By: Melissa Kolmar, CPDT-KA, SBA
This is my oldest dog, Chupacabra, who will turn 11 in February. She is my more sensitive girl, who is also reactive toward other dogs. Through the years we have been through a lot together. We have overcome various challenges and grown in so many ways. For instance, she used to be terrible about communicating with her sister, Wolfie. She struggled with doggie signals (both giving and receiving). Now she is a rock star when communicating with her sister and will often be the one to diffuse potentially stressful situations.
Before I began my training journey, I would sometimes get frustrated with her. I would later realize this wasn’t because of anything she was actually doing, but because I didn’t understand. I didn’t understand why she was acting the way she was and what to do about it. It was the unknown…how do I make this better for her? How do I set her up for success?
As I started down my training path, I did gain those tools. I began to look at her differently. It became important for me not to just modify her behavior, but help her feel like she had a partner in this life. To know I have her back ALWAYS.
The picture above is what she does when she isn’t sure what is going on or is stressed/excited by something in the environment. The moment in question was when Wolfie was running around the house before we went for a walk. Years ago, this scenario would have stressed her out and she would have started chasing Wolfie to try to get her to stop. Now she sits by my side or in front of me and maintains eye contact. She looks to me instead of reacting.
Yes, we did a lot of training and worked on the attention game a lot. But more than that, I built my connection with her. I worked on communicating with her and listening to what she was telling me.
I’ll repeat that, LISTENING TO WHAT SHE WAS TELLING ME. Sometimes we spend a lot of time training and learning how to communicate with our dogs, but we miss the part where we need to listen in return. If you listen to your dog and help them, you will build that connection.
Chupa knows I have her back and I won’t put her in a situation she can’t handle. She knows she can look to me and I will help her out.