Whether you realize it or not, you’re in a relationship with your dog. Maybe not the kind you’d display on your Facebook profile, but make no mistake, it’s real!
This can be a tricky concept for some people. We’re used to thinking of our human family members on one plane and the family dog on another.
But when you consider that you live together, play together, travel together, and rely on each other for companionship and love, you realize that the relationship you have with your dog can be just as important and meaningful as any other relationship you have.
And just as in all relationships, it takes effort to maintain a healthy one.
One of the most important foundational elements of any healthy relationship is mutual respect.
Just like Aretha warns, you’ll soon find out what respect means when it’s lacking between the family and the dog.
What does a respectful relationship with a dog look like?
You are a free-thinking individual with a history, experiences, feelings, and ideas.
So is your dog!
You each bring all of that with you into your relationship. It’s important to keep that in mind as you intentionally develop mutual respect.
Respectful behavior creates trust, security, and stability.
And that leads to our number one concern, SAFETY for all.
A respectful home is relaxed, enjoyable, even tempered, and flows well.
Everyone understands their roles and what to expect, providing stability and comfort. Actions and reactions are predictable and reasonable. Life together just works!
Setting the Stage for (Dis)Respect
I don’t need to list the terrible consequences a lack of respect can bring to those you love.
What’s important to address are the subtle, insidious ways this lack of respect can arise.
You have the best of intentions when you get a dog. You want to live in peace and harmony with this wonderful animal that shares your home.
But there's so much more to living with your dog than just training them to obey your household rules.
To really make them a part of your family, it's important to know them and understand them, to know their likes and dislikes. That’s how you create a dog that is more than “just a pet.”
That’s how you create a partner with whom you feel a deep connection.
That connection can be tested or broken when respect isn’t first given to the dog by the humans in the family.
Property vs Family Member
As a dog trainer, I work with a lot of kids and dogs. One of the biggest problems I see is that parents let children think from a very young age that the dog is “property” rather than a valued member of the family.
People don't SAY this, but it’s reflected in their actions.
Parents set the stage for a general lack of respect for the dog as a living, breathing, and thinking animal whom they invited into their homes and their lives when they
- let the kids handle the dog any way they choose
- let them crawl on the dog,
- let them take the dog's toys,
- pull on the leash or collar,
- sit in the dog's crate,
- lay on the dog’s bed,
- take away food,
- tease as a form of play…
…you get the picture. Allowing this behavior to exist creates a "less than" mentality toward the dog. And that is a recipe for disaster.
The Sad Results
When dogs aren’t shown respect, they become stressed, anxious, fearful, and unpredictable. To protect themselves, they may snap, mouth, growl, or bite.
Some dogs get depressed, retreating to try to stay away from the family and out of harm’s way.
Their behavior can change toward everyone in the family, even adults who don’t do anything disrespectful toward the dog. This causes distress for everyone as the sweet, playful companion you expected to have turns into something else altogether.
The Rewards of Respect
Once you begin to view all those who live in the home as a family member - the ones with two feet and the ones with four - harmony, peace, and calm can reign. All the blessings of having a dog can flourish and beautiful, important, and meaningful life lessons can be learned.
Teaching respect for the family dog is a gift to your children, too.
They will learn to respect all animals and will treat them better. Children who learn to respect the animals in their own homes will develop a lifelong ability to see animals for who they are, rather than as just another pet. They’re more likely to develop respect for all living things, animals, plants, humans, and the earth.
You’ll gain freedom. You’ll delight in being able to allow your dog and child to be together inside or outside without fear, free to play and explore together (age appropriate of course!).
Family time gets better. Spending time together is so important in fostering stability and confidence in your children. Being able to include your dog means more opportunities, more variety, more adventure, and FUN!
Both dogs and kids will be safer. Dogs will be more comfortable with the people they encounter, kids will be more comfortable and respectful toward dogs they encounter, and that increases safety for everyone.
Children develop compassion and empathy. Learning to see things from the dog’s point of view at an early age develops the ability to put themselves in others’ shoes, to consider viewpoints other than their own, and practice kindness and compassion toward all living beings.
You’ll save money, time, and heartache. Investing the time and energy in teaching your children to be respectful now will save you the time and money to fix the issues that may develop, or worse, from having to rehome or euthanize your dog.
Four Ways To Develop Respect Between Dogs and Kids
Doing these four things as early as possible will help you create a loving, easygoing relationship between all your children, kids and fur-babies alike.
- Monkey see, monkey do. Modeling is the number one thing you can do to teach respectful behavior. Your kids are always watching what you do, so be careful what you are doing in front of them. While in the presence of little ones, don’t kiss or hug your dog, keep any frustration and anger you feel toward your dog in check, and don’t do nail trims or grooming until you can…
- Talk about it first, then demonstrate, then assist. When showing kids how to interact with or pet the dog, first talk about what you will do, then show them how to do it properly, and finally help them do it with their hand over yours or your hand over theirs, depending on your child’s age.
- Include the dog in everything (or as much as possible!) - Talk with your child about
- why dogs love to be involved in your lives,
- why it's good to get the dog involved, and
- ways you can include your dog in your daily life activities.
Having a gentle, lighthearted discussion like this when your dog is lying down next to you as you watch a movie or goes for a ride in the car to get ice cream helps your child understand how your dog is an important member of your family.
- Talk about how to express emotions in front of the dog. It’s unpopular in dog training to talk about a dog's emotions (they’re not motivated by emotions in the same way that we are), but you should talk to your kids about how it can be scary for the dog when they yell, scream, or run. Discuss what a dog might do when it’s scared. Even very young children can learn to understand the dog's point of view.
How Dog Training Can Help You Develop Respect in Your Home
Dog trainers are skillful at reading and understanding the behaviors of dogs…and humans!
Often adults don’t understand why their dogs act the way they do. That’s why it’s helpful to have someone from outside the family assess your situation. We’re able to see the dynamics of the family interactions with your dog and offer help without being caught up in the stress and emotion you may feel.
Learning to set boundaries for both your dog and your kids is critical. Once you understand how to do that, you'll be better prepared to help your children operate within those boundaries to keep themselves and their dogs safe.
Teaching people is just as important as training dogs!
We’ll help the entire family learn why:
- Dogs have a point of view all their own
- They take their roles in the family very seriously
- Being “dominant” or “putting a dog in its place” in the relationship does NOT lead to peace and harmony
- It is your responsibility to keep your dog happy, healthy, and safe at home
- Setting realistic expectations for your dog based your dog’s breed characteristics and temperament is important
- To set and maintain healthy boundaries for your children and your dogs
We train dogs how to:
- Be calm and gentle with children
- Not to take food from kids
- Play with their own toys, not the children’s toys
- Not to jump or chase children
- Adhere to the boundaries you’ve set
- Listen to and cooperate with the wants and needs of the family
Respect comes from understanding. When your dog feels safe and secure at home and learns that good things happen when they act respectfully toward their human brothers and sisters, beautiful relationships can develop.
And when your children learn how to see the dog as a valued member of the family with thoughts and feelings all their own, they’ll grow to be kinder, more respectful adults.
Life is richer when the family can love, play, travel, and live together with peace and R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
We have many programs available to help your family live in peace and have respect for all. Email us at [email protected] to find the best program for you!