In Dogs we Trust

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What let’s you know you can trust a dog?  Is it a feeling; something tangible; or can you really trust a dog?

By Laura Pakis, Certified Professional Dog Trainer and Blogger,

Recently I attended a TEDx Columbus event on the topic of trust.  It made me think about the dogs I work with and my interactions with them and their owners.  I started to consider what it was that allowed me to work with some dogs relaxed and comfortable and others with great reserve.  What was it that helped me make my decisions…something tangible or was it a gut feeling that allowed me to put trust in the dog.  As I thought more about it, I decided it was a bit of both and it included repetitive patterns which helped build trust.  Having a positive relationship with a dog builds trust.

Tangible trust

You can learn a lot about a dog by just watching them.  It’s kind of like putting together a puzzle.  Each piece of their body tells you something.  Is their body relaxed, loose, maybe even a bit wiggly?  Do they approach you at an angle or straight at you?  Are their eyes soft or intensely focused? What about their ears, are they stiff and alert, pulled back or relaxed?  Even where their tail sits can tell you whether the dog is comfortable or aroused.  Observing these small things can give you a heads up on the dog even before you start interacting with it.  You may even notice your dog looking at you before and after it makes a decision or performs an action as it develops it’s relationship with you.

Gut feeling

There is a moment that hits you, not necessarily tangible but more of a feeling, when you know the dog will respond in a certain way.  It doesn’t mean you can let your guard down or leave your baby with the dog.  It does mean that you have confidence in the dog’s behavior to respond a certain way.  And the dog has respect in you that you will respond to them in a fair and responsible way.

There is no global trust

Dogs are animals and things happen.  You can’t unconditionally trust a dog to react a certain way.  Somewhere in the back of your mind there needs to be the respect that this free spirit has a mind of its own and may respond through a bite, snap or just not following through with what is asked of it.  Cindy Bennett Martin put it best, “There is no global trust.  There is “this context” or “that context”.  Knowing this while repeating the behaviors you want and actively watching your dog’s body language will improve your bond and gain the “trust” we all want with a dog.

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