There are a grand total of three scenarios in my life where I like being the centre of attention… and they all have to do with dogs.
The first is when I’m teaching group classes. You guys, I LOVE group classes. I have been teaching basic/beginner obedience for puppy and adult dogs for over a decade and a half, and I STILL get excited for class. Every time. And that doesn't even touch on how excited I am to teach my specialty classes. I live for that stuff.
The second is when I’m doing private lessons. There is very little that is more fulfilling for me than a successful lesson with someone who has been having a rough time with their dog(s). I truly and completely believe that life is better when you’re sharing it with dogs. But only if you can actually enjoy the dog(s) in the picture. Helping someone find that, or come closer to finding that, is pure bliss.
And third, when I’m working with any one of my dogs and I become the focus of their attention, their whole world. In that moment, nothing exists outside of our relationship; everything else becomes secondary, and there are no fears, no worries, no problems, no anything. Just me and my dog. It’s perfection, if such a thing exists in this world.
Unfortunately, that last scenario is one that people find difficult to achieve. And mostly, it has to do with the fact that – from a dog’s perspective – human beings are, well… Incredibly. Freaking. Boring.
Seriously. Humans typically don’t do ANYTHING fun. We rarely wrestle, we suck at playing chase or keep away, we can’t run very fast or jump very high, we don’t like to roll on dead things or the feces of other animals (and we pitch a fit when our dogs do), hunting small rodents is utterly unappealing to us, and that’s not even mentioning the fuss we put up when our dogs manage to catch something and then want to EAT it.
But do you know what humans can be really, really good at? Partying. Humans can throw seriously awesome parties. And luckily for us, there are ways to throw parties for dogs that encourage them to tune out the plethora of scents, sounds, and sights that they are bombarded with on a daily basis in favour of paying attention to YOU. Not even kidding.
Now, to be fair, there are breeds of dogs who are more inclined to want to party with us than others. And there are different kinds of parties to throw, depending on your dog’s temperament and preferences. But when it boils down to it, you can absolutely be your dog’s Van Wilder (totally just dated myself there but I’m okay with it) and throw them the BEST party around.
This might be easier said than done, so how do you go about doing it?
First you have to find out what your dog likes. Is your dog crazy about toys? Do they like it when you pat them vigorously (think dudes in a locker room, not delicate flower)? Will they do backflips for a piece of kibble if you’re the one offering it to them? Do they like verbal enthusiasm? Do they enjoy chasing things?
In order to make yourself the best thing since whatever the dog equivalent of sliced bread is, you need to find out what your dog likes, and then you need to exploit the ever living jeepers out of it.
For example, let’s talk about my dog Rafe (short for Raphael).
Rafe is a 6-year-old Papillon. His hobbies include Barn Hunt, pretending he’s a big dog, getting mad at me when I have to pick burrs out of his hair because he was running around pretending to be a big dog, avoiding baths like his life depends on it, and getting really, REALLY excited when I throw him a praise party. Seriously, the dog goes bananas. Rafe also thoroughly enjoys food, will happily play with toys, and is all about a good snuggle. But still, more than anything, Rafe likes it when I’m happy with him. Praise is his nirvana, and he will do just about ANYTHING I want him to do (including ignoring other, incredibly interesting things) if I make sure that I throw him a praise party when he does it. Dude goes absolutely BONKERS if I make my voice high pitched and stomp my feet really fast in place and clap my hands. Loses it. Completely.
Knowing this about him, every time he does something that I really like, I do those things. And I MEAN it, you guys. I’m not faking how excited and pleased I am when I’m jigging around like an idiot with a 6.5lb ball of flying fluff bouncing around my legs and making ecstatic whimper-grunt-shrieks. Because I know what it means when my dog decides to do what I’ve asked of them.
It shows me that I have developed a relationship with them that is worth more/has more value than whatever else is out there for them to be interested in. It means that I have earned their respect and I have put a reward system in place that they WANT to be a part of. And it means that I am the centre of their attention, the axis of their world, and there is really not a lot out there that can beat that.
So, find what your dog loves. And then find a way to provide it for them. Throw praise parties, play tug or throw their favourite ball, do whatever you need to to show them that even though you’re a person, and you are deeeeefinitely going to decline their invitation to roll on the next dead thing they find, you still know how to have a good time. You can still be OMGSUPERFUN in a way that they value and want to engage in with you.
Oh. And don’t forget to put your heart into it. Because if your dog chooses you over everything else that’s available for them to check out, play with, or be interested in, then that’s pretty freaking amazing and they deseve to know how pumped you are about it. After all, being the centre of their attention is the best reward that THEY can give YOU, and that's definitely worth celebrating.
Christina Chandler ALIGN CANINE TRAINING INC