In my post, Does your dog trust you?, I discussed the importance of developing trust to most effectively train your dog. If you want your dog to do as you ask, no matter what, your best bet at success is to have earned a strong degree of trust from your dog. But how do you do that?
Part of building trust, as with any relationship, is to give it time. But during that time, you have to consistently act in a manner that fosters the trust you want. Every time you act with patience and kindness, you build trust. Every time you act out in frustration or anger, you erode trust. Every time you reinforce your dog for doing as you’ve asked or for making good choices on his own, you build trust. Every time you do not acknowledge or reinforce your dog for doing as you ask, you lose an opportunity to build further trust. Every time you make an effort to understand your dog’s perspective, you work toward greater trust. Every time you cause your dog to fear your reactions – through violence or threat of violence – you erode trust.
Treating your dog with patience and kindness is only part of the equation, though. If you really want to be the leader, the boss, the alpha, the parent, the dominant one, or whatever you want to call yourself, you need to show that you deserve your dog’s trust by looking out for his safety and stepping up to protect your dog if someone or something else threatens him. Leaders/bosses/etc. are not the ones who gain compliance through force, threats of violence, or intimidation. Leaders are the ones who look out for the safety and well-being of those following them.
If you know your dog is afraid of kids or men or strange dogs, don’t force your dog into situations with these individuals that he can’t handle. Build trust by stepping in and protecting him or removing him from that situation.
Romeo loves, loves, loves to play with other dogs. Perhaps the only thing more valuable than greeting and playing with other dogs is the chance to chase bunnies and squirrels. But there are situations with other dogs that make him very uncomfortable. I used to take him to the Larkspur dog park when he was younger and before he was reliable enough to walk off-leash in an unfenced area. He did well there with lots of space to run. One day we ran into someone else with a Vizsla around Romeo’s age. We were near a much smaller dog park and the other owner asked if we could let them play at the dog park. There were only a few other dogs there, and most seemed occupied doing other things. So we went in. He checked out the other dogs, didn’t seem all that interested in playing with the other Vizsla, and within a few minutes returned to me. I could tell he did not want to be there. While nothing I could see was showing any distinct threat to him, he clearly (to me, not to anyone else) wanted to leave.
I listened to him and we left. I was building trust by listening to what he was telling me. And looking out for his safety by removing him from a situation in which he was not comfortable even though I could see nothing threatening.
Romeo trusts me, and I always do my best to ensure I always deserve that trust.