Learning to Speak Dog Part Three: Trust

The following is a repost from Tails From the Lab - a blog written by our friends over at Photo Lab Pet Photography. This is the third of five posts from their "Learning to Speak Dog" series.

Part One can be read here: Learning to Speak Dog Part One
Part Two can be read here: Learning to Speak Dog Part Two

Contributed by Natalia Martinez

Special guest post by Trish King

Trust: Developing a relationship with your new dog…

You just acquired a new dog – maybe a youngster, perhaps a bit older – and you’re in love. Let’s call your dog Dolly. You were drawn to her in the shelter or rescue, and now you have her home.  She is wonderful, with just a few tiny exceptions.

For instance, when you pet her, she leans into you, putting her head on your knees. This feels great to you, but other people aren’t getting the same response. Sometimes she shies away or won’t come close to them, and occasionally you’ve heard a barely audible growl, almost under her breath. If she is lying on her bed or in her crate, she freezes when people come over to pet her. Sometimes she stares at them suspiciously. This worries you.

This is actually not that unusual – the dog you meet when you adopt is often not the dog you see weeks or months later. Like humans, dogs don’t display all their behaviors upon first meeting. In addition, they change, sometimes for the better, sometimes not, depending on the environment they find themselves in.

The first thing you loved about Dolly is that she seemed to bond to you instantaneously. The desire to bond is strong within dogs – they need a family (pack) to survive, and they know it. Most are above all things, social. Even dogs that are not particularly sociable will bond strongly to one or two people, and the speed with which they do it can be amazing. 

Unlike bonding, trust is earned, and cannot be rushed. Training of course will help immeasurably, but it is secondary to trust.

What is trust?
For your dog, it is the belief that you will keep her safe. But how do you convince an animal who must learn through experience, particularly when her previous life was either unknown or not happy? You cannot tell her, since she won’t understand. Petting shows affection, but nothing more than that. And training obedience will tell her what you expect but not what she can.

I think it is shown by consistency and predictability. If a dog can reliably predict the outcome of a certain set of circumstances, she will learn to trust that the next time that circumstance occurs, the same outcome will too.

First, make sure that you are reliable and predictable, to the best of your ability. There may well come a time when you will need to be unpredictable, but that time is not now. Make sure you set rules of the house, so that she knows what is expected of her.

Secondly, try to insure that all of her first experiences are calm, slow and friendly. If she has shown a tendency to be shy with new people, have all new people behave slightly aloof at first. It’s generally best to have guests come in, ignore the dog, sit down, and then wait for the dog to approach.

Introductions to dogs should also be done carefully, if your dog appears to be nervous. Parallel walks generally work well, with the more fearful dog initiating any interaction. Anxious or fearful dogs generally do not like to be followed by other dogs, and usually want to sniff the rear end of the new dog first to get a quick introduction without the intimidation of eye contact.

Allow time for latent learning – don’t have new experiences follow one another too quickly. She will become overwhelmed, and the learning will stop. Patience is key.

As your dog learns that you are trustworthy, experiences that would have frightened her previously will stop. She will look to you for guidance…and of course, that’s what true leadership is.

~Trish King

To read Trish's full post, visit the Tails From the Lab blog.

Trish is a nationally known  speaker, behavior consultant, trainer and teacher whose versatility, expertise  and empathy make her unique in her field.  What sets Trish apart is her  ability to relate to and enjoy both dogs and humans.  Trish has taught the Canine Behavior Academy for dog  professionals and dog lovers for over 10 years.  In addition to continuing  at the Marin Humane Society, this school - now named Courses in Canine  Behavior - will be located at several different venues, including  The Peninsula Humane Society in San Mateo, California, and the Sacramento SPCA  in Sacramento.  Over her long career, Trish has seen thousands of dogs of  every breed, shape and size.  She understands that your dog is different  from every other dog, just as you are, and will need a personalized plan for  improvement. Trish will work with you to help you decide the best course for  your dog.  She will offer a variety of realistic options that will provide  you with maximum benefits for your situation.  Her clients have found her  to be very easy to work with, flexible and understanding of their  needs. Trish was the Director of Behavior & Training at the Marin  Humane Society for 23 years.  Her department set the standard for shelters  and training facilities across the country.

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