Your dog loves you.
But does your dog actually… like you?
“Like” is different from “love.” Even as you are reading this, I bet you can think of a family member you love deeply, but who also annoys the heck out of you.
I meet a lot of dogs who feel that way about their people.
Here are some signs that your dog might be… conflicted… about you:
- When you call your dog, they look back at you and you can see the suspicion in their face. “Why…?” the dog seems to be asking.
- When you have your dog on a leash, they usually stand at the far end of it – as far from you as they can get – and studiously ignore you.
- Your dog won’t sit or lie down unless you show them the money first – in other words, you need a treat in your hand.
- Your dog yawns a lot when you’re walking them or training them.
- When you say your dog’s name, they don’t look over at you or wag their tail.
- Whenever you ask your dog to do something, they feel a sudden need to sit down and scratch for a while first, or stretch as if they’ve just gotten up from a nap.
- Your dog isn’t particularly interested in playing with you.
- Your dog’s tail hangs loose when you’re doing things together.
- If you drop the leash by accident, your dog takes off immediately and won’t let you get close enough to pick up the leash again.
- Your dog dodges away when you reach for them.
Now, I want to reiterate – your dog LOVES you!
…But that doesn’t mean your dog thinks you’re fun to be around.
If you checked a lot of boxes on that list above, I can pretty much guarantee that your dog thinks you’re a no-fun fuddy-duddy party-pooper.
But that changes today! Because today you’re going to learn how to be FUN.
1. Speed Up
Dogs like to go fast. They have twice as many legs as we do and they like to move at a brisk trot. If you want to have a frustrating walk, go slow. If you want to have a fun walk, speed up. Break into jogs. Speed walk. Try to get your dog to keep up for a change, instead of slow down and wait for you.
2. Be Unpredictable
Straight lines are boring. Mix it up! Move in figure eights, zig zags, or do sudden u-turns, especially when your dog isn’t paying attention. Dogs like variety, and they hate moving in straight lines. If you’re so wacky that they never know what you’re going to do next, they’ll be much more entertained.
3. Stop Giving Orders
Unless you’re into square dancing, you’re not likely to have fun while someone is constantly telling you what to do. Instead of giving orders, give feedback. Wait for them to get something right and praise them for it. Heck, start praising them before they get something right. You won’t believe how many dogs stop dragging on the leash and turn into model canine citizens at the sound of a “good dog!”
4. Be Extra
Dogs love melodrama. Did your dog ignore that McDonald’s wrapper on the ground? They are now the BEST DOG IN THE WORLD. Did your dog accidentally pull you over? YOU ARE NOW DYING and you’ll NEVER WALK AGAIN. Did your dog just lick your hand? They are the CUTEST BEST DOGGO and they just SAVED YOUR LIFE.
Exaggerate your facial expressions – yes, dogs can and do read human facial expressions – and your voice. Make dramatic gestures. Get in touch with your inner drama queen. Your dog will love every second of it.
5. Carry Good Stuff.
A bag of kibble is a good place to start, but you should also have some high value treats stashed somewhere on your person, to be whipped out when the moment requires it. You should also have a tug toy, squeaky ball, or some other item that lives in your coat pocket and spontaneously emerges for celebratory games of tug when your dog successfully looks away from another dog or manages to go three whole sidewalk squares without pulling you over.
6. Variety, Variety, Variety.
For most dogs, variety is definitely the spice of life. The smarter your dog is the sooner your dog will get bored. Don’t do the same old thing day in and day out. Rotate toys, tricks, and treats.
7. Give Your Dog Jobs.
Just like children, dogs want to feel important and needed. Include your dog in your daily routine, and give them little responsibilities – like putting your laundry into the clothes hamper or fetching their own leash for a walk. By incorporating your dog into your routine, your dog will be kept busy and feeling useful.
8. Give Your Dog Control.
That’s right – control. Would you want to have zero control over your own life? Of course not. Neither does your dog. So give your dog some level of control. Give your dog choices occasionally – which way should we walk today? Do you want to play with the tug toy or the ball? Would you like some pats?
Perhaps most importantly – let your dog choose to not get a treat. I know that sounds strange but I see it all the time – owners badgering the dog to sit for a treat they’re clearly not that interested in, because if they were, they’d be sitting already… If you give your dog an opportunity to sit for a treat, and the dog doesn’t take it, shrug and put the treat away.
Treats should be hard to earn, not earned under duress.
Trust me, nothing puts panic into a dog’s eyes like a treat returned to the treat pouch. Your dog will drop their butt faster next time, because they realize it is a choice, and that makes them feel less resentful and more motivated.
9. Thank Your Dog.
Who wants to feel unappreciated? Not me. Not your dog. When your dog does something difficult, like walking past another dog without flipping out, or staying off the counter while you’re preparing dinner, tell your dog how much you appreciate their hard work! Don’t take good behavior for granted. Thank your dog for trying so hard to be good – even if sometimes they fall short of the goal.
10. Love Unconditionally.
Treats and special toys must be earned. Love and affection should not. A dog with a secure bond to their handler will work harder and do better than a dog who thinks their owner’s love and affection hinges on their ability to hold a down stay. If your dog is struggling to understand something, take a break and love them for a while, then try again.
After all, they love you unconditionally. It’s important to remind them that, even if some days you feel like you don’t like them, you will always love them.
No matter what.