A long and happy partnership with your dog

Tip Ten From the Expert: Accepting each other
From the series 10 Tips on How to Form a Lifelong Bond with your Dog

The good news is that the teenage phase ends, and if you’re lucky it won’t even be much of an issue. As your dog reaches adulthood it’s likely that you will have ironed out any minor misunderstandings and have each other pretty well figured out.

Happily ever after

My best tips for enjoying a trusting and ever-deepening relationship are of the more philosophical kind. My first tip would be to think about why you’re asking for something. The reason I say this is that I recently realised something. Both my collies used to run around after a ball for fun, positively spitting the ball at me as soon as they got back so that they could run after it again as soon as possible. A stranger once pointed out that this was rather rude of them. Even more bizarre than this unsolicited comment, was my reaction. I was offended on my dogs’ behalf and so trained them to “hold”. Now my dogs were perfect… right?

After a little honest soul-searching I realised that what I really wanted was to be in control. Now if a boyfriend, or a parent (sorry Mum) attempted this degree of control over me I’d be furious. So I let it go, and now if Rey wants to carry her ball around like the cat that got the cream instead of me throwing it endlessly, she absolutely can.

Reya on the other hand is part Labrador. Fetching is a chore, done only under sufferance in order to achieve the ultimate goal of carrying the ball in her mouth like it’s her proudest achievement. In fact, she walks after it as often as she runs, only ducking in to pick it up just before I reach it, such is her lack of enthusiasm for chasing things. But this didn’t quite suit me either. Perfect dogs run a lot and give you things… right?

The funniest thing is that even though I am now conscious of all this, I remain a human being, and so I still sometimes ask for the damn ball! However, I’m not suggesting that you don’t teach a strong ‘leave’. Rey will spit out a bone if I ask her to (I have photographic evidence, she really does) safe in the knowledge she will get something better and this is important for safety, just for emergencies. But I no longer abuse my power and ask her to do it just because I can and consequently she trusts in me and knows I won’t ask to the point of annoyance (and eventually, refusal).

What I’m talking about are the mundane things, with little consequence, that happen many times a day. Think about why you’re asking, and ask yourself if it is worth getting stressed or into conflict over? Sometimes, of course, the answer will be yes and that’s completely OK – think about how to train a robust response and ask for help if you’re not sure. But when the answer is no, I just leave Rey to be exactly who she is, she’s free to have her own personality, her own likes and dislikes and I no more want to stamp them out of her than I would in a child.

Quality time together

My final thought for you enjoying a long and happy life together with your dog would be this. It’s not overstating things to say my lovely friend Jo changed my life with this simple thought. Jo walked her lovely, giant, beautiful and I hope she won’t mind me saying somewhat challenging lurcher Mungo very slowly, letting him pause to sniff anything and everything. And I mean very slowly. I asked once how she stays so patient and she told me:

It’s his walk, he can do what he wants.”

Now Jo probably doesn’t even remember this conversation, but it honestly changed my whole mindset and made walking a pleasure again – and I do so much walking that the knock-on effect on my over-all stress levels was noticeable. Back then I had my collies, but being collies and in need of lots of exercise, walks were about getting from A to B in as short a time as possible and with as much running around as possible, to ensure maximum tiredness. I now see walks as Reya’s chance to be out of the house and being a dog, which let’s face it is what dogs like to do.

Reya willingly stays in the house for the other 21 hours a day, simply because that’s where I am and she loves me, so the least I can do is give her those three hours of pleasure outside. So if she wants to spend 10 minutes sniffing each blade of grass she can, and if she wants to practice being a mountain goat while I watch with my heart in my mouth she can do that too.

You’re probably already enlightened, but I’m sharing this in case this simple little shift in mindset helps someone else. If walks also fulfil a function for you (like exercise), you can easily train one walk when your dog stays on a particular lead and runs by your side whilst giving them the other walk (on a different lead) to chill out and do dog things. Dogs easily learn different contexts, but that’s one for the future.

Forgive yourself:
mistakes are a valuable lesson

It’s such a cliché but my best lessons have come from my mistakes. When my first collie Domino was a pup (before I knew anything about behaviour) I bought a book which told me to make sure I was dominant over him from the start so he knew his place.

I loved him more than I ever thought anyone could love a dog, I so wanted him to be happy and I assumed the book had value because I’d paid money for it. So I pretended to eat his dinner out of his bowl before giving it to him.

And when he was really “naughty” and didn’t come back when I called him (because he was six months old and chasing a duck, which for Domino was just the best thing in the whole world) I scruffed him.

Then one day he ran up to a Bull Mastiff on a lead, which picked him up as though he was no more than a rabbit and tried shaking him to death. The dog’s owner wrenched his dog’s mouth open and Domino came limping back to me. He had 14 puncture wounds and severe bruising, but when he got to me his body language was appeasing because he knew he’d been naughty, ignoring my calls, and expected me to tell him off. I was heartbroken.

It was 15 years ago and I still find it devastating, but I want to share this because I really do understand. We put our faith in the information we’re given and do our best with it so please don’t be too hard on yourself. That mistake changed my life, led me to what I do today and I know some other dogs who have had a hard time are now happier as a result.

“But my goodness I wish I’d known then what I know now.”


Rachel Leather – Animal Behaviourist

For the last 12 years, Rachel has been helping others understand and manage the behaviour of dogs, cats and horses. After studying Psychology at Cardiff University, she went on to complete her Masters degree in animal behaviour at the University of Exeter. Rachel then ran a degree programme in Applied Animal Behaviour, teaching others the knowledge requirements to become a behaviourist, and set up a referral clinic to enable her students to gain practical experience of behaviour consultations. She enjoyed this so much that, although no longer lecturing, continues to see behaviour cases on referral from vets and runs CPD classes for vets and other professionals.

You can discover more about Rachel’s professional work here.

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