One of the most heartfelt stories about a special bond between a dog and his owner is that of Hachiko, a Japanese Akita, and his owner, Eizaburo Ueno, a professor at the University of Tokyo. A bronze statue of the dog stands near the Shibuya Station in Tokyo where the dog waited for Eizaburo every morning and afternoon for nine years.
His owner had followed the same routine every day – he left for work by train each morning and returned later in the day. One fatal day Eizaburo passed away suddenly at work and did not return on the afternoon train. Hachi continued his daily vigil at the station until his own death almost 10 years later. Hachi was adored by his owner and the bond they formed in their two years together was unbreakable.
As dog owners we can learn from this story and aim to strengthen the bonds we share with our own pets. Strong bonds are forged when we dedicate time to our pets. Some dogs form an unbreakable bond with one human during their lifetime, others share bonds with different family members or handlers over different periods.
Often in human relationships, you can get to know someone so well that you understand them, know their likes and dislikes, and on a deeper level can pick up on their moods without conversation. Spending quality time with your dog is the best way to get to know him better. Once you have established a connection, you need to reinforce it throughout the dog’s life.
Daily walks, dog sports, grooming sessions and physical touch through stroking or petting can help strengthen the bond. When you do spend time with your dog, be present and mindful, not rushed or worried about work or your next chores. Getting to know your dog better can help you find fun and beneficial ways to spend more time with him and work on problem areas.
What should you know about your dog?
- How much physical activity he requires.
- The types of activities he enjoys and those he dislikes.
- His favourite treats and toys.
- His general likes and dislikes.
- Signs that he is tired, ill or in pain.
- When he needs some space.
Get to know him better
If there are still areas where you are not sure of your dog’s preferences, there are a number of ways to get to know him better.
* Research his breed. Prospective dog parents are encouraged to carefully consider specific breed traits when choosing a breed that is right for their home and family. Certain breeds require more exercise than others, some are more prone to various illnesses or have natural instincts for certain behaviours. Once you have your dog, you should continue learning about the breed to ensure that your dog is happy and thriving.
Understanding how and why your dog reacts in certain situations can be beneficial in finding good solutions to problems. Your dog’s reaction or behaviour may be a natural trait of his breed, but you can provide a positive outlet for the behaviour. For example, Basset Hounds are known for ‘following their noses’ and you are not likely to change this natural behaviour, but you may decide to join a tracking class to provide stimulation for your dog in a safe area.
With mutts, innate behaviour can be more difficult to pinpoint. Even if your dog looks exactly like a particular breed, he may have none of the common traits. As with any dog, traits and characteristics can be unique, so as the pet owner, you need to learn to read your dog’s cues.
* Experiment with new objects and experiences to learn more about his likes and dislikes. It is always important to teach and introduce your puppy to as many new things as possible during the important socialisation phase, between four and 16 weeks of age. You can also introduce new objects, games and experiences to older dogs, but you need to take things slow and keep it positive and fun. If your dog doesn’t enjoy something, don’t force it.
- Introduce a fun new toy and teach him how to use it. For example, if you’ve never used a Kong, stuff it with some treats and see how he reacts. Even if your dog shows little interest in toys, you can pique his attention with something new.
- Introduce a new treat for training. Consider some homemade dog treats and experiment with the recipes to include safe and healthy foods he enjoys.
- Invite a friend and their dog over for a playdate and introduce the dogs to each other. Both dogs must be properly socialised and comfortable meeting strange dogs before you attempt this.
- Take your dog with you on holiday. If you live inland, take him to the beach for the first time, or try boating on a lake close to home. Remember to use a doggie lifejacket for safety.
* Teach him something new. This could be simple, like teaching him how to ‘give paw’, or something more complex, like fetching your slippers. There is no such thing as ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’ – if yours is an older dog, you’ll need to put in extra effort and patience, but it can be done!
Dogs who like to play react positively to toys. If you currently use food as a reward, you can introduce other types of rewards, like toys and affection. Purchase a fun new toy and keep it for a specific training session. Some dogs have more toy drive than others, particularly those in the working and sporting breeds.
Hand feeding is a great way to build trust, teach your dog to use a soft mouth when taking food out of your hand, or when you need your dog to focus on you. Get a handful of kibbles. Sit down with your dog in front of you and hand-feed him one kibble at time. Teach him to take the kibble out of your hand gently. Give a command like ‘nicely’ or ‘be gentle’. If he takes the kibble too roughly, say ‘ouch’ and take your hand away. When the kibble is finished, show your empty hands and say ‘done’. Keep initial sessions short and always positive.
* Learn something new together. Learning together can help to build trust and patience. You can start obedience classes, or consider a sporting discipline or a different sport if you already take part in one discipline. Research various activities and find one that matches your dog’s activity needs and your own preferences. The activity must be something you will both enjoy. You can start by teaching him to sit by watching the video at www.animaltalk.co.za/sit. Or go to page 90 for a few game ideas.
* Learn more about dog body language. These are physical signs your dog uses to convey messages to other dogs and to you. By learning more about these signs you’ll be able to understand what your dog is trying to say and even pick up very subtle clues as you get to know him better.