How To Increase The Bond With Your Agility Dog

bonding with your dogDon’t you love to watch the teams on the dog agility field that seem to have an invisible leash on their dog.  It as if they think the command and the dog responds with energy, happiness and correctness.  Well, it isn’t by chance that their team has evolved to this level of communication.  I guarantee they have spend innumerable hours in practice as well as building a bond and solid relationship with their dog.

Most dog agility enthusiasts start out with an older dog that they have already built a relationship with while others are joining to build a relationship that is not there.  Either way, bonding with your dog should not be looked at as a “training” exercise but rather a special time spent with your dog in order to learn more about them.  To learn how to “read” them when they are communicating with you as well as letting them know you are going to take care of them in a healthy way.

I say in a healthy way because we are not trying to “win over” our dog with happy time, we are building a relationship of communication, trust and respect.  There can only be one lead dog on the agility course and it really never works out well if the leader is the dog.  Building this kind of relationship isn’t hard and should come fairly natural.  You obviously care about your dog and dogs want to be loved and accepted into a pack.  As the one of “higher intelligence” it is up to you to learn your dog’s language, needs and even their dislikes.

Here are some easy ways you can start developing and deepening your bond with your dog today.

  • Tug Games: Tug games heighten your dogs’ pack drive, and since you’re his pack and need to be his alpha.  Playing tug with you is a bonding and training experience that your dog will LOVE.  Some dogs do not have a high play drive and will need to be shown how to play tug.  First, find a toy your dog seems to have interest in and you may have to get super silly and creative like playing keep away to instill value to the game.  Keep sessions short and stop while the dog is still interested in the toy.  Do not leave the toy where they can play with it, they only get to play with it at tug time.  All dogs, especially those that love tug, need to learn a take and release cues first.  They need an on and off switch.  You should also be sure that when you tug you do so at their head level as to not strain the neck.  Mostly, you are just holding the tug for them to pull against.  No jerking of any kind as you can cause injury to your dog’s neck and teeth.
  • Feeding Time:  When properly executed, dinnertime can be a learning as well as close experience.  If your dog were a wolf, he would hunt in his pack, but would not eat until the alpha dogs had eaten first.  Or, when the alpha invited him to come eat.  Many dog owners allow their dogs to eat for free.  You are missing a prime opportunity to bond with your dog in so many ways.  Pushy dogs do well with being fed as reward for performing.  Some only need a sit stay while some will benefit from a mini training session being rewarded with portions of their food.  Just remember that the more the dog eats the less motivated he will become so don’t make complicated requests from your dog.  All dogs should at least know how to stand back and wait for you to tell them when they can go to their food.  It instills in them that you are the giver of all things good, not the waiter doing their bidding.
  • Massage: Dogs may seem not to enjoy getting massages, especially if they’re wriggly and want to play, but once your dog gets the hang of you rubbing his sides and legs and neck, he’ll be jelly.  Some dogs are highly touch sensitive and you need to adjust your pressure and duration to your dog’s liking.  In the beginning you may only get small areas done at a time until your dog becomes accustomed to the procedure and you to what your dog does and doesn’t like.  Remember, this is suppose to be pleasurable to your dog.  Massage shows dominance over your dog and cements your status in his mind.
  • Watch Me/ Touch/ Target:  Any time you command your dog to watch you, or touch/target, you’re building positive reinforcements for something your dog can perform relatively easy.  Yet, this is a very important exercise as it teaches your dog to focus on you instead of any distraction and that you, his leader, will reward that action.  You will want to start teaching this cue in an area with low to no distractions and then be sure you have tasty treats when you start adding distractions to your exercise.  Have fun with it.  Teach your dog to open and close doors and drawers or push a ball.  Teach your dog a cue to look away then have them look back.  Be creative.

This is a tiny sample of all the opportunities you have to bond with your dog in everyday activities.  Start looking for those times that you can turn everyday routine into a time of bonding and growing your relationship with your dog.  Make every interaction you have with your dog a count and make the most of your time together!