Whole Dog Journal's Blog June 23, 2015

Let’s Talk About Our Relationship

Posted at 08:22AM - Comments: (17)

Have you ever met a dog who is fun, smart, and friendly - but who seemed to have no real interest in humans, or at least, you in particular? Perhaps this sort of dog is right for some occupations, and perfect for some people, but for me, a dog with “affiliative” behaviors is a must. I like dogs who like people!

Nancy and Otto

I’m not alone, either. When I help someone find and select a new dog for his or her family, I ask them to write a list of attributes that they really want in a dog, things they would like to have (but aren’t deal-breakers), and things they really do not want. If their lists look thin, I ask them questions to try to spark a little more discrimination. My motivation is simple: If they are going to commit the next 10 to 15 years of sharing their lives with this dog, it should be a good fit. Nine times out of 10, what most “pet dog” people want is a dog who behaves as though he likes them, and wants to be with them. If a dog can make a person feel cared for, or as is they are being paid attention to, the person can often overlook a LOT of other behavioral or health deficiencies in the dog.

However, I’ve found that it’s not all that common to find dogs who have an overabundance of this trait – and it’s a shame, because if they need to be rehomed, the trait can literally save their lives. It’s a fact that shelter and rescue workers are attracted to and work a lot harder for dogs who behave as if they LOVE people. And really, why wouldn’t we? They are easier to place than any other type of dog.

This is another reason why I like and promote training methods that are based on positive reinforcement: they really help puppies and young dogs form positive associations with humans. And in the end, for most of us who truly love dogs, it really is all about our relationship with our dogs. Trying to re-home a dog who naturally behaves as if he loves people is a million times easier than trying to find a home for one who is scared and distrustful of humans - or even one who seems friendly, but who has no special affinity for people, other than as bringers of food and throwers of balls. The kind of dog who wants nothing more than to climb into almost anyone’s lap and spend the rest of the day there – truly affiliative dogs – are like gold coins, welcome everywhere.



Comments (17)

Actually, in the three years I spent with either a Humane Society or a Rescue, I concentrated on the "problem children". I knew the friendly, outgoing dogs would get adopted, so I worked most with the ones that were shy, emotionally damaged, or had trust issues. I'm proud to say I helped turn a lot of them around and saw them get adopted.

No longer in dog rescue, I'm still taking care of animals as the resident caretaker on an animal sanctuary with 50 horses, 7 burros, 29 sheep, 2 goats, 3 pigs, and 4 dogs.

Posted by: Ex_East_Coaster | May 13, 2016 7:28 PM    Report this comment

One of my dogs, a sheltie-beagle mix now 15-years-old, has never had much use for me. She's always been an independent sort despite training with positive reinforcement for obedience and agility. She has earned a few titles but, overall, she has never cared about teamwork, cooperation, or partnering with me. I have other dogs who are very connected so it's not that I'm doing something horribly wrong. Now, at 15, I think she is in the early stages of Canine Cognitive Decline. When I ask her to do something, she gives me a look that appears to be one of disdain. She no longer listens to my cue words; she chooses to spend most days outside in my fully fenced yard. I've never been one to let my dogs hang out outside unsupervised, but this is how this gal is happiest. I've tried my hardest, but this seems to be who she is. It must be in her genes.

Posted by: maygrelle | May 13, 2016 9:35 AM    Report this comment

Oh, Yes. I have a dog like this now. Milly, the Speagle (CockerXBeagle). Pretty, cute, smart, but a dogs' dog. She was my sister's dog and my B-I-L didn't like her, she didn't bond with my sister and she was spooked by people.
I was used to 'people dogs' -- German Shepherds and Kelpies who would far and away any day be with their own person, and strange dogs had better keep well clear of them.
Milly is more of a problem for me on walks, she MUST be on lead ( I have a special long one so she can investigate and adjust her own pace) and she WILL go up uninvited to any dog we pass. I am perpetually apologising to others, yet all dogs seem good with her -- even those who have a bad reputation.
O the other and I DO get to talk to other dogs owners when I have Milly with me :-) Not my choice and not a mix I would recommend -- even though, now after I've had her for two years, she IS beginning to bond, in her own inimitable way :-)

Posted by: Jenny H | May 12, 2016 11:18 PM    Report this comment

Why do we as humans think we know best? I have learned more about love and kindness from my labrador puppy Frank, and my two beautiful cats, Happycat and LilyBug, since my husband died suddenly on our living room floor in Feb. 2016. We have much to learn from non-human mammals, about love, compassion and trust. They have taught me more about how to mourn with dignity than any of these two legged mammals who supposedly cared about my husband, and me. In my experience, humans are fake, and four legged mammals speak the truth. I'm very fortunate to have some true friends to rely on, most of us do not.

