Gail Fisher's Dog Tracks: Domineering approach to dogs undermines bond with owner
A reader writes: Hello Gail: My interest is in the bond people form with dogs. I had a Corgi that I loved dearly, but I don't think he liked me much. He constantly ran away, would run into any open door and stay until the people read his tags and called me. I had him for 11 years, and he did this pretty much for 11 years.
I now have two spayed females. The dogs don't walk with me but pull me down the street. One dog has been to dog training and ignores me when we walk. I think there is something missing in how I relate to my dogs, but I'm not sure what it is.
I would really like to learn how to form a closer bond with my dogs. (I'm also a big fan of Cesar Milan).
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In the past two columns, I've addressed the reader's questions about running away and pulling on leash. This week, I'll focus on the larger question of bonding, or forming a close attachment with our dogs.
The final parenthesis may offer a clue to the reader's relationship with her dogs. Popular TV dog trainer Cesar Milan's approach to behavior modification has changed over the years. When his TV program first aired, his dominance-oriented, take-no-prisoners attitude created an adversarial relationship, pitting trainer against dog. Viewers adopting his approach of domination and showing the dog who's boss resulted in a profound change to their loving, trusting relationships. Milan's training has slowly moved toward a less-punitive, more positive approach, but many of his previous techniques are still used by viewers, and are inappropriate and even damaging.
A student enrolled in one of our classes had been to three other training centers. While her dog was "obedient," they did not have a good relationship, and she came to us to improve it. I was filming that class each week, and despite both the class instructor and me giving the student advice, we saw little improvement in her dog's attitude. The fourth week of class, I was filming as the students returned to the building after a short break. The instructor was walking next to this student, coaching her. What I caught on film, and didn't see until I was editing the footage, was something the instructor also couldn't see or know had happened. For no apparent reason, the student suddenly gave her dog a behind-the-back kick - the sole of her right foot against the dog's right hip - a Cesar Milan technique.
Her dog, who had been walking perfectly fine and certainly didn't deserve to be kicked (a technique I would never use), side-stepped away from his owner. Feeling her dog move away, the owner gave him a leash pop to bring him back to her side. In other words, she kicked her dog, causing him to move away, for which she then "corrected" him. The poor dog. Who could blame him for being confused and not trusting his owner to treat him fairly.
On further questioning, we learned that she, too, was a "big fan" of Milan, and despite it being the antithesis of our approach, was continuing to use his domineering approach at home - completely undermining the trusting bond a cooperative approach engenders, and that we were trying to convey to her.
Bonding between a dog and human is based on trust, mutual respect and regard. Because we are the ones with opposable thumbs (and the ability to read New Hampshire Sunday News columns), we humans have a greater responsibility in creating this relationship.
We much treat the dog with respect, garnering respect in return. We must recognize and respond appropriately to dog body language and communication, respecting what the dog is "saying."
It is up to us to create, build and nurture a trusting relationship, creating communication through training, sharing activities such as manners training and dog sports such as agility or Rally-obedience. Bonding isn't dependent on setting up formal training sessions. An owner can create an active, cooperative learning environment that enriches and enhances your dog's responsiveness - and your dog's life.
Having a bonded relationship with your dog is more than feeding, caring for and loving him. It is helped by engaging in activities together. Do things you enjoy together such as taking a walk, retrieving, tricks training and the like, always with a positive, cooperative, respectful attitude.
Gail Fisher, author of "The Thinking Dog," runs All Dogs Gym & Inn in Manchester. If you would like a topic addressed in this column, email firstname.lastname@example.org or write c/o All Dogs Gym & Inn, 505 Sheffield Road, Manchester, NH 03103. You'll find past columns on her website.