Relationship-based training for companion dogs is a teaching method that emphasizes the very things that make relationships between people successful: commitment, trust, respect, active listening, understanding, empathy, attentiveness, flexibility, forgiveness, communication, generosity, and appreciation. Unlike training goals, which focus primarily on handling techniques, relationship-based training goals level the playing field, so to speak, between owners and dogs. Each is challenged to modify mental, physical, psychological, and emotional habits in order to acquire self-assuredness and a healthy relationship with one another. Owners and their dogs undergo meaningful changes for the betterment of their rapport. Once a good, solid relationship is in place, phenomenal progress soon follows.
Therefore, we begin at the beginning with a fundamental strategy and an indisputable dog trainer’s truism: “First the person must change—then the dog will change, too.” Throughout many years of working with clients and their companion dogs, I’ve found that a great number of people are unaware of the powerful impact their belief systems and habitual responses have upon their dogs’ behaviors. Top-notch relationship-based training generates significant transformation in owners and their dogs, which is obligatory when dealing with serious behavior issues.
Recently, I began working with Lulu, a very sensitive, nervous 5-year-old Lab/German shepherd mix. Lulu, in the words of her owners, behaves like a “bucking bronco” on the walk when she spots other dogs, even from a great distance. During our first private training session, after taking the time to establish trust and intercommunication with her, I placed a slip lead on Lulu and walked her by a young, bouncy Lab. We began this exercise at a distance that did not surpass Lulu’s stress threshold, thereafter reducing the distance with each subsequent pass. Despite her owners’ cringing anxiety and nervous patter, Lulu was completely relaxed during this experience. Based on their entrenched skepticism of Lulu’s capabilities, her folks assumed she would go ballistic in the mere presence of an excited, unfamiliar dog. They lacked faith in her potential and her ability to make new and better choices. As for me, even after having been told about Lulu’s formidable shenanigans while on the walk, I had no apprehension about what might happen. Rather, I simply walked with Lulu and maintained a nice, loose leash to let her know she was doing a great job. I proceeded in a focused, unworried, yet observant manner and was her advocate, prepared to handle anything that might be stressful for Lulu. My intention was to team up with her by remaining aware of the signals she was sending out, letting Lulu know I was listening and responsive to her perspective and willing and able to make adjustments as necessary to safeguard her trustful, composed state of mind. Lulu’s owners, thrilled by her unforeseen newly confident behaviors, have been working, with great success, on the training goals I suggested to help them modify old, ineffective patterns of relating to their dog. They are actively changing, as is Lulu, and everybody is much happier.
In general, the relationship-based training goals for Lulu’s owners are appropriate for the majority of my clients, all of whom have dogs with substantial behavior issues. Utilizing the mnemonic PEACE—employing Patience, Education, Advocacy, Connection, and Equanimity—improves one’s ability to provide relationship-centered guidance and leadership for their beloved pets. Each component of PEACE is a building block that enables dog owners to become trustworthy, reliable, consistent, and revered mentors for their canine companions.
Relationship-based training goals also define my system of conditioning dogs. At Calm K9, I work with folks whose dogs demonstrate habitual symptoms of imbalance such as aggression, shyness, fearfulness, selective listening, pushiness, poor leash manners, barking, whining, hyperactivity, stress, reactivity to other people or dogs, and more.
These various behaviors may seem like an unrelated hodgepodge of characteristics, each requiring different training techniques to attain distinct objectives. However, the mnemonic EASE delineates four primary training goals that provide all pet dogs with the necessary foundation upon which all other skills can be taught: Engagement, Active Decision making, State of mind, and Enjoyment.
By making the commitment to train yourself and your dog in these ways, you are developing a deep, mutually respectful partnership with your faithful companion and can look forward to a wonderful life together.
Main article photo by: M&Co-Creative Commons