It has been said that dogs are “Man’s Best Friend.” If the tables were turned, could it be said that man is a “Dog’s Best Friend?”
Friendship, simply defined, is a relationship between two individuals who have a mutual affection for each other.
True friendship is “life-enhancing” and is often revealed by such qualities as mutual trust, respect, commitment, loyalty, and love. There are two sides to any friendship. I call it the “friendship equation.” Each day my dogs show me what friendship is all about. I’d sure like to know that I’m doing my part in the equation. In order to do that, I need to learn all I can about my furry friends, so that I can be a good friend to them.
What are their emotional and physical needs? How do they communicate? What can I do to protect them? These are the types of questions I’ve been asking for years, and I’m still learning new things!
Friendship is a journey, and there’s so much to learn and discover along the way.
Here are 10 tips on how to be your Dog’s Best Friend.
[Links are included if you’d like to dig deeper into each topic]
1. Care for your dogs basic needs:
What does it mean to “care for” our dogs? After reading several online definitions of the word “care”, I came up with a definition of what it means to “care for” my dog:
To feel concern for my dog; to look after and provide for his needs; to act responsibly and do what is necessary to maintain the health, welfare, and protection of my dog. Synonyms: supervise, protect, guard, to be responsible for.
Dogs have physical and emotional needs, and much like children, they depend on us to care for them. Caring for a dogs basic needs involves providing proper nutrition, shelter, exercise, grooming, and regular veterinary care. Without these things, it would be almost impossible for our furry friends to flourish.
Dig Deeper: Learn more about “Responsible Dog Ownership.”
2. Learn to speak your dog’s language:
Friendships flourish with good communication. But we weren’t born knowing how to communicate with dogs. They have their language, and we have ours. A good dog owner will bridge the communication gap by learning to “speak dog.” Here’s a story that gave me insight to how a dog might feel when faced with a frustrated person who doesn’t speak his language.
When I first moved to France, I spoke French fairly well, but there was one phrase I hadn’t yet learned. Driving one day, I was stopped by a police officer, who said, “Arrete le contact.” Not understanding, I looked at him bewildered. He repeated in a louder voice, “Arrete le contact!” I told him in French I didn’t understand, but I spoke well enough that he must not have believed me. Again he repeated, this time in an angry loud voice, “Arrete le contact!” I became frightened and was about to cry when he gave up and motioned me away in complete frustration. That evening my husband explained that the officer was asking me to STOP THE ENGINE, a protocol the police take while randomly controlling cars for safety.
I wonder if dogs feel bewildered and scared, as I did, when they’re being scolded for something they never learned? To our dogs, we’ re speaking a different language. That officer must have thought I was being disobedient, when in fact I had no idea what he was asking of me. I don’t believe there are “bad” dogs, only dogs living in a world where they’re misunderstood. Please be patient with your dog, and with yourself. New languages take time to learn. Your dog is speaking all day long, with his eyes, ears, tail, the way he moves, barks, and breathes. He’s also eagerly trying to figure you out.
Dig Deeper: Improve communication with your dog.
3. Train your dog:
A good dog owner will offer their furry friend the opportunity to learn. Children need schooling in order to thrive. In the same way, a puppy needs a good education (training) and a good teacher (you) in order to grow into a mature, well-behaved adult. The best part is that YOU get to choose the curriculum (what you’d like your dog to learn—from basic to more complex commands), plan the hours (class time), organize field trips (socialization/puppy play dates), and even choose the classmates (which training class you’ll join). It’s a huge responsibility!
If your dog is not making progress during training sessions, then there’ s a high probability that your dog still doesn’t understand what is expected of him. He is neither trying to be dominant nor disobedient. Seek advice from a trainer if needed. In most cases, training classes actually train the owner more than the dog. A good trainer can teach you to better understand your dog, and to effectively communicate the commands used to influence, modify, or correct behavior. Choose the training classes carefully. Meet the instructor or attend the class as an observer to see if the environment will be beneficial for your dog.
Dig Deeper: Obedience Training Club Search by State
4. Be a Benevolent Leader
Children need a loving parent to lead them safely through the twists and turns of life as they explore and learn. It’s the same with a puppy.
