Lost in translation: how to say "I love you" in your dog's language.

As Valentines Day creeps closer, it has me thinking about the various ways that humans show love to the people in their lives.

Verbally expressing that love, physical affection through kissing, hugging, or snuggling, or 'spoiling' them with gifts, to name a few.

I find that too often we attempt to show affection to our canine companions in a similar fashion, and these expressions are often missing the mark.

While we usually mean well, the fact remains that dogs are not humans and do not communicate the same way that we do.

Not only do interactions such as hugging our dogs or kissing them on the muzzle translate poorly from human to dog lingo, they can cause our dogs significant stress. Dogs don't speak English, so when they tell us "no" it is portrayed via body language such as avoidance, freezing, mouthing, growling, snarling, snapping or biting.

So how can you show your dog you love them in a language they understand and appreciate?

Share your time with them

You don't have to be interacting with or touching your dog to spend quality time with them; just being with your dog can be enough.

Include your dog in your day, even if his role is small. Let your dog be co-pilot for your trip to the grocery store, or bring him with you on the short walk to the mailbox.

I have a dog bed set up in my office so that my dog can choose to rest in the same space as me while I work, which he often does.

Respect their space

Can you say without a shred of doubt that your dog enjoys your hugs and kisses? In reality, most dogs might tolerate this contact, but don't enjoy it. Do your dog a favor and educate yourself on canine body language and scale back on the smooches.

Try to limit the number of times you pick your dog up (yes, even your Teacup Chihuahua) to situations where it is absolutely necessary.

It's time to stop 'forcing' animals to cuddle with us because that's what we want.

I like to cuddle with my dog too, but if that's not his thing why should I (or would I) ask him to comply?

You know the old saying "let sleeping dogs lie?" Dog beds and resting places should be off limits - yes, even to you. Respect their space and expect others to as well.

Your dog will let you know if they are interested in a cuddle.

Find ways to enrich their lives.

Look for safe, appropriate outlets for their normal canine behaviors and allow them to rehearse these regularly. After all, you have a dog, and dogs like to do....well, dog stuff. That might include barking, digging, chewing, and sniffing (so much sniffing!)

  • Take your dog on a car ride and roll down the window so they can experience new smells.

  • Go on a long walk in a new area.

  • If your dog likes to chew things, provide them plenty of options to sink their teeth into.

  • Build a sandbox in your yard so your pooch can dig until his heart is content.

  • Find outlets for their natural (and normal) desire to chase things and scavenge for food.

Train using force-free, science based methods

Just because punishment based training works, doesn't mean you should employ these techniques. Science has proven that punishment has massive fall out associated with it, including damaging our relationship with our dog and increasing aggressive behavior.

We have more humane, effective training options out there that there really is no reason to revert back to old ways.

When we know better, we can do better, so take the time to educate yourself on force-free training. When done humanely, training can be a great way to develop your bond with your dog and provide mental enrichment.

Do your dog the service of interviewing any dog professionals that you allow to work with them, from trainers and groomers to their veterinary care team, to ensure these individuals are also employing humane handling.

Have realistic expectations for your dog.

Take the time to learn about the dog in front of your and who they are.

Don't take your Beagle to go on a walk and expect them not to smell things, and don't act surprised when your Border Collie aspires to chase things that move.

Check your expectations and make sure they align with the dog in front of you.

Allow them to have a choice.

Our dogs have so little say about what goes on in their lives. Let's change that today.

  • Let your dog pick which way to go on their walk.

  • Let them stop to sniff until they are satisfied, even if it takes several minutes for them to gather all their information.

  • Let your dog vote with their paws by incorporating consent and cooperation into husbandry care, such as nail trims, and grooming.

Ensure that your dog does indeed want to participate in training, or whatever else you're doing with them.

If your dog is not willingly participating in training or husbandry, I would encourage you to investigate why.

Review the tools and methods you are employing to ensure they are not aversive to your learner.

Treat them with kindness

This point may seem redundant, but I think it's an important one to repeat.

Dogs were not placed on this Earth to be robots, or do things because we told them to.

Dogs are living, breathing, creatures, and like every other living, breathing creature on this beautiful Planet, deserve to be treated with kindness and compassion.

Treat your dog with the respect and humanity that you expect others will treat you with. It's the very least that we can do for them.

How are you going to say "I love you" to your dog today?

Happy Clicking,


Vanessa Charbonneau, is the author of Dog Care for Puppies: A guide to Feeding, Playing, Grooming and Behavior. She owns Sit Pretty Pet Services, employing force-free training techniques to work with companion dogs and their owners. Charbonneau lives in Prince George, BC with her husband, two daughters, and one dog.

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