I was sat outside a pub by the Thames the other day, enjoying the sunshine (and a glass of wine) and people watching. I saw a couple sat in the corner with a GSD asleep under their table, they got up to leave as it got busier and carefully manoeuvred so that he didn’t have to go near any of the dogs coming in. I watched as they walked down to their little boat moored outside the pub.
This lovely GSD lad climbed onto their little boat and watched as they opened a box with a new blow up boat in and he sniffed and investigated the new thing and they gave him time to do this, he watched as they spent 20 minutes blowing it up, just lying down casually watching life around him. He watched every single thing they did, every move they made and if they made eye contact with him he wagged softly.
They spoke quietly to him and stroked his ears whenever he came over and nudged their hands. They ruffled his neck and showed him everything they were doing, pointing out the new items they unboxed. I watched as he got off the boat to lie on the grass with them and as he picked up a feather to play with and as he went with his people to the bank to feed the ducks and cautious wagged at them and then backed away (I got the feeling he wasn’t the bravest of dogs!). He put his head back to sniff the air taking in so much sensory information around him on the river (and probably the smell of the lunches from the pub too).
Occasionally other people with dogs would walk towards them down the path and they’d put him back on the boat and stand in between. He wasn’t showing any overt aggression as they made sure he had space and moved him away, they were really good at giving him the space he needed with no fuss or drama.
It got me thinking about our dogs and what makes them happy and what our expectations are. I doubt this GSD lad ever went offlead or visited a park. I doubt anyone ever even thinks about how his skills are at meeting and greeting other dogs offlead or worries that he’s not got a host of doggy friends down the park. He looked truly happy and content.
He’s happy as he’s with them and participating fully in their lives. He has the thing that our dogs value the most, he has their time. I think sometimes that we have all become so obsessed with our dog walks and trips to the park as we don’t have much time- many people work full time and so our meaningful interaction with our dogs comes mainly down to two short periods we can schedule in. We want to wear them out physically and mentally so that they are tired for the day until we can interact with them again. This all becomes incredibly stressful when you have a reactive dog and you’re trying your best to get them out for quality time without it all going wrong.
Even if we do work full time (and I do totally understand that people have to!) we can increase our meaningful time spent together, let them sleep in your room or near you (that’s another 8 hours of company), let them eat sociably with you rather than having their meals when you are leaving for work. If they are dog reactive but fine with people let them come with you to visit a friend or neighbour. Take them to car parks and industrial estates just to check out the sniffs. One of our clients takes her dog to her yoga class with her and he lies watching her do the downward dog. One of mine finds true joy in digging and rolling in cut grass (my garden finds less joy in this activity!)
Let them investigate and participate fully in your lives whenever they can. Forget about the walks and see what enjoyment you can find doing other stuff together. Sit quietly and just watch the world around you together. Time spent together is what builds a relationship and mutual trust and there’s no short cuts to this, if you can give them anything, give them your time.
(C) Laura McAuliffe, Dog Communication 2018