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Bourne animal behaviour expert Karen Wild on smart steps to take in dog care

We are known as a nation of animal lovers, but isn’t this a ‘low-bar’ basic expectation? Kindness, especially to animals, shouldn’t be something expect people to be proud of - rather it should be the norm. Even so, we could always learn more about how we can do more for our pets. After all, we chose them to come and live with us and we need to learn how to be together.

I was watching ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ (the ballroom dancing show) at the weekend. It occurred to me that this is a really popular show about two people working together to learn how to work in harmony. So, why not apply this to how we interact with our dogs? We could imagine that dogs are our dance partners in the grand ballroom of life. Grasping the intricacies of their signals and body language is the first step!

Just as humans appreciate personal space, our canine friends do too. Allow them to approach at their own pace, avoiding abrupt moves. It's akin to a well-choreographed dance, where watching your steps and respecting their space creates a back and forth connection.

Karen Wild
Karen Wild

Each dog has its unique set of needs, much like steps in a dance routine. As with all learning, begin with the basics – always ask before offering a treat, a polite move in canine etiquette. When a dog is on a lead, maintaining a respectful distance from others means your dog won’t be tempted to jump up, much like a smooth dance move that respects the partner's personal space. We can’t have all our dancers crashing into each other on the dance floor, and dogs and people shouldn’t all collide in the street.

Friendly greetings, when they are invited of course, are critical. A slow approach, avoiding direct eye contact, allowing the other to gently sniff – it's a doggy way of saying hello. Some dogs simply don’t want to engage, and that’s fine too. The gracefulness of such greetings mirrors the elegance of a Strictly Come Dancing waltz.

I noticed on Strictly that partners allow someone to lift them all over the place! This isn’t something any dog would particularly love, so don’t do this. However, the humans trust one another enough to allow this to happen. Building trust with your canine companion is similar, although the actions might be more about allowing petting, or going running together.. Consistency in your actions, much like the reliable steps in a dance, helps dogs feel secure.

And what happens when it’s time to take a bow or curtsey? Positive reinforcement, be it treats or encouraging words, serves as the applause in this delightful dance, reinforcing the very best in your dog-human partnership. So, next time you are watching Strictly, take a peep at your snoozing pooch at your side. What moves could you take to make things win the elusive score of 10?

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