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Therapy and the Human-Dog Bond

Bonding through Training

Working with your dog, whether it's practicing sitting and staying or learning a new trick, is a great way to strengthen the bond between you. Choose an activity that lets your dog stretch his or her mind, that is within their capabilities, and includes lots of praise and perhaps other rewards too. Lots of new research, some of which I've summarized in my posts, shows that your dog's mind is much more active than anybody suspected. That cute quizzical look he or she makes isn't simply cute. It shows that your dog is thinking. And just as dogs thrive on physical exercise, so too do they thrive on mental exercise

Some breeds are well known for their love of specific activities. labs love to swim; retrievers love to fetch; and huskies love to pull. It's in their blood, and it's hard to miss. If your dog is a lab, or looks a lot like a lab, you can be sure that he’ll be drawn to fetching games and to the water. If your dog is a collie or other herding dog, rounding things, people, or other animals up will come naturally.

But any dog can learn to fetch items. Sasha whom you have gotten to know through these posts and who I doubt has any retriever genes in her, loves getting her toys, leash, and harness, as well as my glasses and notebook. None of these things came naturally to her.

She is unlike the retrievers, who seem to recognize a tennis ball as something to chase and return almost from birth. Because fetching and returning with an object was a new idea for her, we spent many enjoyable hours developing a mutually comprehensible language. After a while, Sasha learned that “get it” was a request to approach an object and pick it up in her teeth, but she did not seem to understand what I meant when I said, “Bring it here.” Only when I substituted “come!” for “bring it here!” did she return with the object.

Although what I do with Sasha is typically called “dog training,” I believe that it is a more accurately thought of as a process of mutual learning. She learns to do something in response to my request, and I learn how to language that request so that she can understand it. The process is not especially difficult, but it does take a lot of time, and during that process our bond becomes stronger.

Sasha is currently learning to put her paws into her harness when I lay it out on the floor. She does not take to it naturally. Having mastered the art of picking up various objects in her mouth and carrying them, her inclination is to do the same with the harness. She is far less inclined to place her paws carefully into the two loops of her harness, one for the left paw and one for the right. So, it’s a bit of a challenge. The great thing, however, is that the challenge requires exquisite attention to the subtleties of communication, and that attention further enhances that magical bond between person and dog.

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