In the busy-ness of life connection can be the last thing considered. Living with a dog is about developing a relationship and all successful relationships are based on connection.
So just what is connection and why is it important?
Brene Brown defines connection as:
… the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.
Connection is a feeling we all recognise but is very difficult to define or quantify. It can be fleeting, or a lifelong affair. We seek it because it builds relationships and allows us to enjoy life with our dogs.
Dr John Gottman, Professor Emeritus of Psychology, researcher into marriage stability and the predictors of divorce, coined the phrase “emotional bids”. A bid can be anything that says, “I want to connect with you”, from a smile, a touch, a word, to a night out. The amount of times a partner recognises and responds to these bids can predict the success or failure of a marriage.
Turning towards a bid is as simple as returning a smile, providing a touch, anything that acknowledges that a bid for emotional connection has been made. This tells the bidder that:
~ I’m interested in you
~ I hear you
~ I understand you or would like to
~ I’m on your side
~ I’d like to help you (whether I can or not)
~ I’d like to be with you (whether I can or not)
~ I accept you (even if I don’t accept all your behaviour)
This is what I want my dogs to know. This is what connection is.
Our dogs give emotional bids all the time: a gentle nose prod, the twitching tip of a tail, a long, lush “I Love you” stretch, or the more obvious tail wag, push against you and licking. Responding to these bids fulfils important emotional needs, providing an in the moment conversation and strengthening the relationship.
Some dogs eagerly ask for and turn towards our bids. Others keep their distance, rarely seeking affection and seem entirely self-contained. This can challenge our expectations and therefore connection. We must become subtle observers and responders, truly learning to listen before talking. Connecting with a reserved dog can bring intense and special pleasures often only enjoyed by a select few.
Connection is built through thoughtful communication, a conversation that develops over time.
It is listening without interrupting and building a common language.
It is respecting the need to be alone and recognising time for attention.
It is reading subtle body cues which hint at emotional states.
It is knowing when you don’t understand and seeking more information.
It is allowing space to be who you are and pursue your own interests.
It is being comfortable with each other, enjoying shared pursuits and “choosing to be together because that is the best place to be.” (Kay Laurence)
Both humans and dogs share the desire for emotional connection and the conversation that nurtures it. We may want the dog to listen without interrupting while we walk down a crowded street, and he may need us to see and understand when he is feeling afraid.
Whether we are selecting equipment, deciding where they sleep, walking together or choosing training methodology, connection must be the heart around which everything else revolves.
Connection is a conversation that builds trust and confidence for life.