Throughout this series, we’ve been throwing around the word trust like a pinball. Getting the dog to trust you is, after all, the cornerstone of rescue. So maybe it’s time to talk about what trust means to a dog—and how you go about getting into their good, trusting, graces.
Dogs are, by nature (and by human domestication) not leaders but followers. They don’t want the Alpha role—and they’ll take it on only when they have no choice. Which is often the case on the street: through abandonment or abuse, a street dog’s covenant with humanity has been broken, and so they’ve had to rely on themselves to survive. But, at the core of every dog, is a nugget of instinct and desire to find safety—in the form of a pack, and a strong leader.
That means you.
Humans, being the clueless idiots we are, tend to equate leadership with loudness, strong personality, even violence. Dogs, being so much more intelligent than us, see this for the bullying it is—and the weakness it exhibits. For a dog to sense you as a leader, you’ll need to show four things:
You can’t be nervous. You can’t be excited. You can’t be angry, or sad, or frustrated. Okay, let me rephrase: you can be any of these things, but you can’t let them control you. If you’re not in control of your emotions, how could you ever be in control of the pack? Get in touch with your Zen. Breathe.
Assertiveness isn’t dominance. It’s not a “my way or the highway” thing; your way is the highway—to safety, to a happy ending for the dog. Believe it, and the dog will believe it, too.
Don’t just look at the dog; see him/her. Observe their attitude, their body language. Seek to understand them, and—more importantly—their needs. Establish a line of communication, but not of the here boy kind; your body speaks volumes, much louder, and more effective than any words. Avoid looking them straight in the eye; dogs read eye contact as aggression. Don’t move so fast; give them time to get used to you, to read you, to understand what you want. Bring your hands in from below, never from above. Always keep whatever you’re offering—food, your hand, a leash—under their nose. (Remember the Botched post?)
Use your body language to make it clear you understand what they’re saying to you (I’m afraid, I don’t know what you want), that you respect that, and that you have something important of your own to say (I’m here to help, You don’t have to be alone anymore).
Dogs can read you better than a gypsy palm reader at a state fair. (I mentioned that in the Food post—oh, by the way, remember that awesome video of the two-dog rescue on that post? it’s gone now, sadly…) Dogs sense ulterior motives, so honesty really is your best policy. Keep your bag of tricks, such as traps, for the very last of recourses—and prepare yourself: you’ll have a hell of a time gaining that dog’s trust afterwards.
Balance, assertiveness, respect, and honesty. The Trust Quadre.
Thank you so much for the visit! Tomorrow, Sunday, some of us are getting together to try to bring in a group of dogs wandering around Curaçao's World Trade Center. Wish us luck, please... I don't know these dogs, and I'm hoping they're not too skittish, but... well. Luck always comes in handy :)
Have a wonderful day off, A2Z-ers! See you Monday—for the last week of the Challenge! (Phew. Like Jeffrey Scott said at the beginning of this week, when it's over I think I'll sleep for a whole week :D )