Dogs enrich our lives in so many ways. They're our playmates during fun times, our companions in lonely times, our comforters in sad times, and our friends all the time. Of course we want to let them know how much they mean to us, but how do you show your dog you love them in ways they understand?
A lot of it has to do with respect and appropriate handling, as dog behavior expert Christina Shusterich, founder of NY Clever K9 Inc, tells Romper.
"Respecting your dog's need to be handled appropriately as an animal is crucial to developing a harmonious and enriching relationship with your dog," she says. "Dogs, like people, have certain ways they enjoy being touched and handled. Also like people, there are certain ways of touching and handling that dogs instinctively find uncomfortable, unpleasant, and threatening."
What we think of as being affectionate to dogs — staring into their eyes, kissing them on the top of the head, hugging, roughhousing, picking them up — can actually be intimidating or frightening to them, Shusterich explains. Owners of small dogs also tend to "move them around like objects," which the pups may tolerate, but don't necessarily enjoy.
What can you do to say "I love you" in a way you know your pooch will understand? Try these expert tips and watch your pet shower you with those slobbery kisses.
1. Keep the praise coming — in a high voice.
"Treats don't make a dog's tail wag," says Shusterich. "You do have to use them for training, but praise is what makes them happy." Hearing "Good boy!" and "What a smart girl!" is music to a dog's ears. "Praise and affection produce enjoyment and happiness," says Shusterich. "In fact, it is so powerful it's a key element in my Total Harmony Dog Transformation (TM) System to eliminate aggression and fear in dogs."
Your tone of voice matters, too. Dogs respond positively to high-pitched human sounds more than to lower ones, according to a study quoted in Barkpost. A lower voice may sound to a dog like a growl or other threatening noise. So when you squeal, "Oooh, aren't you just the best widdle sweetheart!", it may sound silly to the people around you, but to your pet, it's as good as a kiss.
2. Play with them every day.
A game of fetch in the park, jumping through hula hoops at home — any kind of physical activity will give your dog the exercise it needs and the attention from you that it craves. Shusterich suggests giving your dog a puzzle toy that makes the pet work to figure out how to reach the treat inside. "Your dog is often much smarter than you may realize," she says. "Dogs get bored not only physically, but mentally."
3. Teach them new commands.
"Dogs enjoy learning when paired with praise and affection," says Shusterich. "Having a well-trained dog also makes your life easier." She recommends finding an obedience trainer that uses non-coercive methods to teach commands like "sit" and "leave it." "Ultimately, you can have your dog perform a command to get what they need: sitting or lying down before being fed; sit and stay in front of doors; down before getting a new toy, etc."
4. Pet them the right way.
Do you greet pups by petting them on top of their heads? Not a great idea, says Shusterich. Most dogs don't like being touched on their scalps or muzzles. Ditto for bending over dogs to pet them, which can be interpreted as an intimidating move. A better approach: Crouch down to your dog's level and stroke them gently under their chin. The shoulders, back of the neck, and chest are also areas most dogs enjoy being touched.
For dogs you don't know, the best way to introduce yourself (with the owner's okay, of course) is to crouch down at the dog's side with your palm resting on your thigh, recommended PetMD. If the dog approaches you, pet it under the chin; if it leans in, try petting its back and side. Rolling on its back? Don't assume the pup wants a belly rub. In fact, dogs often do this to tell strangers to back off.
5. Know their body language.
"Your dog is constantly communicating to you," says Shusterich. Knowing what your pet is trying to say will go a long way toward maintaining a loving relationship. For instance, we all think of a wagging tail as a sign of happiness, but if that tail is wagging to the left, that can actually mean just the opposite, according to LiveScience. When your dog is really happy to see you, it will wag with its entire rump, and its whole body will be relaxed. Other signs that your pet adores you, per The Dodo: raising its eyebrows at you (a sign of interest); bringing one of its toys to you (time to play!); licking your face (oh, those doggie kisses!); and leaning against your legs (go ahead and lean back).
Dogs also have ways of showing they're stressed: yawning; smacking their lips; hiding; excessively licking their paws. Show that you care by keeping your home environment calm and giving your pup some space. When your pet is ready to interact again, they'll let you know — and be sure to lay on the praise when they do!