It’s hard to believe that my girls Ruby and Harley have grown up so fast and are ready to be introduced to their new homes. It seems like yesterday they were just opening their eyes and starting to explore the whelping box. But alas the time has come to introduce Ruby to her special person. I am sure she knew exactly what I was talking about as I explained to her where we were going and why she had to dress up in her vest and best collar and leash. She never even looked back to see if Harley was coming, she seemed to know this was the moment we had trained so hard for.
Her family lives about an hour from our farm and Ruby was as quiet as a church mouse on the whole trip until we got within the last half mile. As we approached her new residence she began to stir, eagerly looking out the window and inhaling all the smells that would soon be very familiar to her. When we arrived she seemed eager to meet her person, but protocol demanded a short walk first to be sure there were no accidents that critical first day in the new place. It didn’t help that it was pouring rain, but when she finished her business it did allow for a nice rub down with a warm towel, something all puppies enjoy. But this time Ruby’s person was rubbing her and she just melted into her lap with a barely audible sigh of contentment. She was in heaven.
I think the bonding between this special service dog and her person began at that moment. Over the next few days I was anxious to see how the matchup between dog and person was going to work out. I got glowing reports on Ruby’s progress as the hours wore on to days. It was clear from Ruby’s actions she was as totally smitten with her person as she was with her new best friend. Why is that bond so important and what exactly is it?
A dog can live with you for their whole life and never bond to you; they exist with you but there is no feeling, no intangible tie between you and the dog. Does that mean the dog won’t work for you and do what you ask? No, it does not. But, what it does mean is that dog may not be as motivated to work for you and depending on the dog and circumstance they could choose not to relay valuable information (such as in the case of an alert dog) or just decide not to help when you need them the most. So for my part as raising and training these special dogs, I have to teach them to trust and bond with people, and then help them to transfer that to their new forever person. But I also have to try and match the personality of the person to that of the dog, so the chances of a successful partnership will be highest. This is not easy and I am always so apprehensive that I have made the correct choice, hence my elation when things work out so well.
This bond plays into the more advance training some of the service dogs receive as well. For example I do not think the Diabetic Alert Dogs would be able to do their remote sensing I wrote about in an earlier blog, without a strong bond to the person. That bond also allows the dog and person to develop their own silent communication, invisible to the rest of the world but crystal clear to the pair. So how do you develop a bond with your dog? For one you must be totally honest with your dog, dogs do not fools suffer lightly. You must open your heart completely, not 98%, it must be 100%. They will give their life for you, their devotion if you earn it will be total, but you won’t get that with less than full and open feelings. The dog also needs to respect and trust you. Both of these come with consistency of your actions, clarity of your intentions, and fairness. If you ever watch dogs play with each other all their games are very fair to everyone involved. Are the things you are asking of your dog fair to them? Do you remember to give you dog a well-deserved break where they can rest and relax a bit? All these things and more help to build a strong bond. A strong bond will ensure you and your dog will have the best of experiences as you journey down road of life.