Get Connected With Your Dog

By Tracy Libby

Get Connected With Your Dog

When Victoria Craig adopted her dog Weaver, the 18-month-old, black-and-white border collie had already developed a host of obsessive-compulsive behaviors. Highly reactive with zero impulse control, Weaver would go into a spinning frenzy whenever something as seemingly insignificant as a person walking across a room disrupted his usual routine.

On the positive side, it was clear Weaver was a smart, sensitive and loving dog. “I thought he was gorgeous and could see such potential in him,” says Craig, who lives in River Glade, New Brunswick, Canada. “But he hardly noticed me at all, even when I was trying my best to interact with him. He refused my treats and looked away each time I tried to talk to him.” Traditional training methods produced some results, but it was professional dog trainer Brenda Aloff’s Get Connected training philosophy that put Craig and her collie on the path to developing a strong and stable relationship.

The Get Connected Philosophy
Aloff’s training method, which is detailed in her book Get Connected With Your Dog: Emphasizing the Relationship While Training Your Dog (Dogwise Publishing 2008), promotes improved communication. “Get Connected is a program I developed to help humans understand dogs and help dogs understand their humans,” explains Aloff. “Better communication, mutual understanding and clear interactions always enhance a relationship, and this is what Get Connected is all about.”

Tapping Into the Magic Switch
Getting connected helps you find what Aloff refers to as the “magic switch.” This is a doggie state of awareness that’s at the heart of why canines do what they do, according to Aloff. When Weaver goes from calm to manic in a nanosecond, it is just reacting instinctively. Dogs in this mental state are so hyped up, they can’t think as they normally would. They are not in a state of mind to learn or comprehend anything, even a relatively simple command, such as “Come,” “Stay” or “No barking.”

When dogs are in a more conscious frame of mind, and not merely acting on instinct, they can learn. Understanding the different emotional states, and which one your dog is in at any given moment, is an important part of getting connected. Grasping this concept improves your awareness of your dog, and an improved awareness can help you teach your dog how to switch from an aroused state to thinking and responding logically. Doing so, however, requires a mini-primer on the basic ins and outs of canine communication.

Decoding Canine Body Language
Dogs are savvy communicators and rely heavily upon body language to tell you what they are thinking and feeling. The placement of your dog’s head, ears, eyes and tail will tell you if it is relaxed, stressed, frightened, curious, eager to play or getting ready to bite. Here are a few common cues you are likely to see your dog displaying:

  • If its ears are up, its eyes are bright, and its tail is wagging, this usually means “I’m happy” or “Come on -- let’s play.”
  • If its ears are back, its lips are curled, and its tail is down, it usually indicates anger, fear, or stress. The dog is likely saying, “Stay back and leave me alone,” or, “Pull on my tail one more time and you’ll be sorry.”
  • If your dog is sniffing the ground, it could just be exploring an enticing smell or looking for a place to relieve itself, but dogs also sniff the ground when they are worried or ill at ease, explains Aloff. A dog that’s doing this may be telling another approaching dog, “I see you. Calm down. I’m minding my own business. I don’t want any trouble.”
  • Panting, yawning or drooling can sometimes indicate stress that, depending on your dog’s temperament, can be triggered by unfamiliar surroundings, isolation, crowds, strange or loud noises, other animals or your demeanor. 

Mind Your Own Body Language
Dogs have the uncanny ability to zero in on your body language, too. What you say verbally, and what your body language says visually, can send conflicting messages to your dog. The slightest shift in your breathing can tell your dog if you are nervous, happy, angry or worried. How your dog behaves is a direct reflection of what your body language tells it. By projecting a calm demeanor -- controlling your breathing, body posture, tone of voice -- you can calm your frightened or nervous dog. In the dog’s mind, it is thinking, “My owner is calm. She has everything under control. I do not need to worry.” On the other hand, if you are anxious or apprehensive, your nervous dog will sense this, and it will become even more nervous.

Analyzing Your Dog’s Personality
Figuring out your dog’s individual personality will help you to improve the human-canine relationship by fostering a better understanding between yourself and your dog. Is your pet pushy, bossy, cheeky, nervous, anxious, bold, confident, dominant or aggressive? “If I am sweet and overly tolerant with a strong, assertive dog, he will take advantage of me,” explains Aloff. “If I come on too strong with a timid dog, I will frighten him.” Either way, misjudging your dog’s personality can interfere with the learning process.

Be Consistent With Expectations
Dogs can’t understand the rules if the rules keep changing. If your dog is allowed on the couch every day of the week and then gets yelled at when he jumps on the couch with dirty feet, this is an unrealistic expectation that confuses your dog and derails the human-canine relationship. He doesn’t know that having dirty feet should pose a problem.

