This post is sponsored by WellPet®, but the content and opinions expressed here are my own.
It’s been just over a year since we brought Maisie home, and as much as I love my big girl, I’d be lying if I said she didn’t throw me a few curveballs those first few months. Never having owned a dog before, I came in a little naive and underprepared. I expected us to instantly click and understand each other, and that was not the case.
Maisie is the sweetest, most loving girl but in true Saint Bernard fashion she can also be hard headed and stubborn. As silly as it sounds, early on those personality traits felt like personal attacks.
Now? We are at a stage where we understand each other and communicate well. Maisie is the best WFH office companion, backyard play pal, and nap buddy. But we didn’t get to where we are now for a lack of trying.
Learning what motivates my dog
The game changer for me was learning what motivates her and how to use that to build our relationship. Like people, dogs have love languages of sorts and Maisie’s is definitely food. Some dogs thrive off praise, playtime, or belly rubs, Maisie loves a good treat.
And let’s be honest, I love giving her treats. There’s nothing quite like seeing her tail start to pick up speed and her entire body start to wiggle when I pull out her favorite biscuits. And her cute little chomps as she’s savoring every last nibble? Heart melting.
With that said, not all treats are created equally. Garrett and I are very careful about everything Maisie eats. We don’t like the idea of some of the ingredients that we’ve seen in popular dog treats
Treats that we can trust
One safe bet? Old Mother Hubbard Treats. Old Mother Hubbard has been around since 1926 and has stood the test of time for a reason. Their ingredient breakdown is full of wholesome ingredients like peanut butter, apples, carrots, eggs, and green tea. It always makes us feel better feeding her treats when we recognize all of the ingredients.
Once we realized how strongly motivated she is by her favorite snacks, establishing mutual respect and communication was a breeze. We use a technique called behavior shaping where if we caught Maisie doing something we like (i.e. playing nicely with our cats or calmly sunbathing in the window), we’d treat her. Sometimes it’s with a little apple slice, a few pieces of kibble, or the Mother Hubbard Extra Tasty Assortment Mini Treats.
And yes, our giant dog loves anything mini. Tiny treats, tiny toys, tiny spaces to squeeze into. We joke that it’s because she was partially raised by her two cat brothers.
Reinforcing positive behaviors
This trick can apply to whatever motivates your dog. See her lying calmly while the neighbors dogs go crazy? Start gushing over your good girl and scratching her behind the ears to reinforce that good behavior.
My favorite behavior to reinforce is calm couch time. Garrett and I love movie nights and after work hangouts in the living room, and when she was little it wasn’t uncommon for her to full-force dive bomb us when we least expected it. Now, whenever she’s calm on the couch I can give her an Old Mother Hubbard Biscuit and reinforce that behavior.
Why it’s so effective
Dogs tend to be people pleasers, and as their owner you’re the person they want to please the most. And as a pup parent, chances are you want to please your dog. Offering treats for positive behaviors is a win-win situation. Your dog will begin to associate those behaviors with their favorite person offering them their favorite Old Mother Hubbard Biscuit, and you get to see your pup’s face light up every time you bring that purple treat bag out.
The more you use this strategy, the more often you pup will spontaneously engage in the behaviors you reinforce, and you’ll have more opportunity to treat your best friend.
What was the game changer in building your relationship with your dog(s)?