Patience, good listening skills, empathy, tolerance, and realistic expectations— these are all skills that make for a good relationship, whether it is with a dog or a person.
In the first chapter and throughout this book, realistic expectations regarding your dog have been emphasized. Whenever your expectations of your dog are not fulfilled, your disappointment and frustration can lead you to dislike your dog. The same is true of human relationships. When a person doesn't live up to someone else's expectations, serious problems develop in the relationship. False expectations can lead you to think that the person or dog is purposely acting in a way to hurt you. The relationship then becomes one of adversaries. The adversarial relationship people develop with their dogs reminds me of the adversarial relationships people have with one another. It may be between marriage partners, between parent and child, or with anybody. Fighting develops. Dogs are punished; people hurt each other. It is impossible to build a good relationship without realistic expectations.
Tolerance is based on realistic expectations. You have to develop a lot of tolerance to live with a dog. He has different needs and priorities. For example, keeping your house clean is not as important to your dog as it is to you. When you own a dog, you have to learn to tolerate having dirt tracked in and hair shedding. Your dog has shown you that in order for him to meet your need for a well-behaved dog, you have to meet his need for exercise. This understanding of needs and priorities is essential for good human relationships, too.
Wrong assumptions regarding the meaning of another's behavior are destructive to good relationships. When you return home to find that your dog has destroyed something in your absence, it is tempting to think that he has done this out of spite. As was discussed in chapter 8, this isn't true; usually destructive chewing is done out of fear of being left alone. Assuming your dog chewed on the woodwork because he resents being left alone is a reflection of feeling guilty about leaving a dog alone. These wrong assumptions can lead to harming your relationship with your dog by inappropriate punishment.
The same thing can happen with wrong assumptions in human relationships. Take, for example, a child who is caught stealing. The parents assume that the child is simply greedy and wants more than he has. The child is punished. However, the real reason for the stealing may have been that the child craves the parents' attention and thinks this is the only way of getting it. The solution to the real problem is more than punishment.
Good communication is the foundation of all good relationships, and listening is the foundation of good communication. Most people talk to their dogs, not because their dogs can understand them, and not because they think their dog is going to offer good advice, but because dogs are such good listeners. They can't talk back, they can't interrupt you, and they can't argue with you. They give you their full attention.
Mutual good listening is true of good dog training and good friendships. You have to "listen" to your dog's body language to train him well. You also have to train him to listen to you. I am fascinated by the similarities between the techniques used to train dogs for obedience competition to ensure they aren't distracted in the ring while performing, and the listening skills taught in marriage improvement seminars. All your relationships would be better if you learned to listen as well as your dog does.
Many people find it easier to develop a good relationship with a dog than with another person. Dogs can't talk back and aren't as judgmental. Training your dog can give you the insight necessary to apply these skills to other areas of your life.
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Fundamentals of Dog and Puppy Training. Although dogs shouldn't be attributed with having human characteristics, they are intelligent enough to be able to understand the concept of, and execute, certain actions that their owners require of them - if these actions are asked in a way that dogs find rewarding.