People pay therapists lots of money to discuss their relationships and how to make them better. There are more facebook groups, and web pages dedicated to understanding other people and how to improve your relationship with your friend/spouse/neighbor/parents. Most of the suggestions stem from asking questions and actively listening to what the other person is saying. This is a skill that requires some practice, but the result is usually worth the effort.
Think about the people you live or work with and the relationships you have with them. The people you see on a regular basis tend to develop a deeper understanding of who you are and you understand them. You have a better relationship with your spouse than your neighbor (hopefully you don’t live in a plot to a daytime soap) because you watch and pay attention to the things they like and dislike, and the things that make them happy or unhappy.
So what does this have to do with your dog?
Many of my clients live and work with their dogs every day but still have no idea what makes them happy or what they enjoy. This information can change your life with your dog. Primary reinforcement like food are great for training sessions, but if you are looking for a dog that truly wants to be with you and please you then relationship is where you want to concentrate.
Have you ever heard your dog laugh?
Think about it for a few minutes. What does your dog really enjoy? What lights them up and gets them excited? I’m not talking about walks and car rides. In 30 seconds, what can you do to really get your dog excited. Opie likes when I play claw hands with him. I pop into a crouching position with my fingers extended like I am going to pinch him like a crab. He will play bow and hop around trying to bite my hands. While he’s hopping around he has this rapid breathy sound that can be interpreted as laughing. Cargo enjoys when I pinch her butt and run away, she catches up and pushes a toy into me to play tug. We have no agenda with these games, they are just things that my dogs enjoy.
Because I know these are things that my dogs love, I can use these games as reinforcement. Opie plays claw hands before we run some barn hunt or when he recalls from some geese in the park. When Cargo has a particularly awesome training session we will spend a few minutes playing the games they enjoy.
Spend some time figuring out what games your dog enjoys and watch how much more responsive they become when you ask for the boring stuff. This is especially important when working on recalls with your dogs. If you have figured out the games that your dog enjoys and begin to use them when your dog comes back to you, then you start to become more reinforcing than the dogs on the beach, or the squirrels in the park.