Friday, 11 November 2011


We humans bring dogs into our lives for so many reasons...for companionship, because we have a need and the means to help animals whose lives have been compromised by humanity, for our children, to help on a farm, for rescue and disaster recovery, tactical operations, for therapy...the reasons are numerous.

But what about the dogs themselves? Somewhere in the process we humans can either lose sight of, or never truly consider, the dogs themselves.  This is something I encounter frequently in observing the way people ‘share’ affection with their dogs.

What is it that the dog really requires, to live a happy, well balanced, social life. When the human does not know or really understand a dog's real requirements, the psychological and physical impact on the dog (and the resonating impact on the human companion) can be enormous.

Lack of proper leadership, lack of honouring the dog in the dog will normally result in issues that can grow exponentially, causing symptoms to increase in intensity. As the issues and symptoms increase, so to does the psychological damage to the dog, and to the human-dog relationship. Affection shared in the wrong way at the wrong time can cause havoc with a dog’s  natural state of being.

It is important to realize that affection can be provided in many ways and that providing affection in the wrong way or at the wrong time can cause harm.

Many humans think of affection primarily in terms of patting their dog or verbalization such as 'good dog!' Such affection is often offered with a loud excited voice and great enthusiasm. If you offer this type of attention to your dog when it is already in an excited state you should be aware that you are enabling your dog's excited state. 

If you walk in the door and your dog is barking, panting, jumping up and your response is to provide affection - you have just let your dog know that you approve of it's excited state of being.

If you always share enthusiastic, excited affection with your dog you may be creating a stressed and overly excited dog. This can lead to issues such as anxiety, dominating behaviour and even aggression.

You are also missing out on providing your dog with a full spectrum of affection and its benefits. Being aware of and employing other methods of affection is important and beneficial for both your dog and yourself. Quieter, calmer and more subtle ways to share affection can enable calm and a sense of well being in your dog and yourself. If you feel proud of your dog for something they have just done - your dog will sense how you feel, you don’t have to tell them, you can just enjoy the moment. If you come back from a walk in the rain and gently, quietly dry your dog off with a towel, you are sharing calm affection. If you quietly and slowly massage your dog under their neck and chin (instead of vigorously patting them on the head or back) both you and your dog will benefit from a quiet, peaceful, stress-less moment.

I teach my clients that affection is many things and must be shared with the dog for the dog, not solely for the human. Affection must provided in a manner that respects the dog and not as a selfish human conceit. 

Excitedly greeting your dog, excitedly touching your dog - always expressing 'affection' at an escalated intensity is not something humans really do for the dog…it is something that humans do for themselves.

What is affection anyway? Is affection only patting our dogs, rewarding our dogs with treats and verbal praise? No, there are many forms of affection. And the more you realize this, the better opportunity you have to create a well balanced partnership - an equal exchange of needs with your dog.

Affection can be expressed in many ways - some of the best opportunities to share affection are subtle, quite moments of appreciation, of caring.

Affection is enjoying your dog by quietly watching it enjoy itself whether will it is relaxing, playing. Affection is taking time to feed your dog and watch it enjoy its meal. Affection is being proud of your dog - just thinking it, not speaking it. Affection is brushing your dog, wiping its paws gently, at the door when it comes in from the rain. Affection is so many things. Affection is enjoying a walk with your dog or a drive in the car. Affection is bringing your dog to the veterinarian. (If more people realized this - their dogs would be less fearful of the vet!).

Affection is restraining yourself from eagerly greeting your dog the instant you walk in the house. Don’t talk, don’t touch, don’t look - just walk in as if it is normal to come and go.  To normalize the experience of coming and going enables your dog to relax, to enjoy rest time on its own…not to stress. To assist your dog in living in a balanced state of being is affection.

I love and cherish my dogs - to be true to these feelings I have for my dogs, I make sure that my love and respect for them translates into meeting all of their needs at the right time, in the right way.

What a dog really needs…
One - first and foremost is a leader who can provide direction thus giving the dog a sense of security. When you successfully fill this role you win your dogs respect.

Two - your dog needs enough exercise on a daily basis to expend its daily quota of energy;

Three - your dog needs fresh water and good food;

Four - your dog requires affection.

Yes affection is listed last! But stop and think for a moment…having now read all of the above you should now realize that everything we do for our dogs is affection! So breath, slow down the next time you have that impulse to share excited affection with your dog. Stop and think is this the right time? Is this what my do really requires right now, or do they instead need direction or exercise? Is this excited greeting for me or is it for my dog?

Change your habits, expand your perspective, and enable the best in yourself and your dog.

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Article and graphics by Karen Rosenfeld 

Please note - this article is for information purposes and is not a substitute for an in-person Session with me. When working with dogs I use many techniques - it is important to note that this article may touch on one or several techniques but not all. I select the technique that I use for a particular dog based on my observations of the dog and an intuitive, instinctive assessment of that dog's and its human's individual requirements. For example when I am working with a dog that is hyper sensitive and very physically reactive I will not use voice or touch. I use a lot of therapeutic touch on some dogs, others require the use of herding techniques and so on. Each and every technique must be combined with:
  • an understanding of the real intelligence, sensitivity and capability of dogs;
  • an understanding of how to read a dog's face and a dog's overall body language;
  • an understanding of the full spectrum of ways that humans communicate and dogs communicate; 
  • understanding and recognition of the individual that is each dog - no two dogs are the same...taking a 'cookie cutter' approach to techniques is not the way to work with a dog;
  • a complete recognition and understanding of all the elements that feed a behaviour and create an issue:
    •  the vast majority of people can only identify one or two elements...which vastly inhibits the ability to resolve behavior issues;
    • behaviours do not exist in isolation - there are always many elements that feed a single behaviour, there all always multiple behaviours that create a behavioral issue;
  • self-restraint and discipline on the part of the human who is directing the dog;
  • sensitivity, awareness, intuition, instinct and timing on the part of the human who is directing the dog;
    • to understand, connect with and adapt quickly and effectively to a dog's learning requirements you must be able to employ the same tools a dog uses - acute sensitivity, awareness, instinct, intuition and timing;
  • kindness, endurance, consideration, patience, persistence, perspective, the ability and know how to let the past go, the ability to set realistic expectations at any one point in time;
  • the creation of structure, rules, boundaries and limitations for each situation at the macro and micro level;
  • understanding of all the elements that make up an instruction and direction to a dog...there are multiple steps involved in an instruction - not just one!
  • absolute honesty - if you cannot be honest with yourself you will not be able to communicate clearly with a dog.
These are just some of the techniques that I teach my clients - it is a holistic, all-encompassing approach. If you are missing any one element of the above mentioned your success rate will be affected to one degree or another in implementing the techniques offered in the article presented above.