Do you long to have a dog that follows your lead, obeys when called, and understands what you expect of him?
It all begins by developing a relationship based on trust (not fear), so that your dog will willingly follow and enjoy the time spent together. A good dog owner understands the difference between leadership and dominance. Methods which require “force” to train a dog are not necessary, and in fact may instill fear and confusion in your dog. In some cases, these methods may even elicit an aggressive response from your dog. Leadership is not the same as dominance.
Dominance is defined as “a relationship between individual animals that is established by force/aggression and submission, to determine who has priority access to multiple resources such as food, preferred resting spots, and mates” (Bernstein 1981; Drews 1993).
Leadership is defined as the ability to influence your canine companion to willingly perform a desired behavior.
The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) points out that the dominance theory should not be used as a general guide for behavior modification. Instead, behavior modification and training should be focused on reinforcing desirable behaviors, avoiding the reinforcing of undesirable behaviors, and striving to address the underlying emotional state and motivations, including medical and genetic factors, that are driving the undesirable behaviors.”
A good leader should be kind, caring, and compassionate, and set boundaries without the use of force and intimidation. This is called benevolent leadership.
Dig Deeper: “Be a Benevolent Leader with your Dog”
5. Practice patience:
Patience is defined as “the ability to endure waiting, delay, or provocation without becoming annoyed or upset, or to persevere calmly when faced with difficulties” (Encarta World Dictionary). I’m sure most of us can attest times our patience has been tested when our puppy innocently got into something forbidden.
Here’s a story to illustrate my point . . .
One summer day, I walked into my back yard and found it covered with my beautiful dog show ribbons all torn to shreds! My heart sank. I’d worked so hard, and each one was attached to a special memory of my beloved dogs and times spent with family. My dogs were wagging and looking at me so innocently … one still had a ribbon in his mouth and was playing chase with another dog!
After the initial shock, and verifying that all the dogs were well, I calmly greeted them in the usual loving fashion while bottling up my frustration.
The truth about dog ownership is that it’s not all fun and games. It can get rather messy at times! Over the many years of dog ownership, I’ve had puppies pee on rugs, chew furniture, dig holes in the yard, and do all sorts of annoying things . . . none were their fault of course. They were just being dogs, while I was trying to learn the in’s and out’s of dog ownership. Thankfully, when tempted to lose my patience, I remained calm.
If you catch your dog doing something “naughty”, never scold your dog or become angry. Instead, do these five things:
Redirect his attention to something more positive.
Use positive dog training techniques to correct unacceptable behavior.
Ask yourself what you can do differently while training your dog to avoid the situation from happening again.
Laugh and look for a positive take away!
One thing that has helped me to remain calm is to laugh more! Just think how much fun my dogs had racing around the yard playing chase with all those ribbons. I bet they thought they were flying kites!
Have you ever reacted in anger to your puppy? What can you to next time to change your reaction? What can you do to prevent that behavior in the future?
Dig Deeper: “Why You Shouldn’t Scold at Your Dog”
6. Be Consistent:
Imagine one day your dog jumps on the sofa. You say nothing, and cuddle him lovingly. The next day, he jumps on the sofa and you scold him as if he’s done something wrong. Even worse, what if each member of the family has different rules and commands for the dog. I can only imagine the dog being completely confused! There’s nothing wrong with having a dog on a sofa, unless it’s not a behavior you want to see. Consistency offers your dog a stable environment in which to learn. Before bringing home a new puppy, consider having a family gathering to discuss and agree upon the “rules of the house” for the new puppy. It is much kinder for the dog to have a stable environment where he clearly understands your expectations.
Dig Deeper: “How to create House Rules for your new Puppy”
7. Be Observant:
Keep your eyes and ears open for anything that may pose a threat to your precious pup. Your dog depends on you to keep him safe. You’ll want to begin by puppy proofing your home and yard before the arrival of a new puppy. But it doesn’t stop there. Even after his arrival, each day you’ll want to check your home and yard, as well as your dogs’ crates for possible dangers. Are the puppy toys still intact? Are there any loose threads in their bedding? Have you scanned your home and yard for loose debris and food after parties and holiday celebrations—i.e. left over Easter eggs, chocolate, candy, fireworks? Is your fence secure? Is your dog eating well? Is he behaving normally, or is he looking lethargic and sad?
