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Building a good relationship with your dog

We all enjoy spending time with our dogs, but we can run into problems if they become too dependent on us. Especially, if they get human attention 'on tap' when they're with us. While you can spend as much time as you like interacting with your dog, there are some simple rules you can follow if you want a calm, well-behaved pet.

terrier cross breed being cuddled by woman outside © RSPCA

You decide when to give your dog attention - not them!

It's up to you to decide when you want to talk, pet or play with your dog. Give them attention whenever you like, except for when they're demanding it. Don't talk, pet, play or even look at your dog if they demand attention from you.

Remember, by giving your dog attention, you're rewarding whatever they're doing at the time. Unless you want a dog that jumps up or nudges your elbow, ignore these behaviours. Instead, teach your dog that sitting quietly is the best way to get your attention!

However, don't just ignore your dog, as it's just as important to teach them what does work to get your attention!

You decide when the attention stops

You decide when you want to stop talking, petting or playing with your dog. Give a signal that you wish to stop - say a word such as 'finish' or 'enough'. You should then ignore them until they settle down. Always use the same word, so your dog learns its meaning.

Don't reward unhealthy behaviour when you come home

When you come home, only say hello if your dog is quiet. If your dog is excited or greets you over-enthusiastically, ignore them until they settle and then say hello.

Help build your dog's confidence

If your dog is worried about something and you always respond by giving them attention, they may become anxious when they're left alone. Not giving your dog attention 'on tap', whenever they ask for it, will help ensure that they're confident on their own when you're not around to reassure them.

By following these rules, you can make sure all interactions with your dog are positive and consistent. At the same time, ensuring your dog doesn't become too dependent on you.

With acknowledgements to Dr Rachel Casey, Dr Emily Blackwell and Dr John Bradshaw. Read more about our expert contributors.

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