I think the most important thing I have learnt about dogs is to respect them. I know that might seem obvious, but this has been an evolving process for me in my way of thinking and behaving around dogs.
I’ve had dogs since I was a kid and my family have been long-time dog owners. Almost all my relatives have dogs. And while they all love their dogs very much, I’m not sure that there is a lot of respect going around.
When I chose to buy Luca and bring him into my home, I made a conscious decision to not yell at him or punish him. I very firmly knew that I didn’t want to be someone who yells at their dog. Not only is it not useful, it can be the opposite of useful and make minor problems much worse. Despite having a lot of frustrations with Luca’s behaviour sometimes, I choose instead to distract or disengage.
So for the first year of having Luca, my focus was on respecting him in that sense. Yelling is a big one that bothers me because it is still extremely prevalent in dog ownership here. I used to think it was acceptable behaviour too. I still see it all the time: people on the beach yelling at their dogs for rude behaviour, people in their houses yelling at their dogs for barking, club members yelling at their dogs for doing something “wrong” during training, people I know yelling at their dogs for any kind of undesirable behaviour. So this was an easy fix for me. It was everywhere and I knew how to change my own behaviour to make it stop.
But since then I’ve learned even more about respecting my dog. It extends beyond not being overtly mean and scary to him. It’s also about respecting him as an individual. A big thing for me has been taking these Fenzi courses online. Being asked questions like, what does your dog enjoy doing in his free time? Even when I started attending training classes locally and being asked, what is your dog’s favourite treat? Most people don’t really have an answer because they assume all treats are equal in a dog’s eyes. But why should that be the case?
Respecting my dog as an individual means that I should consider him in all things that relate to him. If I want something from him, I am obligated to provide what he needs to achieve it. If I want him to learn something, I must provide an environment where he can learn it. If I want to interact with him, I need to make myself a trustworthy and pleasant person to interact with. Why should I expect my dog to adore me without offering anything in return? You gotta feed and walk your dog and not yell at him and pet him and take him to the vet. But you also have to give him agency, give him safety, give him space and offer him joy.