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Getting to know your dog 

Getting to know your dog

Written by Laura V, ilume ambassador and dog behaviourist

Every time I sit at my table and write to you, I look at my dogs and ask them what they want me to talk about. That probably sounds a bit weird, but everything I advise on is always inspired by my dogs. Chester is lying in one of his beds, casually following my movements with his eyes, and it makes me think about how dogs are always telling us how they’re feeling. I’ve spent the past 13 years listening to Chester, watching him and learning his language. And whilst I will never be able to think exactly like him, I have learnt more and more how to think. 

So, how well do we actually know our dogs? If you could describe your dog in a sentence what would you say? Before you think of this sentence, try to avoid adjectives such as naughty or cute. Instead, think a little deeper. Who is your dog? What does she love? What makes her happy? What is she afraid of? What does she look forward to? I think we owe it to our dogs to get to know them on a level in which they know us.They seem to have this incredible ability to know when we are sad and anxious, or when we are happy and excited. So, do we know when our dogs feel the same emotions? And if not, why? 

Well, a great test here is to make a list of everything that brings out the joy in your dog, and a list of everything that brings out their fear and anxiety. What is so great about these two lists is that it helps to give you a guide on what to provide more of, and what to provide less of in your dog’s life.

And, it also helps you to understand how to reinforce the behaviours that are in their best interests as well as yours. For example, if you want your dog to be calm, provide them with an environment they feel safe in and in control of.

For Chester, some examples of what sparks joy in his world include - being able to trust me, having a sense of control over his world, food, play, learning new things, sniffing new places, sleeping wherever he chooses, riding in the car, going to my mum’s place, being acknowledged for all the good he does, and being respected unconditionally. Ultimately, Chester wants to live a life of purpose, love and security. And at the end of the day, isn’t that what we all want?

So, if you feel up to it, get a pen and jot down a list of your dog’s hobbies, their favourite things and what ultimately is of value to them. Use this list to show your dog know that you understand them and that every good choice they make in life will result in a positive outcome. A life of joy is what we all yearn for, and we as humans have the capacity to provide this for our dogs. What a privilege that is!