Being observant is a necessary part of the daily life of a dog owner. We are our dogs guardians. By being observant, we can help to ensure that our dogs will live a happy and healthy life!
Have you checked your home recently for hazardous products? Are they sealed and labeled correctly?
8. Be positive, praise often!
Keep an eye open to things your puppy is doing well. Then be quick to praise him and reinforce the positive behavior. Positive reinforcement training concentrates on offering a reward to increase the likelihood of a behavior in the dog. It focuses on teaching your dog what you’d like him to do, rather than constantly pointing out what he is doing “wrong.” “Good boy!” and similar phrases said with enthusiasm and love (yummy treats help too) tell your dog he is on the right track and motivate him to willingly obey because it’s rewarding and fun! Be positive, praise often, and your dog will grow into a happy and well-balanced adult.
Are there any unwanted behaviors you think you’ve unintentionally reinforced in your puppy?
9. Adapt to your dogs’ needs as he ages:
Adapt your expectations and routine to your dogs’ age, maturity level, and physical needs. When my Labrador, Goldy, was a puppy, I always thought about taking her out for potty. We took her out often, and had a routine. Potty training came easy for her it, and she never peed in the house her entire life. Years later, an elderly person was visiting and fell in love with my Labrador. While sitting over tea, a couple of hours had passed, and she excused herself to go to the “little girls room.” When she came out she asked me why I’d not let out my dog yet? I was confused at first, and then she chuckled and said, “You know, us old girls need to go potty more often.” She was right! She could empathize with Goldy’s age, and thought about her physical needs. It was my first time caring for a senior dog. Fortunately Goldy was still in wonderful health, and could hold her potty if needed. But after what I learned that day, I became way more attentive to her aging needs, and took her out more often. As the years went on, I learned to make her special food, and even learned doggy massage to help alleviate some of her arthritis. There’s so much we can do to help our furry friends as they age.
Adapting to our dogs needs at each stage of their life may take some research, reading, calling the vet, and getting help when needed. But all our efforts will ensure that we’re doing all we can to give them a quality life and to alleviate any pain as they age.
Dig Deeper: Senior Dogs: Caring & Tips
10. Play often:
Life is short, play often! When my children were little, play times were the most precious moments of the day. We were relaxed together, we laughed, hugged, giggled, and acted silly. Although these things may seem frivolous, they’re in fact the glue that holds most any relationship together. It’s the same with our dogs. Besides being fun, playing with your dog builds trust and strengthens your bond. It also helps him develop the social and physical skills that he will need as an adult. My dogs are already pretty darn good at playing, and I’m learning to follow their lead!
Dig Deeper: “Tips for Safe Play Between Humans and Dogs”
Last thoughts about how to be a “Dog’s Best Friend.”
I’ve heard it said that love to a child is spelled time. I’d say the same for dogs . . .
Love to a puppy is spelled TIME.
“To love” is an action verb, and love needs to be acted out in practical ways which a dog can understand—caring for the basic needs, speaking your dogs language, training, being a benevolent leader, practicing patience and consistency, being observant, staying positive, adapting as they age, and playing often. All these qualities are expressions of love and qualities of a “Dog’s est Friend.” All the precious moments spent with our dogs reinforce our bond and teach them that they can trust us. That trust then becomes the foundation for everything else we do with our furry friends. And when it is time, it will be that special bond and trust that will help them to cross over to the other side.
“He is your friend, your partner, your defender, your dog. You are his life, his love, his leader. He will be yours, faithful and true, to the last beat of his heart. You owe it to him to be worthy of such devotion”. —unknown
You may also like to read: “For Better of Worse, The Story about “Man’s Best Friend”
Leila is the recipient of the AKC Responsible Dog Ownership Public Service Award, presented by the Dog Writers Association of America. She writes to inspire love, care, and compassion for dogs. About the Author.
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