Posted by: alison.bane2@gmail.com | May 12, 2016 4:05 PM    Report this comment

Good article. Four years ago I took in a 9 year old doberman, needing rehomed due to a divorce situation. Very confident, smart, and great temperament dog (gets along with ALL animals), no signs of any abuse or neglect. However, with dobie's reputation as velcro dogs, I was intrigued to find him so uninterested in much attention. Clicker training does engage him well and if I really work at it, I can get him into a game of tug, but otherwise he's pretty much like a nice roommate that does his own thing and takes over the couch (wink). He always greets me happily at the door when I come home, but after a 5 second hello, he's back to doing his own thing. It took some getting used to, but sometimes I think it's worked out very well. With my increasingly busy work schedule, it's kind of nice to have a dog who is not too needy. However, I can see where a dog like this would not be right for many people who want a best friend instead of a roommate.

Posted by: wrk | May 12, 2016 11:22 AM    Report this comment

I have not historically had really outgoing dogs before Gabe, our red and white border collie. My previous pets had been more bonded to just one or two people and happy with that interaction. Gabe loves everyone - but especially children and teenagers - and has enabled me to be a bit more outgoing as well, particularly in having to explain his very "un-border collie-like" behavior to strangers. He cannot wait to meet new friends by dropping his frisbee at their feet in an invitation to play. It is amazing how our dogs can modify OUR behavior!

Posted by: Robin Chaffey | May 12, 2016 10:24 AM    Report this comment

I am loving reading these wonderful, thoughtful comments. It takes all kinds (dogs and people) to make the world go 'round, and love and patience can work miracles and bring out the best in all of us.

Posted by: hg | May 12, 2016 10:02 AM    Report this comment

I think it is also possible to overlook a potentially wonderful companion unless circumstances are taken into account, along with how those circumstances may impact the dog in question. Neither of my current dogs showed interest in me initially, but both would love nothing more to climb on just about anyone's lap now (despite being a little bigger than lap-dog-size...& they don't seem to believe that both at once really isn't a great idea...) One was in a shelter environment and had lost faith in people after coming from a violent household. She was miserable and had shut down, so she simply hid from view in her pen and showed no desire in interacting. Once in a safe, loving environment, she quickly demonstrated her true nature; she absolutely adores people and lives for pats. She's now a therapy dog and thrives on the human interaction she receives through this work. The latest addition to my family was in foster care and I first met him at an off-lead dog park. He is built to run.....and run is exactly what he did. The entire time we were there. He had been denied one of his greatest desires for too long so to judge his interaction with people at that point in time would have been unfair. He's since proven himself to be an incredibly affectionate boy, who gives THE best doggie cuddles imaginable. So, while I agree that dogs who demonstrate a desire to be with people upfront are undoubtedly easier to rehome, I would personally never overlook a gentle dog who may simply need an opportunity to demonstrate their affection and who may possibly be one of the best companions anyone could ask for.

Posted by: Kirbtam | June 26, 2015 10:06 AM    Report this comment

After studying attachment issues in people, I've realized that attachment/bonding with our animals follows a similar path. When that trust/bonding is broken, some animals have a harder time than others re-learning that trust with people - especially when there is trauma/abuse. Some are able to heal and move forward, others heal, but in their own way and at their own pacing. It takes loving and patient people to teach them to trust again, but especially to not expect a magic button or a quick fix. Bless all those who work with them!

Posted by: Wee Ella | June 24, 2015 7:03 AM    Report this comment

I work with American Eskimo Rescue. Eskies are beautiful dogs, but often appear standoffish, as they tend to bond tightly with one person. Sometimes that bonding takes a while, because with eskies, trust needs to develop first. I think it's important to recognize that breed characteristics, along with individual personalities (like we all have), come into play here. I am an introvert by nature. I see many, if not most eskies who subscribe to that same type of personality. It's important to incorporate our own personalities and expectations into our choices for canine family members.

