Canine – Human Relationship is Unique Amongst Animals.

A dog’s relationship with us is the foundation of which makes them unique in this world. They hold a special place in their hearts for us and we for them. They are our companion and we are their guardian. Their ability to live in the present, not worrying about the past, nor anxious about the future is what we as humans should aspire to. They are not wolves, they are unlike any other species.

The relationship with their guardians is the reason they exist and as such, we should have the ultimate respect for all of them. Yes, some dogs lose their way and yes their are health issues that get in their way, but who’s responsibility is this?  They are dogs, we are people. We are their guardian and as such, our responsibility includes caring for them, protecting them, helping, training and leading them. Our relationship with them is our responsibility. It is not theirs!

A dog’s understanding of our facial expressions and our gestures and any repeating pattern of behaviour is far more clear than most people understand. They communicate through behaviour and do not rely on vocabulary or language. Even the words we use are more about how we use the. In fact we can use the same words with different tone and get completely different behaviour under uniquely differing circumstances. “Let’s go” is not the same as “go tunnel,” for example.

What you do and how you do it is what they watch for and how they determine what you want from them, or what the consequences will be for their actions.

Your Connection With Your Dog Matters

Eye contact and acknowledgement provide support and help to  manage stress and reduce anxiety.  Your eye contact and acknowledgment are very important to them and help them reduce the anxiety that results from stressful conditions.  Maintaining a connection in and out of the ring is important. Having a good connection in day to day life as well will always help with desire and motivation when learning and performing in stressful circumstances.

Play and Playfulness In and Out of the Agility Ring is Important

Playing with your dog increases the strength of the bond between you and them and helps improve motivation to work for you. Dog Agility is a game and playfulness is required. The more playful they are and the more they like to play with you, the more motivated they will be when working for you and the more effort they will put into playing the game with you.

Positive Physical Interaction Is Important to Most Dogs

Physical contact improves the connection and the bond between you and your dog. It can aid in calming and help them manage stress and therefor reduce their anxiety. Positive physical interaction increases their comfort and helps them to reduce their anxiety. Lack of positive contact leaves them feeling alone and without support and therefore increases their anxiety when under stress.

Help Them Manage Stress

Providing strength and support, but not coddling will assist them in managing stress and will increase the bond between you.   There must be no frustration or anger when they are stressed. One should be understanding and supportive.   Help reduce stress by being calm and move away from the source of their stress; connect with them and comfort them, then provide support and ask for another attempt.

Anger and Frustration Increase Anxiety and Reduce Motivation

Anger and frustration always negatively impact a dog’s desire to work for you and will most certainly increase anxiety and amplify negative reactions to stress. Fear of failure and the negative consequence of your reaction and anger create doubt and decrease confidence and desire to try. Lack of clarity and the doubt that results produces slow and cautious behaviour in order for them to ensure they are doing what you want and therefore avoid your anger.

Rewarding Often Improves Relationship

Rewarding often for good behaviour and in general, even without the requirement to do somersetting positive for you, will always increase motivation to work for you and can help overcome anxiety and stress. Always be grateful for their effort if you wish to see more of the same.

Reward Their Effort Always

Many people forget to reward effort, or feel they don’t want to interrupt the effort they see, but it is important to reward effort in order to increase desire and motivation.  How much and how often they are “paid” increases motivation, just like it does in us.

Negative Consequences Reduce Motivation and Effort

Punishment and negative consequences in general decrease the power of the human – canine bond.  Negative, or absent relationships result in decreased motivation to work and poor performance as stress and anxiety increase.  Punishment, both negative (removing a positive consequence; for example removing them from the ring after inappropriate behaviour) and positive (applying a negative consequence, eg a correction, chastising, or shock as a result of undesired behaviour), should be used rarely and minimally when deemed necessary as both will always increase anxiety and fear and decrease motivation .

Negative Reinforcement also is to be avoided when possible (eg, removing an angry voice and  tone, present during inappropriate or undesired behaviour once they demonstrate desired behaviour), as it also has a negative impact on the quality of the relationship and creates anxiety and fear and thus reduces motivation and effort.

Dogs who run slowly or hesitate to perform obstacles demonstrate their concern for potential punishment for mistakes, which includes a raised voice and worse. Worst case is what is called learned helplessness, where a dog will no longer try at all and will only act to avoid punishment. Effort to work for you is lost completely.

Positive Consequences Increase Motivation and Effort

Rewarding behaviour and effort increase desire and motivation and can help overcome anxiety and stress.  Good relationships without negative consequences for failure improve motivation and effort to work and lead to success and confidence and improved performance under stress.

Positive reinforcement and reward lead to a lessening of anxiety despite uncertainty. A willingness to try and achieve success despite a potential for failure.  And success leads to confidence which leads to increased motivation and effort to try.  The resulting increased motivation to work for you certainly is the only way to maximize their effort when under stress.

Especially in the case of what we often refer to as “soft dogs” no negative reaction to failures in performance is best and improves confidence under stress to try, to work through it. And I do consider this essential for most dogs. I see the negative impact of negative reactions to failure constantly and they consistently stop or slow a dog and decrease motivation to work.

Alpha Dominance is Not Required

The idea that dogs require a tough and physically dominant leader is a load of lies and a complete myth perpetuated by people who believe in bullying as a form of leadership. I train physically tough and intelligent dogs and all that is required is valuable rewards and the knowledge that they will get them regularly at some point for being good. I certainly do have to be strong, but the idea that I have to be mean and a bully is a fabrication not supported by research. Even the idea that dogs are pack animals has more recently come into question, specifically because wild dogs do not form packs. My dogs willingly and lovingly show submissive behaviour. Most good leaders, whether it is people, apes, wolves or dogs, achieve most compliant behaviour willingly. Of course there are exceptions, but a dog raised from the beginning in a great relationship with trust and respect, will willingly do what it can to do as you ask.

In Conclusion

Good relationships without negative consequences for failure improve motivation and effort to work and lead to success and confidence and improved performance under stress.

Negative, or absent relationships result in decreased motivation to work and poor performance as stress and anxiety increases.