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)

(Gottman)

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.

7 Comments

  1. Chris Bond

    Brilliantly said, Julie. This is such a great point: “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.”

    Reply
    • Julie

      Thanks Chris, it can be hard to remember when we are feeling disconnected and desperate to “fix” a “problem”

      Reply
  2. Heather Binns

    Julie – love the sentence ‘Connection is a conversation that builds trust and confidence for life’.!!

    Reply
    • Julie

      Thank you Heather!

      Reply
  3. Iris Maxfield

    I love this part of the quote you added Julie
    “when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgement ”
    That’s so true for all learning, and especially true for those of us that struggle.

    Reply
  4. Julie van Schie

    Good point Iris. It is in the struggle, when it is the hardest, that it becomes the most important thing to remember. I believe too, that we need to remember to remain connected with ourselves – this is often the biggest challenge!

    Reply
  5. Julie

    Good point Iris. It is in the struggle, when it is the hardest, that it becomes the most important thing to remember.

    Reply

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The life of my Time

Time is my ninth generation of collies. He lives for being a collie and all that collies have done for generations – work in partnership and assist in what their Person likes to do. This ranges from collecting sheep off the mountain to toddling round the main ring at Crufts.

Treats for life?

The whole collective of rewards, or reinforcers, serves a purpose of ensuring that the tasks just completed keep getting completed. The task may tolerate a lapse of memory, but you will soon find that door smacked in your face if you stop acknowledging the courtesy offered to you by a stranger, friend or acquaintance.

One day you will love him again

The puppy that you adored, could do no wrong, is now a living horror story. We want to use positive reinforcement, and our mind focuses on the success of what is not happening. But reinforcement attaches itself to something happening, not an absence and cannot select for a multitude of different things that are being reinforced.

Construction or suppression

There are distinctive goals: Continual success, always travelling forwards ~ Each click to represent a moment of joy and not a moment of relief from the anxiety of not understanding. Looking at the way the behaviour is carried out is the most important element, and that is the product of all the considerations.

How do you know what you don’t know?

The age of trusting the professionals is fading fast. I am not sure anymore what exactly is a professional and the difference between genuine, self-styled and fake? With so much information freely available and shared when we open the gate to “looking for a xyz” we are struggling to recognise authenticity from smart marketing.

Which course, which conference?

This is a regular question when mixing with the trainers and professionals of tomorrow. There are more folk wanting to fullfil life goals to work with dogs and their people. Unfortunately the “make money whilst I sleep” crowd are seeding the market who can be parted from their time and money.

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