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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of yogis, dogs and humans

Connection, as expression of trust, relationship, and finally of the deep attraction, which develops so easily between dogs and their human fellows, stains every single interaction and can be used as a potent reinforcer.

Connection starts with invitation

Connection thrives in the absence of expectations, a precious freedom that fills the space between two beings when there is no agenda, no time limit, no “have to get it done.”

Connection is a dynamic quantity

Connection is a dynamic product of three ingredients: an emotional bond, memory and mental focus.

A deep trust and love for each other

I learnt about connection with my horse Magnum. He was untouchable when he came to us, caught wild, taken to the sales – and ended up with us – because my daughter fell in love with him.

A lesson in connection

At first, it barely made it through the door. But it kept tapping and when I let it in, it had connection written all over it. It surprises me that it is a lesson I need repeated so often.

Feeling comfortable

We take time to train, but how connected are we as their trainer?

What does connection look like?

It comes in many forms. Walking together, sitting quietly together, sharing a mental or physical task. Individuals can be connected without looking at each other; just feeling each other’s presence is perhaps the strongest type of connection. These activities can all be done with or without connection, but with connection they appear fluent.

Connection: A Conversation for Life

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?

Connection is reinforcing

Dogs will often choose how they maintain their connection with you. This connection, the thread that binds the pack, is an invisible and easily dismissible element. Connection is not black and white, it comes in lots of shades of colour and intensity and it is developed between both recipients.

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