Thursday, September 8, 2011

Relationship Matters for the Dog, Too

In my last post, I explored the concept that having a relationship with a dog makes it easier for the human part of the equation to cope with his issues. But as several commenters pointed out, relationship matters at the other end of the leash, too. While that wasn’t the focus of my post, I have to agree. In fact, I agree so much that I decided to write about it today.

The little shelter dog I was working with came to the rescue as a stray. We don’t know his breed, his age, or anything about his history. We have some guesses, sure, but they're just that. Where was he born? To whom? What were his early experiences with humans like? Why is he so suspicious of us? How did he learn to use his mouth?

I have so many questions, but I will never know the answers. And just as I don’t know anything about him, he doesn’t know anything about me. Am I trustworthy? Will I listen to his warnings? Can I even see them? How far does he need to go to make sure I understand he’s uncomfortable? Are all my clicks and treats an indication of my character, or are they simply empty promises?

He has no way to answer his questions about me, either; he has no history upon which to draw. Complicating matters, in the last month or so, he has had contact with so many strangers- from his caretakers at the pound, to the two separate foster homes he’s been in, to me, the unknown trainer- well, it’s been a jumbled mix of interactions that probably contributes to his overall confusion and distrust.

Contrast this to Maisy, who, despite her rocky beginnings, has learned that humans are generally okay. Certainly she knows that I, as her person, will do my best to protect her. Sure, I make mistakes. I get frustrated sometimes, and occasionally I miscalculate how stressful a given situation may be for her. Despite my failings, she seems to understand that I have the best of intentions. Just as I have developed a relationship with her, she’s developed one with me.

This relationship- that is, the dog’s relationship to the human- is clearly important. It allows him to know what to expect from the person holding his leash. Not having any history with me means my little shelter dog needs to constantly evaluate my role in his safety (or lack thereof). While Maisy has learned that I do not pose a threat, my little shelter dog has not. As a result, it is clear that, just as it matters to me, relationship matters for the dog, too.


Jen said...

Excellent post! I'd commented on the first one that referred to the little guy that he was lucky you had experience in what seemed to be his issues; I think that, with time, he'll recognize that in you. Or at least I hope he will. Dogs tend to be pretty sharp about that kind of thing.

I do agree that it's important to consider his end of the leash, and what he must think of all this jumble and these goings-on! Hopefully the training classes (and I hope his foster folks are using the clicker at home with him as well!) will give him a good baseline that maybe people aren't so bad, or at least that he's fallen into better company.

andrea said...

just proving that relationships - even between species really are a two way street :)

Spent quite awhile at the shelter this week - getting a little wee dog to lay his head in my hand ... he was so distrustful it really hurt my heart as his odds of getting up for adoption are slim to none ... but once he trusted me he was very happy to let me look at his mouth, ears and give him a full body rub ... really can't help but wonder how he got that way :( probably very glad i don't know