Dog relationships and bonding are the highest priorities for dog parents
That's why it felt like a miracle to see Katie, a sweet stray dog, sleeping happily on my porch. I had been working on the dog relationship building with her for an entire summer, continuing into autumn and winter was beginning...
It was exciting to see that we were making huge progress in our relationship and bonding process.
You know when your dog looks you right in the eye and your heart melts... that connection is totally, pure gold.
It's a really heart-melting experience.
To be able to strengthen our dog relationship and to take our doggie bond to the next level, are the most important and life-transforming gifts that our dogs offer us.
Finally, after six long months, my gentle, shy feral Katie-dog wanted to be with me instead of running the opposite direction.
I felt like progress was well underway.
Yet, how strange and humbling a dog relationship can be...
I was giving her some of her favorite treats while doing some touches on her neck and face to help her to relax.
She turned her head away from me and I made a BIG mistake…
Mistakes in a dog relationship can sometimes be easy to make and hard to fix
Especially with a rescue dog or a dog who has a shy peronsality or is under socialized...Pet parents have to move carefully.
Yikes! Wow did I regret my next move!
I carefully put my fingers under Katie's collar and tried to gently turn her head toward me to hand her the food.
The look on her face completely horrified me!
She went into sheer terror.
Her survival “flight” mode kicked in and in fear, she bolted down the steps of my deck and flew under a tree, her whole body shaking like an earthquake.
That was the wildly terrified, Katie I had not seen in weeks. Full of shock and awe, trembling in awesome terror.
I was devastated. My heart sank knowing I couldn't just run to her, tell her that I was sorry and let's forget this regretful event ever happened.
Because she hadn’t been socialized, because she hadn’t been given a chance to feel safe with me yet, a tiny pull on the collar was interpreted as intrusive and must have felt to her nervous system like I was a mountain lion on the attack.
What to do to strengthen our dog relationship requires a bit of work
Pulling myself out of self criticism and refusing to let my inner state plummet any deeper, I took a minute and simply watched Katie shake.
Standing in a beam of nurturing, warm sunlight, I took assessment of what had happened. I settled myself into calmness and watched Katie do the same thing in her own way... calming herself into a peaceful doggie nap.
Looking back in reflection, when I lightly grasped Katie’s collar, I was treating her as if she had a handle.
Like the collar was a handle.
But it’s not.
It’s just something around her neck so people know, if she gets out, that she has a home with me.
I lost an opportunity to be present with Katie in that moment, without expectations and without an agenda.
And WITH patience.
When I became aware of what happened, I had to ask myself, "Why not just sit and be with her until she is ready to turn to me and take the treat?"
In that moment of humility and reflection, the busyness of my mind stopped, peace filled every molecule of my body, relaxing the tension in every muscle and and from that infinite space of quiet and calm, I not only learned a big lesson about being present and not rushing...but I experienced something powerful...something that pet parents each have access to when working with our fur babies.
I realized clearly that being present and aware of what we are doing is important but also to connect deeply with the very soul of our dog is critical too. This is not 'just a dog'...Our dog is a unique and sacred soul deserving of our undivided attention and respect.
Moms and dads of human children go through similar challenges in dealing with their kids... It's easy to space out, not be fully present or move forward with an agenda...forgetting to acknowledge the mental and emotional state and the special little angel sitting in front of us.
How a dog relationship deepens
It took two weeks for me to redeem myself in Katie’s eyes.
Two weeks of starting all over.
We lost so much ground because of that moment of impatience and unconsciously pushing her too far without being present enough to see... with compassionate dog parent eyes... that Katie and I had not built up enough trust between us in order for me to grasp her collar.
Most dogs are not like Katie, and they won’t respond quite so reactively and hide and tremble and do all those things.
However, all dogs deserve the respect of their pet parent's awareness and connection with them.
This event was such a reminder to me that in real communication, in real love, with real respect, and building trust, every little nuance, in every second, every body posture....
In a real dog relationship everything matters.
No matter how long it takes to teach Katie something, I now wait and watch to see how to proceed.
I don’t care how long it takes to be with her in a way that she can really hear me and we can have mutual trust for each other.
I’m going to take that time.
And if it takes Katie three months to learn how to sit, okay fine, we’ll take the three months.
If it takes six months for her to come to me reliably, okay, we’ll take the six months.
It’s easy to celebrate this gorgeous dog who has come into my life with what some people might think were some big challenges.
Instead, she’s challenging me to be the highest and best me that I can be.
Let’s keep going and building our dog relationships into towers of light and love!
Have you noticed any areas you would like to shift in your training approach with your amazing dog?
I’d love to hear your experiences in how you work with dog relationship building each and every day...
What Else Can We Do to Build Relationships Full of Love and Trust?
One of the things I did recently in the area of dog relationships related to my life with Katie...
I am constantly surprised and a bit sad at how afraid Katie remains about so many things. Life in general scares her. Although she lives in my house and I know she trusts me, noises send her flying into her crate, a storm causes her to tremble and she greets everyone, with tucked tail and lowered eyes. At least she'll approach them now.
So knowing how important connection, trust, communication is to a loving relationship, I've really honed in and added a lot of detail about socialization in the Mindful Pup Parenting course.
When I surveyed puppy parents, I was surprised to find out that most parents didn't know that there are a wide variety of developmental stages that puppies and young dogs go through during the first few years of life.
There are 2 super important ones that the parents who I surveyed didn't know about...
My guess is that Katie's pet parents didn't know about them either.
These are neurologically based and are called a "fear" or "startle" phase:
- 8-10 weeks
- 6-14 months (lasts about 2-3 weeks and varies with each dog)
When I see timid, fearful dogs like Katie, it's such a shame because a lot of her suffering and fear in daily life could have been avoided. I know how hard my friends and pet parent clients work to make their dogs feel safe.
The good news is that the wide range of socialization and imprinting that can be done by us so that our dogs feel safe...is not a difficult task.
We need to be armed and ready to act at the right time with the right information.
So, I've gone into a lot of depth about this subject in the course. If you have a pup or know someone who does, be sure to check it out.