What is love?
Ask virtually any dog-person on earth if they love their dogs and they will, of course, answer YES. Those of us who have been lucky enough to have dogs in our lives know just how truly special our four legged best friends are. It’s basically impossible not to love dogs, unless you’re a cat person YUCK (jokes). Really though, animals are freaking awesome and as human beings we’re freaking lucky to have dogs in our lives. To say we love our dogs might just be an understatement.
Many clients show up at Bevill Dog Behavior and tell us how much they love their dog, and we absolutely believe them. Yet what walks in the door is usually a dog with an abundance of issues ranging from fear and anxiety, to reactivity and aggression. They say hate breeds hate and loves breeds love, so if people love their dogs so much, why are their dogs so messed up?
The answer lies in our idea of what love really means.
We can start by saying that humans and dogs are (obviously) two very different creatures. Dogs have tails and four legs, humans have iPhones and opposable thumbs. Humans shake hands, dogs sniff butts and if things were the other way around... well, let’s just count our blessings. Despite our many differences, humans and dogs have something very much in common: the need to love and be loved. But what that means to humans and dogs is different.
Perhaps you’re familiar with the 1992 book by Gary Chapman, The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate. If you haven’t read it, no worries. The general gist of the book is this: we tend to give love the way we want to receive love. Chapman breaks it down into 5 basic “love languages” which he defines as:
1. Words of affirmation
2. Acts of service
4. Quality Time
5. Physical touch
People are said to have a dominant love language, with some combination of the others. The key to helping dogs be less anxious/fearful/confused is to notice the ways we love our dogs and compare it to the way our dogs need to be loved.
First and foremost you can give your dog all the gifts in the world, and it won’t make them feel loved. You can say a billion words of affirmation, and your dog will have no idea what you’re saying, they don’t speak human. Physical touch can sometimes show love to our dogs, but we need to understand when and why we are petting our dogs (hint-most of the time it’s actually about the humans wants, not the dogs needs). Quality time is important, but as you’ll learn at BDB how we do something is just as important as what we do. Acts of service will mean nothing, and might actually confuse your dog as to what their role is in the relationship. That brings us to the actual point I’ve been trying to make this whole time. There are roles in a human/dog relationship and the best way we can love our dogs is to play our part, so they can play theirs. Put simply: you are the leader, the dog is the follower and to be truly happy in that role they need to trust that you are capable in yours. We show them that by loving them through leadership. Love is leadership. I’ll say it again for the people in back: LOVE IS LEADERSHIP.
Dogs don’t care about presents or fancy toys. Affection and praise given at the wrong time can confuse our dogs. Love isn’t something we buy, it’s not giving our dogs free reign of the house. Love is a verb, it’s action.What dogs really want more than anything on earth, is to feel safe. When they know the leader can take care of them, they can relax. As a leader it’s our responsibility to guide our dogs through the human world. We must fulfill their needs physically and mentally, and give them the skills they need to be successful in the human world.
Show your dog that you are a calm, capable leader, and they will feel loved. Love is leadership.