Photo Credit: KaityJo Photography
I'm not sure if you can feel the love coming through the picture above. River was 10 weeks old here, only having lived with me for two weeks. My brand new, magical rainbow unicorn puppy had just arrived, and we were forming our bond. In this picture, she is reaching her little tiny snoot (nose) up towards my hand, and I am gently caressing her between the eyes. She wanted nothing more than to be near to me, all the time, and I'm happy to say that it's still the case today.
We all love our dogs. Well, if you're reading my blog, I'm pretty confident that you love your dog. We want them to be happy, to be healthy, and to love us back. Yet, with all the information out there, we can sometimes make mistakes and harm our relationship with our dog. I feel so strongly about this that I wanted to devote an entire blog post to the subject.
If there's one thing I wish the whole world knew and practiced with their dogs, it would be this: advocate for your dog.
What does that even mean?
Why is that SO important?
Why am I so impassioned about it?
Advocating for your dog means understanding what he enjoys and what makes him uncomfortable. It means recognizing signs of stress and discomfort and reacting accordingly. Advocating for your dog means being intentional about which situations you subject her to and which situations you avoid. Dogs don't communicate with words. We have to interpret the signs they are sending us, hear their communication, and respond. We have to speak for our dog. Sometimes that means defending them, sometimes that means going against social norms and expectations, and sometimes that means disagreeing with another human being or even leaving a situation entirely.
Jessica and Birch during an Adventure Puppy Club adventure. Can you feel the love?
It's not always easy. Everyone is an expert these days. Everyone has an opinion, and they're sure they are right. There are social expectations for dogs just as there are for people, and no, they don't always make sense. Knowledge is still power, though, and the more you can learn, the better equipped you'll be to understand your dog and her needs. When you have knowledge, it becomes much easier to do what's right for you and your dog, even if it goes against the opinions of others.
What does this look like? Here's an example: you and your plucky puppy enter a pet supply store to pick up a new toy. A store clerk, espying the cuteness on the end of your leash, comes over and asks to say hi to your puppy. He crouches down, extends a hand, and speaks baby talk to your puppy. You look down and see your puppy cringing back against your legs, straining to get away, and clearly uncomfortable with the monster looming over her. Quandary. Human societal norms dictate you drag your puppy forward, reassuring her with "it's ok! it's ok!" and encourage her to be petted by the store clerk. If you did, here's what your puppy would learn: you will be forced to get closer to something you fear, you have no choice and no method of escape, you are trapped, and your human partner will ignore your attempts to say no and not support you. She'll also probably learn that people are scary.
Puppy River checking out the creek below. The leash is loose and she is controlling her own level of bravery.
Advocating for your dog would say you simply tell the store clerk "No." If you want to be polite (those social norms...), you could even add, "She seems afraid. We're going to continue shopping, but thanks for saying hi." And you turn around and leave the scary ogre behind, creating confidence in you with your puppy and immediate relief. If you're a dog trainer, maybe you circle back around at a distance and feed a few treats when she looks at the store clerk, making a new positive association. After all, you don't want her to be fearful of people.
Now, before you accuse me of being too soft, let me remind you of your ultimate goal: to have a happy, healthy dog that loves you as much as you love her. That requires trust. I'd also like to point out that, after 10 years working with horses, I DO NOT let any dog walk all over me. I'm not the type to cajole or pamper or accede to my dogs' demands. Lastly, all of us, dogs and humans alike, have to go through discomfort in order to grow. Sometimes we have to do things we don't like. It's important to find that fine line between discomfort and fear or panic and stay on the closer side.
Evee from the Adventure Puppy Club feeling frisky and fresh.
Disclaimers aside, I want you to know that you officially have permission to say "No." I empower you to advocate for your dog, stick to your guns, and put your dog's needs above those of random people you've never met. Stay strong! You are one hell of a dog mom/dog dad/puppy parent. You're on the right track! And I'll always be in your corner. Adventure On!
Looking for a dog trainer? I'm happy to help! More info here.
Wish your dog had more confidence? Check out the Adventure Puppy Club!