- Look, no really, LOOK and LISTEN to your dog. He’s talking to you all the time. Hear what he has to say.
- If you don’t understand what he is saying (and odds are you think you do, but you could be doing better still), then educate yourself about dog body language. There are many more subtle messages in his “chatter” than you might recognize. There are many good (and free) resources on the web to help you with this. For example, Lili Chin has some fabulous training related drawings on her website (Doggie Drawings) as well as an iPhone app (Dog Decoder for $3.99) to test your dog reading skills. The app is well worth the dollars as you will learn a lot! If you’d prefer to learn from a book then a very good, and thin, little book is one by Turid Rugaas called On Talking Terms With Dogs: Calming Signals.
- Consider your dog’s needs. He relies solely on you for his life and well-being. Five factors should be considered: health, exercise, mental stimulation, playtime, and love. Health needs include annual veterinary check-ups (and pet health insurance) as well as you doing monthly body scans on him to look for new lumps and bumps. Exercise should include not just daily walks, but also some running around, romping – with you – in the backyard, playing fetch, and anything else that safely gets his cardio rates up and his muscles exercised. Mental stimulation includes not only your new puppy’s initial socialization and basic manners classes in the first year of his life, but also includes all the subsequent years of his life. There are many wonderful activities to do with your dogs for a lifetime of fun: nose work, tracking, agility, rally, flyball, treibball, disc dogging, etc. These will all help to keep the bond between you and your pooch happy and close. Playtime includes toys (squeaky ones, chewy ones, furry ones, tuggy ones, the throwing kind) or just playing with you – games such as chase, and hide & seek come to mind. Love. This one is easy for most of us and comes naturally. Some dogs love cuddles, others prefer their personal space to be wider. Just like humans. Respect that, but know that they love you nonetheless, and you should be returning that love. But love on its own is not enough for our dogs, the first four factors here are equally important.
- Be your dog’s advocate. When he tells you he is uncomfortable about something, then it’s up to you to do something about it. Immediately. Refer back to Resolutions #1 and #2 above. As Kay Laurence says in her book Every Dog, Every Day, your contract with your dog is for the next 15 years, but your contract with that stranger that just gave your dog a fright is for no more than three seconds. Choose your dog above politeness (yes, I feel that strongly about it).
- And here is a harsh one (you might not like me saying this, or you might agree): If you can’t do the above because you don’t have the time, have too many other commitments, travel too much for work, etc., then consider that this might not be the right time in your life to have a dog as part of your household. Respect that and wait. Your time, and your dog-to-be’s time will come! Life has a funny way of changing suddenly, and your opening will come. Just remember that your commitment to your dog will last between 10 to 15 hopeful and wonderful years.
With all the best wishes for 2014 to all my readers. May you prosper, and may your dogs be healthy and happy and secure.