When people say “my dog and I need each other,” or “we can’t do anything without each other,” it might seem sweet and innocent at first, but this mentality of codependency can create major problems for you and your dog. These problems might display themselves as resource guarding the owner or having extreme separation anxiety. No owner intends to make their dog guarded or nervous. We understand that the bond between a dog and its owner is special and often these issues begin from a place of love.
As you know, dogs are pack animals. They thrive in a group and crave companionship both with people and other animals. Even the most “anti-social” dog doesn’t want to be completely alone. It’s not natural to them. Since we know that our dogs need companionship, we as their owners must know how to comfort and build up our dogs, especially in situations that could be scary or anxiety-inducing.
For example, when a child trips on the playground they typically look up for confirmation of how they’re supposed to respond. If the parent is calm and reassuring, most of the time they jump up and are fine. However, if the parent runs over panicking that cues the child into the fact that something must be wrong, and they will typically cry and have a more exaggerated response.
The same is true with our dogs. This doesn’t mean that you can’t ever coddle your pup. We all love to baby our dogs every now and then, but we want to be intentional in our relationship with our dogs so that we can avoid that codependency. The way we teach our dogs to be more independent is by training coping techniques, impulse control, and good decision-making.
I like to use the phrase co-INdependency over codependency. Co-INdependency allows us to build confidence in our dogs, have a better relationship with our dogs, and have a healthier mindset toward our pets. We want to have a close relationship, but we want that relationship to be beneficial and sustainable for everyone involved.
For example, by training impulse control in your dog, you’re enabling your dog to make good decisions. When your dog makes good decisions it builds trust between you and your dog. Trust is the root of all relationships. I haven’t always been able to trust my dog Lewis, and we’ve had to work on his impulse control and build that trust from the ground up.
My dog Lewis loves people. Anytime we walked past someone he would pull towards them, jump on them, and sometimes completely stop listening to me in order to get to them. I love that he loves people, but he had to learn to listen to me even when whatever he wanted to get to is really exciting. I had to put a boundary in place that didn’t allow him to greet everybody he came in contact with. Then we intentionally trained impulse control so that he would still listen to me even in exciting situations and now he’s much more calm and obedient around most people.
Do I want my dog to be able to do all the fun things? Yes! But, is it okay for them to pull me down, jump on people, or exhibit other undesirable behaviors? No! Through training, we want to create a dog that is obedient and loves to do what you ask them to do! I want to see my dog be co-INdependent. Instead of having to constantly tell him “no,” “uhuh,” or “stop,” I want him to make good decisions on his own.
This kind of co-INdependency looks like your dog looking back at you and essentially asking “hey can I go see that person?” and us being able to intervene and say yes or no. This is structure. This allows us to have a dog with a personality who is also a good citizen that people like to be around. It also allows us to have an even deeper connection with our dog than more codependent interactions would. Can I do most things without my dog? Yeah of course, but do I want to do most things without my dog? No. I’d love to have them with me to experience life with.
So, even though it’s more difficult and time-consuming, let’s put in the effort to make our dogs responsible, confident, trustworthy dogs that are capable all on their own but desire to be a part of our pack. Let’s create healthy co-INdependency vs unhealthy codependency!