An Offer They Can’t Refuse

toddler feeding treats to a cocker spaniel and small black dogWhen we meet a dog, especially a dog in a shelter or in the rehoming process somewhere, the first piece of information we need to give them is why they should engage with us. Most of us, dog lovers that we are, would never say to the dog, “Because I said so!” when it came to the reason they should pay attention to us. But in effect that’s what we often do. We approach, we pet, we clip a leash on their collar and however gently we do it, make them attend to us.

Our intentions are good. We have time constraints. We think “dogs like me.” It’s for their own good. But none of these are necessarily reason enough for a dog. Especially a stressed-out dog. Erasing first impressions is tough, if not impossible. There are some dogs who it would appear are able to hold onto that first impression for years.

We may be limited in what we can offer a dog, but fortunately for us what is usually most effective is readily available to us–food. We have to start someplace and pairing our appearance or handling of a dog with steak can create a powerful and long-lasting positive emotional response. We know we are more than just vending machines and that there are other things in life that we’ll be able to provide a dog with at different times that food will pale in comparison to– running, playing, tugging, herding, sniffing, exploring, snuggling on the couch–the list goes on, but it’s not a bad or ignoble start.



1 comment so far

  1. Karen Wylie on

    Reblogged this on Learning With Dogs and commented:
    Thank you Debbie! As I go about my volunteer duties at the shelter, I think of these things every day as I meet new incoming dogs. I’m always wondering to myself, “Why should this dog work with me?, and What can I do to earn this dog’s respect?” Food definitely helps, as it chinks away at their fear barriers, but our body language is equally important. I try hard not to appear threatening, I give them space, and I never force myself into a dog’s kennel if their own body language is saying “I don’t know you, I don;t know who you are or what you’re going to do to me”. In those situations I just spend time in the same room maybe attending to other dog’s in other kennels, and let them watch me. Then I can see the furrows in their brows disappear, their mouths ease out a bit, and their tension wash out of their bodies. Even then, I’ll choose to not approach them again until some hours or days later. Many new incoming shelter dogs need time to adjust to their new and stressful worlds. If they need time to start trusting me, then time is what they’ll get from me. It’s the least I can do for them. I love your blogs Debbie, you always have so much good to say, and so much empathy to give.

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