One of the most difficult concepts for many of my clients to fully accept, when they have called me out for dogs that are highly strung, hyper-aroused, or suffer anxiety issues, is to cut back on the amount of affection they are giving to their dog, and when they are giving it.
Some dog owners have an overly emotional attachment to their dog, that until pointed out and demonstrated by me, were totally unaware of. The amount of affection and love they were giving to their dog, immensely outweighed the amount of affection they would offer another human being, including other family members. It is important to understand that this type of obsessive and overly dependent behaviour towards our dogs is not natural for them, nor in fact for us humans, no matter how good it makes us feel.
Dogs do not perceive affection the same way humans do. This is even more difficult for many dog owners to accept, more so than admitting that they are overly affectionate and dependant on their dog.
Many dog owners whether it is subconscious or not, can be using their dogs to fulfil some type of emotional void in their life, and this may lead to an overly obsessive and even unhealthy (for the dog) type relationship. It's almost like the giving of affection to a dog and submitting to its demands has become an emotional addiction that many of these dog owners are not even aware of. And even when made aware of it, in some cases these dog owners get angry at me, for having the hide to sugest such a thing when pointing this out to them. Many times I have sat with a client to explain that they are being way overly affectionate with their dog and handing it out to freely, and I can see the anger in their eyes, as if I have just insulted or offended them.
I am of course in no way suggesting that we shouldn't give affection to our dogs. However, in many cases, where dogs have behavioural issues, this affection has been handed out to freely and obsessively, whereby it has become unhealthy for the relationship, and especially for the dog's overall psychological well-being.
Yes, it is so easy to become addicted to what we perceive as affection from our dog. Who else greets us at the door every time we come home, overwhelmed with excitement and apparent love, even if we have only been gone 1 hour? Who else jumps up on our lap as soon as we sit down displaying affectionate behaviour such licking our face? This behaviour from our dog fills our brains with 'feel good' chemicals such as endorphin, oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine. And yes, these feel-good chemicals can be very addictive if we are not careful, especially if our life is not as fulfilled as we would like it to be. This addiction can be no different to cocaine or any other chemical that many become reliant on to 'feel good'.
But how many that allow these behaviours from their dog would put up with this type of behaviour from another human? How many would be overjoyed if family members rushed the door every time they came home, pushing into them, invading their space and demanding undivided attention? How many would enjoy other humans invading their personal space and demanding undivided attention, every time they sat down? Just as these types of behaviours are not healthy for humans and relationships, they are definitely not healthy for our dog, nor our relationship with them. We shouldn't be encouraging these behaviours, not only for the overall well-being of our dog, but also for our own emotional well-being.
Giving affection to our dog should always be seen as a way of rewarding or reinforcing respectful behaviour. It is a way of thanking our dog for respecting us in that moment. Of course we all enjoy our dog showing us affection, especially when we maybe feeling down, or even in a happy moment, but never allow affection to consume your relationship with your dog. It's is not healthy, and is one of the major reasons we have so many unbalanced human and dog relationships. Why dogs suffer from so many behavioural issues, such as insecurity, fear, obsessive compulsive behaviours, overly dependent behaviour, anxiety, separation stress, hyper-arousal issues, and the list goes on.
Maintain a well-balanced relationship with your dog, which must include discipline and then affection. Never hand out affection too freely, just as you wouldn't to another person. You would never hand out affection to a person that wasn't respecting you in that moment, that was invading your personal space and demanding undivided attention, would you? Then expect the same consideration from your dog. Its only when we limit affection and maintain boundaries and rules, that we can gain respect from our dog, and ensure a well balanced dog and relationship. Not unlike relationships we have with family members and other people.