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5 ways to build trust with your dog

Getting a new dog is an exciting time in anyone’s life, but also a slightly apprehensive one. It’s important that the dog looks up to you as his master and learns to trust you – but how do you achieve this?

Below are five ways in which you can build trust with your dog. Bear in mind that trust is a two-way street – you need to trust your dog too.

Obedience training

Obedience training is one of the first ways that you can build trust with your dog. It is an important learning curve for both you and your dog, particularly if you have a puppy or perhaps a rescue dog with no prior training. Teaching your dog basic skills such as walking beside you on the leash without pulling, sitting on command, and how to play fetch will allow a bond of understanding to pass between you. The dog will be calmer and more content knowing how to behave in a way that pleases you and they will strive to do so in order to make you happy.

For a recently acquired dog, obedience training helps you and the dog to become more accustomed to each other as you spend time working together in close proximity. As you get to know each other, you will both start to trust each other more.

Experience the world together

Allowing your dog to experience different situations than what they are used to is a fantastic way to build trust. Try to take them out to places that they haven’t been before, where they will encounter things that might be a bit strange to them. Examples include parks, bar gardens, car trips, public transport, rivers, beaches, and on holiday with you.

You will need a certain level of trust and obedience from your dog before it is appropriate to bring them to a strange environment. You need to feel confident that the dog won’t become overwhelmed, which may cause them to be frightened, bark excessively, or show signs of aggression (usually through fear).

In a new environment, it is your job to provide reassurance to your dog that they are safe. This will help you to build a deep level of trust, as the dog understands that these new sights and smells won’t hurt him. Be calm and patient, particularly if your dog seems unsure of something. For example, if they don’t like water, they might not want to cross a stream or go paddling in the sea, but after some encouragement and watching you perform the activity and enjoy it, they may be tempted to join in. If your dog really doesn’t want to interact with something, don’t force it. You can always come back and try again another day.

Avoid forceful punishment

If you want your dog to trust you, they need to see you as their master, but also as someone who they are safe to be around. If you regularly shout at your dog or physically abuse them (smacking, kicking, yanking the leash) if they misbehave, they will start to associate you with pain and misery rather than love and trust. This can cause irreparable damage to the relationship that you have with your dog and can lead to the dog showing signs of aggression or fear. Instead, use rewards based training to maintain positive reinforcement when the dog does something “good” and issue clear, firm (but not angry) verbal cues if they do something wrong.

Agility training

Agility training gives the dog mental and physical stimulation that can be an enjoyable experience for both the dog and owner. Try to find a local agility training centre in your area or a park that has dog agility equipment available for hire.

At first, your dog will probably be afraid of the equipment, especially things like tunnels (too dark!) or ramps (too high!). Gradually encourage the dog to sniff at and walk on the equipment, one piece at a time. If they really don’t want to do something – don’t force them. Move on to the next task.

It can help to hold a treat out in front of the dog’s nose to “guide” them along a particular piece of equipment. Chances are, they will be so focused on the food that they don’t notice they are walking over a tall ramp, going over a jump, or weaving through a line of poles.

After a few attempts with the treat, you should be able to just hold your hand in front of the dog and they will follow you. Be sure to give them a big fuss and positive reinforcement if they complete an activity without the use of a treat.

Eventually the dog will trust you enough that they will complete the course without the need to follow your hand at all – just a quick wave or point in the desired direction should be enough.

Remember not to work your dog too hard though, especially in the beginning. Agility training needs to be fun and enjoyable for the dog. If they get too tired or start to get distracted, give them a break or go home for the day.

Groom your dog regularly

Grooming is a very close and personal experience that can really enhance the bond that you share with your dog. It means that the dog gets one-on-one attention from you, where you are showing them constant attention. Try grooming your dog for 30 minutes every evening before bed or when you get back from a walk. Show affection to them while you are doing it by rubbing their tummy, scratching behind their ears, and petting them.

If you have a dog that doesn’t particularly like being groomed, be patient and calm with them – don’t shout at them if they are wriggling and trying to get away from you. Instead, use this as a training exercise and gradually build up the length of time of grooming sessions, starting at just a couple of minutes. The more the dog learns that grooming isn’t something to be afraid of and is actually quite enjoyable, the more they will learn to trust you for giving them the positive experience.

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