ClickerSolutions Training Treasures

Technique Challenge: Building a Relationship

As a very general answer I'd say : "Try to become more dog, yourself, and don't expect the dog to become more human", but I'm sure you all know my opinion about that. To become more dog one has to LEARN about dogs; you don't have to re-invent the wheel, there's already so much written. It's only a question of trying to read (and learn) the good stuff. There's plenty of very good articles on this website.

More specific: try to become the CENTRE OF THE WORLD for your dog. That means that one has to be the MOST important "thing" , seen through the eyes of the doggie. The dog should have the experience, as soon as possible, that ALL the GOOD things come from the human partner.(food, drinkwater, play, walks, but even more important: rest, calmness, the right to keep some distance! etc). There is absolutely NO place for a bad experience NO yelling, NO shouting, NO forcing,(not even with the best intentions!), NO punishing, etcetera.

I have quite often to handle dogs that have been "mistreated" and usually these doggies are "fear-aggressive" when you try to force the relationship. TAKE all the time THE DOG needs!! Mostly there's the advise "Take all the time you need", but that's absolutely WRONG. YOU should take all the time THE DOG needs. That's maybe the most important point. Look i.e. how Debi Davis turned a difficult dog into an excellent service-dog, winning one award after the other. I'm sure Debi will agree with me that she took all the time HER DOG needed.

Is your dog scared of you? Keep distance, after a while (can be more than a week) he'll come nearer to you, IF you pretend not too much to worry about that distance. Be calm, don't make too big arm-movements, speak softly, drop some food, etc. The dog has to LEARN to trust you. You have to learn to DESERVE it's faith. Try to understand that - WITHOUT EXCEPTION - errors of the dog are always due to errors of the handler or one of the previous handlers. (No socialization, training errors, bad management, bad bodylanguage, etc)

And to repeat what Bob and Marian Bailey said many times : "BELIEVE".

Jos Lermyte


Hmmmm. Id say POSITIVE training developes a great relationship. Spending time just being with the dog on walks and play. Letting the dog be a dog. Being a good provider for your dog a taking good care of it. Caring for its needs. Emotional and physical. Do things with the dog that they are bred to do. Do things that help to excercise its brain as well as its body. Do things that you know the dog would like not just what you would like.

Claudette Hill
New York


Collect your principles in your mind:

  1. Meet all your dog's real needs;
  2. Do no harm;
  3. Don't rush the training.
  4. Guide the dog through its life, using cues.
  5. Summary: WATCH YOUR DOG. Be aware.

A dog's real needs (anybody else? this is my off-the-cuff list):

  1. Social feedback (includes being a pack member)
  2. Food, shelter, protection from the elements (clothing if needed)
  3. Grooming and medical care
  4. At least adequate physical exercise and rest time
  5. Adequate mental stimulation - and rest time.

To this, you can add reasonable SCHEDULING of meeting the needs.


To "do no harm," you need to learn about dog behavior so you can read a dog well (this can be nearly a life-time project, so do what you can as you go along). Then treat the dog with respect for the nature of the creature.


To succeed with "Don't rush the training," watch the dog, learn how to teach the dog in small increments, step-by-step, and raise your criteria when the dog is between 80% and 95% successful - not before that. Teach in very short sessions, several times a day. Apply this "don't rush" idea to EVERY aspect of your dog's life - and of your own ambitions for training!


Guide your dog by cueing every change of location or activity that in any way affects the dog, including its being left or confined. You can use verbal cues, or body language, or actions you do, to cue the dog about, "Here is where you sleep." "This is where you eat." "Here's where to eliminate." "Now we'll go for a walk!" "This is Mom's work-time; here's your mat; you may rest now." "DINNERTIME!" and "HUMAN dinnertime!" Also, "I'm going to work. Guard the house."

Ceremony and ritual are EXTREMELY effective ways to teach a dog; do repeated tiny games with the dog as adjuncts to changes of location or activity. Doing this makes location or activity changes very salient to the dog. The dog learns what to expect next.

I use this GUIDING instead of "Nothing In Life Is Free," which terminology, I think, confuses humans a lot by putting a skew on the human's perception of the dog as an untrustworthy, even sometimes antagonistic, creature.

There comes a time, dear friends, when we need to TRUST our dogs - but, of course, we have to bring them, through kind and gentle cueing and reinforcing wanted behaviors, to the point where we know how, where, and when, to trust the dog, and when, how and where to HELP the dog, so the dog can trust US.

First: (I put this last as a summary, but it's a precursor to the list of needs):

Watch your dog. Be aware.

(This last, or first, comes from Turid Rugaas.)

Carol Whitney
Sooke, BC, Canada


One thing I would like to add, even though its kind of been said already is, "Always be on the dogs program". This is truely one of the basics in my training programs. It means never go farther or faster than your dog can handle, keep the stress to a minimum. Reading your dog is key. They give you all the answers you need. Structure your training to fit your individual dogs needs.

For example, I am dealing with a friend right now who is a very hard core traditional trainer. She is upset that her 14 m. old Aussie isn't sitting straight at heel. The fact that he is petrified in new surroundings and very worried and anxiuos about new dogs or people is being completely over looked by her. He is obviously very stressed and this is of course not good mentally or physically for this dog. I have tried to explain to her that she needs to get off her program i.e. competition goals, straight sits and such and get onto her dogs program and work on helping him cope with the things that are stressing him, socialize him better and then down the road work on the competition stuff.

I think also that having good relationships with our dogs means putting our human egos aside. How many of you have seen dogs suffer because a humans over inflated ego has gotten in the way of what's right??

Jenn Sacco
Peoria, IL


Here goes a list of what I think has been successful for me with my rescue:

  • T Touch/massage
  • Hand feeding meals
  • Don't be afraid to show the dog you like/love him and find games you and the dog like to play together.
  • Singing to your dog (or reading out loud if you can't stand the sound of your own voice - this is also a great way to get kids more comfortable reading out loud)
  • Take the dog with you whenever you can and include him in family activities.
  • Pay attention to what your dog is trying to tell you and be respectful (probably the hardest and most important thing to learn to do)

Cissy Stamm


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