With their own communication system, dogs learn differently than humans do. Aloff hopes owners can “close the gap between what they intend their dogs to learn and what the dog actually learns.” In doing so, it becomes much easier for you to integrate dog training into your daily routine. In return, your dog will be better-behaved and more likely to be included in your family and friends’ day-to-day activities. Owners are happy. Dogs are happy. Everyone wins, because a well-trained dog means the human-canine possibilities are endless.

Dog and Owner Success
Admittedly, results didn’t happen overnight for Craig and her hyped-up border collie. Success came through gradual steps over time. After several months, Weaver began to trust his new owner. He stopped biting. He began to relax and enjoy himself. There were numerous setbacks, but nearly three years after the manic border collie’s rescue, Craig and Weaver are competing and winning in agility competitions at a national level.

“Brenda’s Get Connected protocol changed our lives,” says Craig. “Weaver now enjoys being touched. He is more focused, less reactive, better able to concentrate and is a much happier dog. Looking back, I am amazed we have come this far. We are definitely more of a team now.”

Tracy Libby has authored six books about dogs, including Building Blocks for Performance (Alpine 2002). She exhibits Australian shepherds in obedience and conformation and also shares her home with six cats.


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Posted on July 16, 2008

THEO says: I FOUND MY DOG POQUITO THREE YEARS AGO IN THE BLEAK MEXICAN SORNIAN DESERT. HE WAS ABOUT 4 MONTH OLD AND NEARLY HAIRLESS AND STARVING TO DEATH. HE HAD GONE THRU A GREAT DEAL OF SUFFERING. IT IS BELIEVED BY VARIED US VET THAT HE HAS WILD DOG IN HIM AND ACTS LIKE A DINGO IN SOME RESPECTS. I GOT HIM ACROSS THE BOARDED...SO .MUCH FOR THE US BOARDER PATROL. I THOUGHT HE WAS GOING TO BE LITTLE...THUS HIS NAME. HE IS ABOUT 60 LBS AND IS BEAUTIFUL. MAYBE HE IS NOT BEAUTIFUL BUT TO ME HE IS AND HE THINKS I AM BEAUTIFUL. HE WAS A HARD DOG TO TRAIN BUT CONTINUAL EFFORT PAID OFF. I KNOW ABOUT THE EARS AND TAIL ETC. BUT THE EYES ARE ESPECIALLY IMPORTANT TO TELL ME WHAT HE IS THINKING. AND HE RESPONDS TO MY BODY LANGUAGE. I AM ALPHA WITH HIM AND HE IS ALPHA WITH ME, BUT I AM GREEK AND I ALWAYS WIN. HE IS HARD TO CONTROL BUT HE IS LOVED WITH INTENSITY AND THAT IS WHY IS GETS BETTER ALL THE TIME. I AM OLD NOW AND HE WILL BE MY LAST DOG AND HE MAKES OLD AGE WONDERFUL HE IS GOD'S GIFT TO ME AND I AM GOD'S GIFT TO HIM.

Posted on August 6, 2008

Sarah Macdonald says: I LOVE my dog,Marshal.he is the cutest black lab/blue tick hound.we've had him about 3 or 4 years.he has big brown eyes,sliky black fur.and a white stripe on his torso.WE L-O-V-E HIM!!! he is fun to cuddle.I L-O-V-E HIM!!! HE IS MY BEST FRIEND!

Posted on August 20, 2008

tammy says: Help! I have a sheltie mixed shitzu and he is a RUNNER! I have tried everything making weird sounds to draw his attention chasing after him, beckoning him with a treat he is 10 years old I inherited him from my neighbor when she died 2 years ago and he did the same thing with her RUN! He bolts out the door whenever he gets a chance. How can I stop him of this.

Posted on September 30, 2008

Joe S. says: My dog is too connected with people and it's really embarrassing. I know that dog's can be drawn to someone's crotch but my dog is addicted. How do you stop a dog from doing this? I frequently take my dog w/ me to church and he can't stop sniffing around people's personal space in my pew. Frankly, it's not the time nor the place for this activity. I have to take Brandy to my son's upcoming swim meet and I'm nervous. Please help....

Posted on January 19, 2011

Sharon Lesner says: I think Brenda Aloff is an effective writer. I love her books. Her understanding of dogs and her ability to communicate her knowledge is great. 

Posted on July 2, 2008

Tyanna says: your pug is cutie

Posted on July 15, 2008

Allan Johnson says: Looking at the pug reminded me of our "Charlie". She would be obstinate, disobedient, she even pooped in my shoe. Went to the obedience class, waste of time, been there done that got the tee shirt and worn it out. She made me look inexperienced and inept as she went through the courses by memory. But I taught the Lab/Collie mix to retrieve her when she wouldn't come.

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