Reframing Affection

When it comes to our dogs we tend to think of affection as warm cuddles in bed, slobbery kisses when you get home, and pets galore for them being a good dog. While there is nothing inherently wrong with doing those things, we (well meaning dog owners) do however have a tendency to over do it and it’s usually not balanced out with rules, structure, boundaries, and believable consequences.

When dogs come into our program for either a board and learn or private lessons it is usually to help remedy problem behaviors. When a dog arrives, all the things they are used to getting are taken away. They are put on an “affection diet” of sorts. These things typically include freedom to roam, affection (petting, cuddles, play) and are replaced with structure, rules, and accountability. By taking these away and switching them to a structured lifestyle we show the dog that we need to be apart of their world. Up to the point of sending them to us, the dogs have usually been doing their own thing with little to no regard of their owner (the person who provides what they need and ultimately shows how to behave in a world they do not understand).

It’s important to understand that an “affection diet” is not forever. It is a means to end. By limiting these things we can actually show the dog that when they do good things and give great behavior in various settings, they get stuff they like (affection, play, and more free time). When you can consistently see great things from your dog, meaning they are not doing the behaviors you did not like for at least 3 - 6 months, then you can start adding in the softer affection (slowly, the idea would be to incrementally give your dog more privileges to see how it effects them). Doing this to soon would be like asking a person with an addiction to drugs or alcohol to meet you at a bar after just leaving rehab. They need time to see things differently and practice building up good habits to avoid a relapse. The same can be said for our dogs. It takes time but it can be done.

While you and your dog are on a physical affection diet, I would like you consider other types of affection your dog may enjoy. Think about this, dogs don’t pet each other. Sure, they may lick one another, but that is for the purpose of cleaning. They don’t stroke each other for just being around. For me and my dogs, some of which have behavior issues, I have had to hold back physical affection and look at what they enjoy and do those things with them. For the most part my dogs enjoy doing things with me. Taking walks, going on car rides, doing some training, maybe trick training,  practicing their obedience, or hanging just out on place while I do stuff around the house. My dogs enjoy those things and I enjoy doing those activities with them. In those scenarios I am not really petting my dogs (they may get a few pats but not overly stroking them).

Remember, dogs really want to be included with us and what we are doing. If that means I have to stop petting them so much (for a time) in order for them to be able to go places most dogs can’t and actually listen, then so be it. I’m sure they would enjoy the outing rather than staying at home anyways.