Bonding

Bonding with your dog is not only personally very rewarding, it comes into its own during training. When you have a great relationship with your dog they are happier too, and it means they are more likely to be interested in you and what you’re doing. All very important when away from the house or garden, and out in the big wide world.

Over the time they’ve been with me Jake and Truly have learned to trust me when I take them into new situations, and have learnt that I will come back home when I go out, so they relax and don’t trash the house. Jake particularly trusts that I will remove him from situations he isn’t keen on, such as when a dog is walking towards us that he isn’t comfortable with. It’s easy to read him as he actively signals this. This then subsequently helps me avoid situations with Truly and how she feels about some dogs near where we live.

I use consistent and positive reinforcement in my training, it’s based on recognising and rewarding the behaviour you want to see. It’s something I’ve always done instinctively with my dogs, but when I was looking for a dog training course it was what drew me to the IMDT. If you’re looking for a gift, Steve Mann has written two very easy to read books. One called ‘Easy Peasy Puppy Squeezy’, and the other is ‘Easy Peasy Doggy Squeezy’. Both have lots of great tips for puppies and older dogs (and particularly the owners).

So do I build trust with my dogs when they’ve arrived at different life stages? I’ve mentioned before that Truly is hand shy, despite being with me for five years she will still flinch if I make a sudden movement, and she will bolt if she hears a crashing noise. A behaviourist said to me many years ago that dogs live in the moment and whilst they don’t forget everything, they will adapt and move on. So that has been my focus, to build lots of positive happy experiences. As a consequence, year on year I have seen Truly settle and blossom, and as with Jake when Truly smiles at me it makes my heart glow.

Bonding activity

For my two it’s definitely through play. Jake and Truly love games and toys, which comes under the more formal term ‘enrichment activity’. They particularly love games that involve food. As they get older, they aren’t as mobile as they were, and Jake can no longer play zoomies around the garden as I need to protect his arthritic joints from his general enthusiasm for life.

They both love searching games, or nose work as it’s called. Most dogs love using their noses to find things, which given their superior sense of smell is probably no surprise. Leo was great at nose work, and we attended specific tracking classes. You can easily teach your dog searching games at home, and your dog will love you for it. I’ll talk through the basics you can do at home, and if you want to take it to the next level once we’re able to circulate again, I’ll put details of different clubs in the links section.

Whilst Jake and Truly play for food, Leo used to play for his tennis ball. You can use whatever motivates your dog as the ‘prize’. Personally, I don’t hide food outside of the house as Truly is already a scavenger and I don’t want to encourage her to be actively looking for disgusting things to eat when on walks. We have a dedicated search toy I use, it’s bright so easy for me to see where I’ve hidden it, and then I exchange this for the treat when it’s ‘found’.

Games to try

I’d keep the first few sessions short and inside the house, and watch for signs your dog may be getting overheated, frustrated or stressed (panting heavily) as you should stop straight away. Also use common sense about furniture or items that could hurt them, or they could damage. This should be a relatively calm activity for both of you to enjoy, we aren’t looking to create an over-excited dog barging around the house looking for a treat!

With Jake and then Truly I started in the house for fewer distractions than outside, also good for the wet weather. It does help if your dog already has skills to sit and wait patiently. If they aren’t in this place yet, perhaps this is an opportunity to simultaneously work on it through this activity.

  1. Ask your dog to sit, and whilst your dog is watching you place a favourite treat at the other end of the room. Release your dog by telling them to ‘find it’. After a few repetitions they will soon get the gist of the game! If you’re in a multi dog household, avoid the potential for arguments by playing one dog at a time.
  2. Next step, put your dog in another room or where they can’t see what you’re doing. Hide their favourite treats at dog height and in accessible locations around the room. Bring your dog back in and tell them to ‘find it’. If they aren’t sure what this is all about, you can initially lead or point to areas for them to sniff.
  3. Once they find the treat remember to celebrate and give them lots of praise. I recommend keeping to the same terminology so your dog understands what you want them to do. It will also help when you want to progress to the next stage.

Have fun and take care until next time

Jen

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