We love our dogs, and they adore us. With so much fondness, joy, and friendship, how’s it possible that our darling dogs may not want our affection? Read on for common mistakes that we make when we pet our pups. And how you can better use physical touch to improve your dog’s behavior and build a stable, respectful bond that’ll continue growing for years to come.
Most dogs don’t like the “head bonk” or the “meat tenderizer.” Imagine the scene. “Fido, sit, GOOD BOY,” followed by an insanely hearty, flat palmed, BONK, BONK, BONK on top of the dog’s head. We can’t tell you how many times we’ve seen pups flinch and blink their eyes when their person attempts to reward good behavior in this way. Roughly and raggedly digging into your dog’s muscles, anywhere, is also not usually relaxing, calming, or enjoyable for most dogs. When we use our hands, intentionally, to ease our dog’s worries or reward good behavior, we want our touch to be soothing, not pounding or piercing.
Right behavior, wrong reward
In general, rewarding behaviors like “come” and loose leash walking with an on-the-fly stroke will not pack much training punch. Most dogs in loving homes get smooched and caressed ALL DAY LONG. So, a soft brush along his neck becomes a much less valuable reward in highly distracting environments. We aren’t suggesting that you withhold petting. Instead, use a higher value reward for behaviors where the competition for your dog’s attention is colossal.
And, as difficult as it is to admit, not all dogs love petting. My beloved Finn wasn’t a huge fan of tactile affection. I know my Lug adored me, and his chocolate body melted and oozed into massage in the right moments. But, it wasn’t rewarding for him in stressful situations. Gavin, on the other hand, LOVES to be touched, anytime and anywhere.
If we only react, we can reinforce the exact opposite desired behavior. For years, I recommended Tellington Touch to my clients. The techniques I was able to extract from one of Linda Tellington-Jones’ many books helped Finn relax so much more than training alone when he developed thunder phobia in his twelfth year. With Gavin’s intense recent response to airplanes and barking dogs, I contacted the lovely Betsy Lane, Certified TTouch Practitioner, to show me a few additional ways to reduce Gavin’s anxiety on walks.
Like all other good behavior modification plans, if we only implement exercises in the heat-of-the-moment, worst-possible-canine-response, we reinforce the wrong behaviors. Using the methods Betsy taught me at home, and when Gavin is relaxed will help him become my sweet, brave boy again MUCH quicker than if I only use the techniques when he’s super stressed.
Petting and touch can be very powerful ways to help our dogs relax and better cope with difficult situations. Just make sure to use your hands gently, at the right time. And you’ll see much better results.