Take the "tough" out of your love this Valentine's Day.
Certain dog training methods have taught people that they need to be embarrassed about showing too much love to their dogs. I've seen it more times than I can count. I tell somebody I'm a dog trainer and they sheepishly look away as they "confess" that they let their dogs sleep on the bed, or sometimes save them some table scraps. Old-school veterinarians, groomers, or trainers often use language which encourages this thought process. Want to know one of the quickest ways to lose me as a customer? Tell me my dog needs tough love or will only be happy when he knows his place (you can get me to leave even faster by saying those things are necessary because my dog is a particular breed).
Now, don't get me wrong...
Do dogs benefit from consistency? Yes, absolutely!
Do we need to sometimes limit our dog's freedom in some situations?
You bet! Not putting your dog in a situation where they will fail is critical to good training.
In our loving, do we sometimes accidentally teach our dogs to do things we don't like?
Yep, definitely. (That's why I continue to have a job!)
Does that mean that in order to have a polite dog you must only show them "tough love" and regularly restrict (or forcefully take away) things that they like, simply to keep them in their place? -ABSOLUTELY NOT.
Regularly taking away things that make your dog happy for the sake of reminding them who's the boss, preventing them from becoming spoiled, or generally to show them "tough love" is not helpful behaviorally, or relationally, with your dog. Sometimes, in the moment of taking something away (or otherwise attempting to remind your dog that you have control over every aspect of their being), owners might experience a good sensation that comes from feeling powerful and in control (that's one of the reasons we jump to using punishment for our pets- it feels satisfying to us!), but that control comes at a cost. It hinders the bond with your dog and can create or worsen underlying behavioral issues. Furthermore, it often leads to the idea that to have a good dog, you must not give them too much of what they want (like access to the comfy couch, table scraps or the option to walk through a doorway before you) and the subsequent guilt that you're not a good dog owner if you do "spoil" your dog with those things. This "tough love" attitude reflects a concern that if a dog IS given what it wants too frequently, it will turn on it's family, think of itself as "alpha" and lose all it's manners.
Here's the thing... that's not how dog behavior works. So if you are a dog owner who is embarrassed to tell the trainer that your dog sleeps with you: breathe easy. Modern science has revealed that your dog is not out take over your home or become "alpha" and they do not develop bad manners simply because you "spoiled" them with treats (or the privilege to sleep on the couch).
I'm a professional dog trainer, someone who spends a crazy amount of time each week studying why dogs act the way they do and how to live with them successfully. And guess what, the dogs in our house get love. Unabashed, sometimes silly, love. We have fun with them. We cuddle in bed. We don't take away their toys or food in an effort to tell them that we are in control. We aren't worried that they will become stubborn or defiant. We even sometimes *gasp* GIVE THEM WHAT THEY WANT, just for the heck of it!
We just make sure to do it at the right time. Timing is everything.
For instance, I will gladly give my dog table scraps... when I notice he is politely lying down on his mat away from the table (not when he is whining, pawing at me or otherwise begging). And I am more than happy to get my dog's leash and open the door for walk... when he is quiet and keeping his feet on the floor (not when he is barking at me and wildly jumping in circles). Puppies in our house are greeted enthusiastically and lovingly... 10 minutes after we get home and they seem calm enough to interact with us without jumping. And lastly, I love to have my dog cuddle with me on the furniture when he politely "asks" to come up and then responds to my request to get off when I need him to.
So this Valentine's Day, we encourage you to go home and love your dogs!
You brought them into your life because you loved them, so go ahead and show them all that love (at the right time!) Give them a treat, play their favorite game, or snuggle with them on the furniture- guilt free, because it's time to take the "tough" out of "tough love".