Is your dog part of the family?

As a child, I always gravitated towards animals. I had a massive collection of stuffed cats, dogs, rabbits - you name it, I had it!

I don't know why I felt that gravitational pull towards animals, but I do know being around them made me feel calm, happy and loved. When I was 8, I finally convinced my mom to let me get my own kitten - after a little more work and a few more years practice of begging, my sister, Jennifer, and I had convinced my parents to add rabbits, a turtle, a dog, a baby chick and a horse to our family (I guess we were pretty cute and very persistent :)).

I encountered a lot of heartache during the trial and error process of finding the "perfect family dog". It was through this process that I was inspired to have my own dog one day, one that I would choose how to train, raise with love, allow it to become a part of our family, and most importantly, deal with whatever obstacles came our way - I was determined to never give up again on a dog. 

I sometimes sit and ponder why families, people, couples, decide to get a dog? Is it because they want to be more active, or perhaps they are trying to act as my parents did and appease the children - whatever the reason, I always wonder if they think about this "new dog" as a permanent addition to the family? Because that's what it is. A companion dog, one that is acquired for no other purpose than to bring joy to each other's lives, should be treated as a family member, right? 

I like to observe a lot of human - dog interactions and I can't help but shudder when I see the leash jerks, leash dragging, prong collars, stern/harsh yelling (okay once in a while it may happen, but you know what I'm talking about) and the like. It makes me wonder what happened to that feeling of love and companionship we were originally looking for as owners seeking a family addition? 

Frustration can easily form when we feel we can't communicate with our dogs, or pets, and I think that's where a lot of these harsh interactions develop from. I have been there, I've had my moments, wondering what else can I do to get the response I want from my dog, but here's the catch -- you have to take the time to invest in a healthy relationship. Just like with children, the connection, communication, trust and love are not instant. They're formed over time through positive interactions and exposures. 

If you find yourself frustrated and at a loss with your dog, it would be worth the investment to seek out a professional dog trainer who can help you understand and learn how to communicate with your dog (notice I didn't say "train" your dog, because the process requires both of you to learn, work, reward each other and repeat and build constantly).  

For those of you who already have invested in your relationship with your dog, if you would be so kind to share a story about an obstacle you and your dog were able to conquer together as a team I think that would be a wonderful way to demonstrate the power of love, patience and perseverance when working with our dogs and building a positive, healthy and lifelong relationship with them.

Thank you for reading and sharing your stories, it means a lot to me and hopefully to others who seek the change we have already been so lucky to experience.

"Our dogs are our bridge, our connection to who we really are, and most tellingly, who we want to be..." - Patricia McConnell, excerpt from 'For Love of the Dog'