I have a confession: sometimes, when Topher is jerking me around in class or fraying at my last nerve with yet another reactive outburst… I stop liking him very much. I know! It’s a terrible thing to say! But when you own a reactive dog, stress and frustration can become a part of your daily and weekly routine; it’s important to try your best not to hold onto those feelings, not to let them negatively impact your bond with your dog.
Even if you don’t have a reactive dog, there are lots of ways to further bond with your pet! A strong connection with your dog can go along way, from giving you more patience in dealing with their less favorable idiosyncrasies, to helping them feel calmer and more balanced overall.
Create A Routine
When you establish a routine for things like feeding, walks, and playtime with your dog, it’s like making a promise with them. The more you’re able to keep that promise by adhering to your schedule, the more your dog will trust you. It also means they’ll be able to handle the occasional upset to the schedule with greater ease.
Make Up Little Rituals
Just like people, dogs appreciate the little treats and kindnesses you show them day to day. Establishing small rituals makes everyday actions just a little sweeter. For example, Topher gets a small spoonful of peanut butter as a morning treat, and another small treat right before bed. This started because he needed eyedrops several times a day, and giving treats was an easy way for us to help him adjust to being given medication. Now, it’s just another small way we show Topher some love.
Find (Or Create) Activities You Both Enjoy
Life with your dog is a team sport. Nothing will make your pup happier than doing things with you. Doing something fun with your dog reinforces the feelings that spending time with your dog is enjoyable—and this is key when you have a reactive dog, if you’re going to training sessions or getting into other stressful encounters. Whether it’s going on trail walks like Ivana and Archer, or just hanging out on the couch watching TV, find something you and your dog can both enjoy, and pursue it together.
Get On Their Level
One of Bryan’s favorite things to do with Topher is sit on the floor with him. A little face-to-face interaction is great for your dog, whether it takes place on the floor or on the couch (if they’re allowed up there!). A dog who will look into your eyes, even briefly, is a dog who is showing you respect and trust. Show you appreciation with praise, or pets or other affection.
This isn’t to say you should be staring down your dog. Staring and looking are certainly different things. And if your dog is uncomfortable with eye contact, don’t force them. As your bond with them grows, it will get easier.
Listen To What Your Dog Is “Saying”
At any given time, your dog may be providing you feedback about their overall level of comfort. It’s on you to listen, and respond appropriately. If your dog is reacting to something or clearly uncomfortable in a certain environment, it’s your responsibility to advocate for them. Get them training to aid them in learning to accept new people, environments, etc. Or, protect them from situations where they might feel forced to defend themselves. The more you can understand and respect your dog’s feelings, the stronger your bond will be.