As we begin a new year, let me throw down a challenge to all of us. Rather than being quick to criticize and slow to praise, let’s work hard to flip that around. Let’s look for the positive actions/ events and recognize them with genuine praise. We have much to be thankful for, not the least of which is living with a dog. I never cease to be uplifted by the abundance of positive energy that dogs exude when they greet their owners. Whether you have been away from your dog for ten minutes, ten hours or ten days, they greet you like a long-lost friend! Don’t sell yourself short: this adoration has been crafted by the positive relationship you have developed with your dog, in which you focused on reinforcing the positive, not dwelling on the negative. If you had opted for a heavy-handed approach in dealing with your dog, in which your dog had to do everything you ordered, under fear of physical retribution, there would be no loving dog to greet you. The chances are your dog would be cowering in a corner somewhere, trying to heal its physical and mental wounds from your previous encounter.

I will openly admit I am a lot more tolerant of dogs than I am of humans. Does that mean I believe dogs never make mistakes? Absolutely not! But I do find myself defending the actions of dogs quicker than I do those of humans, particularly when a person is ignorant in the ways of a dog. Furthermore, I have yet to come across a dog that will knowingly do something negative to hurt or annoy its owner, outside of defending itself against physical abuse. Never has my dog Finn asked to go outside at 2 o’clock in the morning just to spite me or been sick on the family room carpet just to upset me.

Gone are the days, thankfully, when training dogs consisted of harsh methods of control, reinforced with physical punishment if the dog didn’t do what it was commanded to do. Today, we talk of “positive reinforcement”, whereby a dog is praised for doing something right rather than chastised for doing something wrong. This approach helps in the development of a healthy, mutual respect between dog and owner. As with any learning process, mistakes will be made but there is recognition that maybe there are other factors at play which caused the mistake to happen. Did the human communicate as effectively as he should when cuing the dog to do something? Was the dog distracted and never fully understood the cue being given? Was the cue too advanced for the dog’s current level of understanding?

If students at school are asked what attributes go into making a good teacher, I would hazard a guess that words like “good communicator”, “tolerance”, “patience”, “good listener” and “compassion”, amongst others, would feature quite high up on the list. The same features apply to us, if we want to be good dog owners who want the best for our dogs.

Let’s make 2022 the year when a positive mental attitude far outweighs the negativity that we as humans have a habit of carrying around with us.

Happy New Year!

About the author

Steve King

Steve King

Steve King was President and Founder of Community Therapy Dogs Society, a volunteer with Lions Foundation of Canada and a dog trainer.

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