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The Human-Canine Bond: What Dogs Teach Us About Relationships

The Human-Canine Bond: What Dogs Teach Us About Relationships

The Transformative Power of Dog Training

I come to this work with few, if any, ulterior motives. I’m certainly not being manipulative, nor am I conducting any mad scientist experiments (benevolent or otherwise). I will admit, though, a bit of warm satisfaction when I see what dog training does to people. Yes, even on the face of it, training our dogs helps us a great deal. It’s no secret. This is a human endeavor. We benefit as much as our dogs.

Reinforcement-based (think non-coercive) training helps dogs make better decisions. It helps them behave better. In turn, the dog stays in his home, lives longer, and seems more joyful. Humans? Well, it’s a big relief when the bad dog goes good. Win-win all around. Everyone’s happier. But, in my experience, some other things are happening too.

I’ve noticed a trend over these 16+ years in dog training. When a human being starts thinking about his dog differently, when he uses smiles and praise and food in training, when he sets aside his anger and force and restraint, something happens. There’s a change, not just in the dog. It’s a human change, sometimes subtle, but no less real.

Seeing and Speaking with Kindness

We speak less and listen more. Of course, when we think of listening to our dogs, what we really mean is we watch them. Folks who’ve learned how to communicate with and teach their dogs using force-free methods do this a bit differently, though. We really watch our dogs, with soft attentive eyes, like we’re looking at a brilliant painting, or watching a fascinating film for the first time. All of the stories we tell on our dogs, all the commands and admonitions, they all fall silent. We change.

Not so much the dog, but the human, we change. We stop looking for error and evil and we start seeking out our dog’s goodness, his correctness, and his best moments of simply being. When we do speak, our words flow from kindness. What else can we say? When we start noticing our dogs differently, we speak better of them. They are two human behaviors naturally and inextricably connected. See goodness of being; speak the same.

And, we smile. We are touched and we touch; we praise; we celebrate our dogs with food and play and quiet moments. We connect at a level that seems sometimes hard to explain to others. And, then we cross the line. This is the part so many of us never saw coming.

The Ripple Effect of Compassion

We learn how to be and how to act with our dogs. Our dogs learn in turn how to be and how to act with us. They reflect the lesson back and teach us, and before long, so often, the lesson spills over. I’ve seen it happen first-hand. It’s real – inexplicable maybe – undeniable nonetheless. We start treating each other differently.

So much in the habit of seeking and supporting goodness, celebrating the actions we love from the beings we love, we start doing it more. With each other. We watch each other with soft attentive eyes. We speak to each other from a place of kindness. It’s God’s work or Dog’s work. Backwards and forwards, it is what it is.

I’ve left people’s homes too many times with butterflies in my gut and an impish (smug?) smile on my face for it to be mere coincidence. Dogs on the line, we trainers know all about them. Families on the line, we talk too little about them I think. I’m not being manipulative, no indeed. But once the door is opened, it’s hard to shut.

Lessons from Our Canine Companions

See for the first time how reinforcement changes not only your dog’s behavior, but also how you feel about your dog, and you won’t soon forget it. See how it helps create long-lasting nurturing relationships with your fellow humans, with the people you love, and it’s nothing less than life-changing. How could it not be? I’ve seen it happen, witnessed it first-hand too many times for it to be my imagination.

In and out for a few sessions, job well-done, thank you very much, call me if you need more help. But don’t think I didn’t see it – the child and parent smiling and working together, the man in love with his wife more so now because she loves his dog, the family listening – taking turns – encouraging each other – just like they do with the dog.

I’m no mad scientist. In fact, I take no credit. It’s like I tell my clients. I just have some information. You get to make all the decisions. This is all you. The transformative power of dog training is a testament to the wisdom our canine companions have to share, if only we’re willing to listen and learn.

Strengthening the Human-Canine Bond

As I explore the depths of the human-canine bond, I’m constantly in awe of what our furry friends can teach us about relationships. From being present in the moment to cultivating genuine connection, the lessons our dogs impart are invaluable.

When I hear “walk your dog,” I think of so much more than just exercise. I think of health, nature, and above all, that profound sense of connection we can foster with our canine companions. In our busy, distracted world, taking the time to truly be with our dogs, to observe their interests and joy, can be a powerful antidote.

Our animals have so much to teach us about living in the present, about finding wonder in the simple things. They remind us to put down our phones, to leave our worries behind, and to immerse ourselves fully in the here and now. It’s a lesson I’ve learned time and time again, both from my own dogs and from the countless clients I’ve had the privilege of working with.

The Gift of Presence

I used to tell my clients, “The next time you’re on Facebook posting pictures or quotes of how much you love your dog, stop and take 15 minutes and actually LOVE YOUR DOG.” Get off your computer and roll around on the floor with her, be silly, be a dog, show your dog – not the world – how much you love your dog. These guys are teaching us to get off our computers and phones and teaching us to just BE.

The gift you’ll get from just those 15 minutes could be life-changing for both you and your dog. Years ago, I was one of those people, glued to my phone even during our walks. But once I started my journey into “being here now,” everything changed. I encourage everyone to follow suit – whatever you do, don’t put your earbuds in or talk on the phone. Look at the leaves blowing, become mesmerized by simple things, find the awe in that leaf dancing in the wind.

Watch what your dog is watching, pay attention to the trees, let your dog sniff and dig and be interested in what they are sniffing or digging. Believe me, they are not on their walks wondering if they are beautiful or if the new iPhone is out – they are happy to be alive and with their human soulmate, you. This time is the hour just for them, to dedicate and tell them, through your actions not just words, how much you love them, how important they are to your life.

A Lesson in Self-Care

Not only will they feel like you are actually with them, but YOU will feel so different to have that break from a screen, from cell radiation, from being side-tracked by the busyness of life. Don’t miss this one precious hour a day that you’ll wish you could get back when your friend is no longer here.

There’s nothing I wouldn’t give to get back that time with my dog that passed, but in my heart I know he was one of my biggest teachers and that was one of his huge gifts to me. The lessons our dogs have to offer extend far beyond just our relationship with them – they can transform how we engage with the world and each other.

By learning to be present, to seek out the good, and to celebrate the small moments of joy, we not only enrich our bond with our canine companions, but we also become better versions of ourselves. It’s a gift that keeps on giving, and one that I’m honored to share with anyone willing to listen.

So, the next time you feel the pull of the digital world or the weight of your to-do list, remember your dog. Remember their pure joy, their unconditional love, and their ability to ground us in the here and now. Take a deep breath, put down your phone, and go be with your furry friend. I promise, it will be the best decision you make all day.

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