We love our dogs and they adore us. With so much fondness, joy and friendship; how can it be possible that our darling dogs may not want our affection? Read on to find out some common mistakes that we make when we pet our pups; and, how you can better use physical touch to improve your dog’s behavior and build the stable, respectful bond that will continue to grow for years to come.
Most dogs do not like the “head bonk” or the “meat tenderizer”. Imagine the scene. “Fido, sit, GOOD BOY“, followed by an insanely hearty, flat palmed, BONK, BONK, BONK on top of the dog’s head. We can not tell you how many times we have seen pups flinch and blink their eyes when their person attempts to reward good behavior in this way. Roughly and raggedly digging into your dog’s muscles, anywhere, is also not usually relaxing, calming or enjoyable for most dogs. When we use our hands, intentionally, to let our dogs know that we are in their corner when the world is scary or they are rock stars about responding in extremely distracting situations; we want our touch to be soothing, not pounding or piercing.
Right time, wrong dog. In general, rewarding behaviors like “come” and general loose leash walking with an on-the-fly stroke is not going to pack much training punch. Most dogs in loving homes get smooched and caressed ALL DAY LONG. So, a soft brush along his or her neck becomes a much less valuable reward in highly distracting environments because warm scratches occur, at home, all the time. We are not suggesting that you withhold petting; just use a higher value reward for behaviors where the competition for your dog’s attention is colossal. And, as difficult as it is to admit, not all dogs love petting. My beloved Finn was not a huge fan of tactile affection. I know my Lug absolutely adored me; and, his chocolate body melted and oozed into massage in the right moments. But, it was not rewarding for him in stressful situations. Gavin, on the other hand, LOVES to be touched; anytime and anywhere. Lil’ Big Head will lean in for a gentle shoulder rub more quickly than he will take a treat, of any kind.
If we only react, we can reinforce the exact opposite desired behavior. For years, I have recommended Tellington Touch to my clients. The techniques I was able to extract from one of Linda Tellington-Jones’ many books helped Finn relax so much more than training alone when he developed thunder phobia in his twelfth year. With Gavin’s intense recent response to airplanes and barking dogs; I contacted the lovely Betsy Lane, Certified TTouch Practitioner, to show me a few additional ways to reduce Gavin’s anxiety on walks. Like all other good behavior modification plans, if we only implement exercises in the heat-of-the moment, worst-possible-canine-response; we can reinforce the wrong behaviors. Using the methods Betsy taught me at home, and when Gavin is still smiling and trotting along next to me on our walks, will help him become my sweet, brave monkey again MUCH quicker than if I only stroke his pork-chop legs when Lil’ Big Head needs to stop for a break.
Petting and touch can be very powerful ways to help our dogs relax and better cope with difficult situations. Just make sure to use your hands gently, at the right time. And, you will see much better results.