­­­­­My guilty pleasure is horse podcasts.  A common topic of conversation is the elusive connection between horse and rider. This is true in dog too. Ask any dog handler doing well at their chosen event, and they will tell you it’s all about the connection. Because after all the skills have been trained, what sets you and your dog up for true success and makes your performance really sing is that intangible thing: Connection.

As always, I see a direct connection to my pet dog training clients.  When clients ask for help with a recall or door manners or loose leash walking.  I know that they are really after a better connection. People don’t seem to see anything they do with their pet dogs as performance.  I am here to tell you that life is a performance! I mean, didn’t Shakespeare tell us “all the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players?”  Imagine if you will, that every walk, every trip to the bank or a friend’s house is the ring.  And in order to get the skills needed, people need to take care of that thing we call connection.  After all, that’s why I made it one of the three C’s of being a Clever Owner.

How do you create a culture of connection with your pet dog?

Do things together:
Keep taking classes and go to seminars. The team that learns together stays together. There are more dog seminars and classes going on than you think. Even if you are not working on the things in the class, take a class. Just going to class once a week and spending time together is a big deal.  Do a dog sport like low-key style. I have two suggestions for this:  My favorite sport for pet owners to try is Nosework. Believe me, you can do this sport low-key.  You can just do drop-in weekend classes, or have a friend set hides for you once a week and then buy them a coffee. Another way you can keep learning is to check out Fenzi TEAM titles.  You can work with a local trainer on these skills, or join the online community and work towards your title while never having to leave the house.

I cannot overstate the importance of play.  My favorite thing is getting on the floor and getting silly.  I let my dog lead the way.  Sometimes we fake face wrestle, sometimes I pretend die and he gets to be the big bad predator he thinks he is, and sometimes he just leans his head into me and wants neck rubs.  Either way, I ask him every so often if he is still into it.  Especially when I have my hands on him; I take them off and let him tell me if he’s still into it.  If you want to learn more about the power of play, check out Dr. Amy Cook’s work at playwaydogs.com.  She also teaches on Fenzi.

Practice Mindful Training:
Get in the zone together.  Let time stand still and focus on a shared task.  Mindfulness is sometimes also described as being in the zone, or a feeling of flow.  When you are deep in a training loop with your best friend and the world around you fades away, that is connection.  If you have ever played a team sport, you know the special connection you and your teammates have.  It’s because for a time you all shared a flow.  You can have that with your dog too.

It’s a current buzzword of modern training.  The basic “Get Outside” mantra. Nature heals. So, heal together. Going out to the woods or even an open field and walking your dog off lead or on a long line and letting them have some “dog time” is great for them, but sharing that experience is where the truth lies. Get a thermos of pumpkin spice latte or whatever you drink and take in the autumn air together. Do some Shinrin-Yoku  or “Forest Bathing” together.  Or head to the beach if you have one. Explore together. You can learn more about Decompression walking from Cog Dog Radio.

Date your dog:
Take it on the road. Sometimes I pack a lunch, my dog, and a book, and head out for the day. We drive one or two towns over and walk through local shops; often bookstores will allow well-behaved dogs. Remember, the bookstore is your show ring, so show off those skills. Then get a table at an outside café; read and chill together.  They can be some of the best days and they are what I will have with me long after my dog is gone. Make some memories together.

Daily reconnection:
Self care is something I try to work into my daily life. I do a face mask, I take a bath.  You do you. But what about your dog’s daily care?  I see my nightly “pet the dog on the couch time” as his chance for some light massage and contact comfort for both of us.  Take an online course in dog massage or find a local skilled canine massage therapist and ask them to teach you how to pet your dog with intention.

This can lean right into husbandry training.  Every day Jonny hops onto his grooming table and I take literally two minutes — even if it’s just to run my hands over him and give him some treats. If I need to brush him or work on a mat in his hair, this is when I would do it.  It is part of his daily routine. It allows me to build trust around touching his body.  As he ages, this might mean I will have to add wound care, or ear or eye meds to this routine. But guess what? That will be easy to add in, because we will have a baseline of trust to begin with.

And don’t forget that daily dose of play.