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5 tips to creating a balanced relationship with your dog

Boundaries are essential to creating a balanced relationship

It is important to remember that we all have different views on the extent to which we share our lives with our dogs. What may be acceptable to one person may not be acceptable to another, allowing your dog on the couch as an example.  That said, like children dogs do need guidelines and boundaries. Good, consistent guidance will earn your dog’s respect and help them to feel secure.

Here are a few ways to establish a balanced relationship:

Start with food and play

Just as a parent would control allowance, curfew and use of the car, you should manage all the “good stuff” when it comes to your dog.

Food is an incredibly valuable resource. As such, it should come from you, not from that round thing on the floor that is always magically full!  Feed twice daily, rather than leaving food down to graze on.

If your dog does not eat after ten minutes, pick the food up and put it away. Most dogs, even those previously free-fed, will quickly adapt to the new routine; no healthy dog will starve themselves.

Manage time with toys and games. Leave your dog with a few toys, but reserve the really special ones for when you are present. Bring them out periodically and play with your dog. In doing so you become the source of fun!

Introduce a Learn to Earn Program.

This is an opportunity to spend some quality time with your dog and can be a good way of building a bond through mental and physical exercise. After all, exercising their brain is as important as physical exercise. Such a program includes basic training exercises and an element of “you do something for me and I will do something for you”. If your dog wants to be petted, ask them to sit first. If they are already sitting, ask them to lie down.

Have them sit (or do another behaviour they know) before meals, treats, walks, tossing the ball, and anything else they consider valuable. Make it fun.

Always praise them as reward for good behaviour.  Do not reprimand or lose patience if they do not immediately follow your request.  Simply start that exercise again in a calm and consistent manner.  Remember respect works both ways.

Manage the Space.

If your dog zigzags in front as you walk, crowds you as you sit, or otherwise intrudes on your personal space or that of other people, that is not very polite.  There is nothing worse than your dog leaping on a guest, only to knock their hot cup of coffee all over them.  Good practice is to teach “manners” and spatial awareness.

Walk your dog at your side rather than out in front of you.

Your dog will learn to move when legs approach. If you are standing and your dog crowds you, use the command “back” or use your lower body to gently push them away. If you are sitting, ask them to “off” or fold your arms and gently move them away using your upper arm or forearm – do not speak or look at them as you do so.

At doorways (until your dog has learned to “wait” or “back up”), either calmly step in front to block the exit/entry path or gently push your dog aside with your lower body.

Never use force or harshly reprimand.

Train and practice obedience exercises and incorporate them into your everyday life.

Down-stays are especially good for establishing calm behaviours. Keep practice sessions short and frequent and recognise good behaviour.

Handling is an important part of life so teach your dog to accept handling.

For a dog that is hand shy, start with the back of your hand rather than the palm, as some dogs see the palm as a threat.

Practice daily massage, including paws, ears and mouth. This practice also makes for easier groomer/veterinary visits and alerts you to any physical abnormalities.

The most important thing to remember is leaders are not bullies! Reprimand verbally if necessary without creating fear (a simple “no” should be enough), then forgive and move on. Never use scruff-shakes, jerking, hitting or other harsh physical corrections.

Use good discipline not punishment to let your dog know what is right and what is wrong. Above all, be a calm and patient leader.