The Way to a Dog’s heart

By Jon Bastian

It’s Valentine’s Day again, that time of year when couples express their love with hearts, candy and flowers. Since dogs are increasingly part of our families, it’s only natural to want to share our affection with them, too.

Of course, chocolate is bad for your dogs and they won’t have much interest in floral arrangements. But you can certainly make them their own DIY treats, or get them gifts they will appreciate.

The thing to remember, though – and something Cesar teaches constantly – is that it’s not a good idea to give a dog nothing but affection. Dogs live in the moment, so they interpret any positive attention you give them as an approval of the behavior they’re doing at the time. For example, if you try to stop a dog from barking by picking her up and petting her, your dog will see this as a reward for barking…so the problem gets worse.

This doesn’t mean that we can’t let our dogs know we love them. We just have to do it in the right way, and the right way is to fulfill their actual needs, not the needs we imagine them to have. In other words, it’s a lot like keeping a human companion happy!

Remember the personal ad cliché, where one partner seeks another who “likes long walks on the beach”? Well, that ad could’ve been written by your dog, who would much rather share a lengthy walk with you – with or without a beach – than any other gift you could offer. The best way to show your dog that you care is to fulfill his needs by simply walking together.

Dogs need regular exercise to reduce excess energy. The walk does this in a focused way. The end result is that your dog will be much calmer and far less likely to engage in excited or destructive activity. And don’t forget that the walk is good for you, too. Not only can it help you lose weight, but it brings other benefits, like improved mood, making your bones stronger, reducing the risk of chronic disease, and making your memory better. Research shows that people who own dogs and walk them daily weigh ten pounds less on the average than non dog owners. And speaking of Valentine’s Day, regular exercise can improve your love life, so what are you waiting for?

Walking your dog isn’t just about the exercise, though. For your dog, it’s a profound bonding experience between the two of you. By making sure that she stays right next to or just behind you, you’re teaching her to look to you as the head of the pack. This will help your dog feel safe, secure, and confident, which can reduce behaviors like fearfulness, aggression and separation anxiety.

Finally, if you live in a neighborhood with a lot of other regular dog walkers, walking together can help socialize your dog with other canines and humans, by making them a normal part of your daily routine.

And if you don’t happen to have someone to call your Valentine at the moment, walking your dog or taking her to the dog park can be a great way to meet that special someone. According to a study by Purina, six out of ten people say they find a person with a dog to be more attractive, and 54% of people say their dog is an instant conversation starter. Bonus points: that new someone you meet will be a dog person, too.

Besides the walk, another way to show your dog you care is to teach him tricks in exchange for treats. Remember, though, that treats don’t just mean snacks. Just like humans, dogs are all motivated by different things. Some will work for food, while others will do anything for a favorite toy or for a pat on the head and praise. Learn what will really make your dog happy first, and then bring on the training.

Intelligent, sensitive, and intensely perceptive of our moods, dogs love nothing more than to please us. If you’ve ever taught a dog a trick, you’ve witnessed the pride they take in showing off what they can do. They really are a lot like human kids in that regard. On top of that, certain breeds, particularly working dogs, need jobs to do in order to feel fulfilled. Never feel like you’re punishing your dogs by asking them to learn things and follow commands, because it’s exactly the opposite. Every new challenge they overcome builds confidence, and from confidence springs contentment.

It’s nice to be able to share special occasions like holidays with our loved ones, including the four-legged variety, but it’s important to remember that what humans need from us and what dogs need from us can be very different things. Showing your dog you care in the ways that really matter to him is the best way to a loving and balanced relationship with your best friend – on Valentine’s Day and year round.

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