6 September 2023

A lifetime of learning – how the human/dog relationship never stops evolving.

A lifetime of learning – how the human/dog relationship never stops evolving.

By Phillipa

I recently saw a post on another blog about what the author, Nancy Tanner, perceived as the biggest problem in dog training in the last thirty years.

Nancy says that the problem is the misunderstanding of time. The moment I saw this, I understood completely what she meant by that statement. In the increasingly fast paced world we live in it’s often the inability to wait more than a matter of seconds for anything, which has bled into the world of pet ownership and created an issue.

Ironically, I think for many of us, part of the joy we anticipated in animal ownership was the quality of time we would have with our pet. We imagined slow walks with the dog along the beach or through the wood, de-stressing from jobs and family life and enjoying just being with a family member who gives us unconditional love.

Hopefully, we are all experiencing these moments as often as possible. But it’s a bit one sided to think that during the rest of the time the dog should ‘fit-in’ with us.  The journey of creating a true partnership is two sided and cannot be rushed.

One thing I realised early on when I got my first Labrador (a breed renowned for their intelligence and speed of learning) was that it was really ME who needed to be trained. I actually had more to learn than the dog did in many ways. It also became clear that even though there is a milestone we all reach with training that can make us think, ‘that’s it, we’re all done now’, it is only the first in a series of milestones we must reach before setting our sights on the next one.

Of course, once we can confidently achieve walking to heel, sit, stay, come and see a good level of obedience and manners, we can allow ourselves a pat on the back for knowing that the dog is not going to pester people or other animals, is going to stay close enough not to get lost and most importantly will be SAFE.

But these behaviors will need re-enforcing throughout the animal’s life. There is an element of ‘use it or lose it’, and getting frustrated with an animal who has gradually slipped from his former perfect conduct without being checked along the way is just unreasonable.

We also have to bear in mind that this unique partnership is actually a RELATIONSHIP. Every dog has his or her own idiosyncrasies and so do we as owners. They are also incredibly intuitive and will pick up when you are sad, happy or angry. Like all relationships, the one between you and your pet will grow and change, and just as you will be trying to assimilate the small changes in your dog’s character into your treatment of them, the dog will equally be observing the changes in you as the years go by.

There is very little in life as rewarding as the relationship between dog and owner. When time is invested, the bond of trust is arguably the best, better than trust between many people.

There will be illness along the way – your dog probably dealing with it and appreciating the care that you give them, just as they will be your guardian when you are feeling poorly. And sometimes when a dog is unwell, their behaviour may be affected and accidents may occur. This is another time when we need patience. We also need a keen eye and to trust our own instincts so that we know when veterinary assistance is required.

Inevitably, that dreaded day will come. No matter how many dogs you have had over the years, no matter how sure you are that you are performing the final, kind and loving act for your dog, your heart will break in two. I know, it’s happened to me more than once and I know I’ll not handle it any better the next time.

The one thing that does provide comfort is the depth of understanding that exists between yourself and your pet as their final hours approach. To know that you have spent time with your dog, not just having fun but trying to meet them halfway, to accept that trust had to be earned, and to realise that you know the very heart of that dog just as he knows yours. Then you’ll know what a wonderful life you’ve been privileged to have with him.

And he’ll know the same.