. Take the opportunity of bad behaviour away.
For example if he steals from the worktops, keep them absolutely clear of anything he may find interesting. He will soon lose the habit if it is non-rewarding to him. If he jumps at visitors put him on the lead. Distract him then offer him a chance to redeem himself with a simple command...praise and reward.
There are endless ways to lose bad habits without being cross with him.
If you have any doubts about your dog's response to your efforts at strengthening the bond, have him checked over by your vet to eliminate the possibility of medical problems. If a dog is in pain he will not be able to respond well to your attempts at bonding or training.
Before going to an obedience class check out the trainer- are they APDT member? If not ask to see the trainer with their own dogs; do their dogs look happy? Do the other dogs in the class look relaxed and are the other owners interested in listening to what the trainer has to say? By training your dog using positive methods in a fair yet
effective way you really will strengthen the bond between you.
ABOUT THE WRITER:
Linda Robins is a member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers and runs a canine consultants. She does voluntary consultancy work for the RSPCA as well as private work.