Posted by: deezee123 | June 23, 2015 4:42 PM    Report this comment

Know this is about dogs, but I would like to talk about barn cats or abused cats. Lisa Lisa was very abused and would only look at the wall. Took her home anyway, put her in my office with cat litter potty. water and food. Never tried to pick her up, talk to her,etc. One day noticed that almost two inches of hair missing from base of tail. Into two months,she approached, but still maintained my aloofness. Into two and half months,she jumped into my lap, then spoke softly a few words, still not touching. Four months began rubbing her head on me,while on my lap. Did speak a few words, and several days later petted her head. She stayed on my lap and went to sleep. Month later she allowed me to pick her up and cuddle. A few days later gave her total freedom of upstairs, while bring up one of my dogs up to condition her and dogs to each other. All went very well. Forgot to mention when she had freedom of upstairs she cuddled me, while dogs slept at my feet. She became one of the best animals in world. Took another two years for her to accept men and children, husband she loved from get go. She slept in my arms for ten years, even waking me so she could change positions. Had same experience with a barn cat. The Stockholm syndrome worked. That is where I got the idea.

Posted by: ldj | June 23, 2015 4:00 PM    Report this comment









Posted by: LADY CAT | June 23, 2015 1:09 PM    Report this comment

It's hard work. Even for hard core dog lovers. Many people would give up on this kind of dog. Of my last 7 dogs, 4 were found dogs mutts (3 siblings), 2 were purebred pups siblings, and one is a shelter dog - a runaway mutt about 10 months old. I never had any problems bonding with siblings, but the shelter dog has taken everything I got. I picked her at the shelter, because that's the dog my mutt wanted after his two sisters died. At first I wondered if she even liked me. She'd get spooked and no longer recognize me. She'd shut down in agility even though she's clearly built for that activity. I began to wonder if a shelter dog was such a good idea - maybe I should just find abandoned dogs like before. It's been 8 years and just yesterday she got spooked on a walk. It's all about her comfort level. I stayed at novice agility level for 4 years because I refused to correct a mistake on field. And revelled in her happy face when she ran, regardless of Q. Now if she gets injured she comes running to me. Massive progress! But whatever it is that made her seem stand off-ish hasn't completely disappeared. It's very hard work to help this kind of dog.

Posted by: SundogsHawaii | June 23, 2015 12:52 PM    Report this comment

Here is another reason to watch out for---our own hesitation or issues. I adopted my current dog Andy at a shelter because he was calm and appraising and played with toys on his own. He was not a dog rushing the kennel gate. At first I said he was a bit reserved, but I came to know the truth. I was a bit reserved with him at first because I was still grieving the loss of one of the best German Shepherds I have ever had. I deliberately took a turn with a 40lb mixed breed dog, (although black and red, ha ha) rather than a Shepherd. Andy the intelligent rapscallion has become one of the most loving, sweet family dogs and is now a certified therapy dog. So, we have to think about our own reactions and prejudices sometimes.

Posted by: Clare/YAY dog! | June 23, 2015 11:19 AM    Report this comment

Almost all dogs will bond to someone if given enough love and time. We who love dogs have more patience than those who just tolerate them for one reason or another. It is up to us to teach our dogs to "love" other people that we introduce them to. It only takes a short time if your dog already loves you.

When I first got my chiweenie, (Chihuahua and Dachshund) she was tiny and I was afraid my roommate's Pit mix would hurt her and wouldn't leave them together for any length of time even under supervision. But with people, she was allowed to play with anyone. She learned to love all people but not all dogs. Now she barks first at all big dogs and only plays with dogs her own size.
That suits me just fine because big dogs scare me even if I know they are trained.

Posted by: Lingsmom | June 23, 2015 10:56 AM    Report this comment

While I think its great that Shelter and rescue workers can pick out the most loving dogs and easily rehome them, What about dogs like Dobermans? They're almost always standoffish with humans. It's difficult for them to warm up to many, but when they do bond, they're inseparable. If a person asked a rescue worker for this type of trait I hope they be pointed in the right direction.

Posted by: jkj92200 | June 23, 2015 10:40 AM    Report this comment

I realize that we all want our dogs to like us! But I think so many times, when an animal - dogs or horses or other animals have had bad experiences or no caring experience with humans - they tend to be standoffish - not want to be touched, etc. My experience with this attitude was with horses, rather than dogs. The barn where I first boarded my horse was a hack stable - horses were coming & going a lot of the time. Like some dogs in shelters - these horses were very hesitant to warm up to humans. To make a long story short - with enough attention & care, they would come around. I enjoy & agree with your posts. But there are a lot of animals out there - who have had bad experiences with people -and will hold back from contact. (not fearful or aggressive, but just "wait & see" kind of attitude).

Posted by: chicorey | June 23, 2015 9:15 AM    Report this comment

New to Whole Dog Journal? Register for Free!

Already Registered?
Log In