By: Melissa Kolmar, CPDT-KA, SBA
It’s 2020…can you believe it?! Ten years ago, Ann Waterbury opened New Dawn Animal Behavior Center. I came on board as an intern in 2015 and have been with New Dawn ever since. I have watched so many wonderful dogs and their people grow and bond over the years.
I would like to make a resolution with all of you for 2020. Let’s make 2020 the year of relationship-building. How do we do that? Through trust and communication.
Now, I don’t just mean us communicating with and trusting our dogs (although that is important!). I also mean our dogs trusting us and being heard by us when they communicate. How do our dogs learn to trust us? Well, a lot of that depends on us listening when they communicate. If you listen to what your dog is saying (pro tip: your dog is usually communicating non-verbally! Brush up on those body language skills), you can help them feel more comfortable and confident. From there, the trust grows! For example: if your dog is not comfortable with strangers petting them, ask people to keep a distance they are comfortable with. Pair the sight of people with an amazing treat and they will learn that strangers are not scary beings that will grab them, but predictors of yummy food.
Another way to build trust is to use positive reinforcement training instead of punishment. In positive reinforcement training, you reinforce (usually with a treat or toy in the beginning) behaviors you like. A dog gains a lot of confidence from this because they learn that good things happen when they display certain behaviors. Punishment can be scary for dogs (and sometimes painful) and reduce their level of confidence and trust. Studies are showing that punishment can have long-lasting effects on a dog’s psyche.
So let’s do it. Let’s make 2020 the year of relationship-building. I look forward to seeing all of us get closer to our dogs!