All relationships have big and little moments. It’s easy to think that it’s the big things like anniversaries, vacations, funerals, graduations, etc. that create closeness and have a huge impact. While those things are important, I think it’s often the smaller day-to-day shared experiences, like watching sunset or playing a game together that can, over time, create equally meaningful memories. Strengthen our bonds with each other.
It won’t come as much of a surprise to you that I think having a good relationship with your dog rests on many of the same building blocks that underpin a good marriage or a good friendship. Dogs are sentient beings. They are smart, sensitive, compassionate, and loyal. Aren’t those the qualities that we value in a spouse or a friend? Don’t we want to get to know them better? To strengthen our bond with the dog with whom we share over a decade of life in the same house?
I’ve never understood the people who think that the way to have a relationship with a dog is to dominate them; make sure they always do as they’re commanded; make sure that they “know their place.” My dog’s place is in my heart. As a beloved companion. Trusted friend. Source of love. Wise advisor. Fun playmate.
So how do we cultivate a beautiful and respectful relationship with our pups? I would suggest to you that it’s probably not all that different than the way you nurture your children, your marriage, and your friendships with people. While I’m not a psychologist or sociologist, in my reading, I’ve gathered that this notion of the small things being big things is, well, a thing!
Performing small gestures may be beneficial to a relationship because these behaviors are rich with communication and convey so much. Breaking this down a bit, doing something kind, or thoughtful, even if small:
- Communicates respect for your partner.
- Conveys that your partner has put forth effort. This only strengthens feeling secure in the relationship.
- Tells you that your partner is listening.
If you’ve lived with your dog for some time, you know the sign that they are hungry, need to go outside, are itching for a walk, what treats they prefer, and where they want to sleep at night. They just want to be with you most of the time, just hanging out. Maybe you watch TV together. Hopefully you go for walks or have play time together. What about telling them that they’re a very good boy or girl when they make a good decision, or doling out their favorite treat as a reward for that good behavior?
Now scroll up and check that list! Each of those small things that you do is communicating respect for your dog. You’re putting forth effort. You’re letting your pup know that you’re listening to them. It feels awfully good to me when someone listens to me, hears what I need. I bet it feels good to you, too. I can promise you that it also feels good to your dog.
I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t get your pup a steak for their birthday! Take them to a fabulous new place! Plan a special day! But I am suggesting that those big things don’t outweigh all the thousands of small things that you do – or don’t do – for and with your pup every day or every week. If you ask your dog, I bet you’d find that they would trade that steak or that big event for more of your everyday attention and affection in a heartbeat.
I’m writing about this subject today because I’m feeling distant from Beau lately. I feel like I’ve lost some of that magical connection that we’ve had since I adopted him two years ago. I’ve had to travel in the last few weeks (unlike the COVID years) so he’s spent quite a bit of time at sleep away camp. He loves it there. He gets to play with dogs all day. But when I’m away, we’re not doing our daily walks, snuggling at night, and playing ball. He’s not getting fed when he goes and lays down in his spot on the dining room rug where he can see his bowl, which is his quiet way of saying that he’s hungry. He gets fed at camp when it’s time for dinner! I’ll be home for a while now so I’m very focused on not only resuming our routine, but letting him know that I see him. I’m paying attention. As much as he’d love a good steak, I know in my heart that he’d rather have me here every day doing nothing and snuggling at night.
It’s a crazy life for so many of us. We’re all busy. We’re all stressed. This is a gentle reminder not to overlook nurturing your relationship with your dog. It’s good for them and it’s good for us. It pays great dividends of the heart for us all.