We all want to know whether our dogs really like us, don’t we? But do you ever wonder whether your dog TRUSTS you?
The two are not intrinsically linked.
You may have a wonderful relationship with your dog but you may still lack trust. Or your dog may trust you in some scenarios but not in others – particularly if they’ve historically had a bad experience that’s left negative associations in their wake.
This is a topic that we discussed recently in my membership group, and it was such an interesting discussion that I decided to dedicate a blog to it!
So if you want to know if your dog trusts you, how to grow your trust, and what to avoid so your trust account doesn’t end up in the red… read on!
Table of Contents
7 surefire signs your dog trusts you
- They choose you (even when other exciting things are around)
- They’ll let you do things they don’t particularly like (like grooming/nail clipping)
- They look to you for reassurance in situations that make them nervous or afraid
- They’ll give stuff back (even if the temptation to steal was too big to resist)
- They respond when you talk to them or call them
- They’re confident you’ve always got their back
- They communicate with you (confident you’ll pay attention)
Everything about our dogs is nuanced, but none more so than the concept of trust and what it means for our relationship with our dogs.
And while there’s not a definitive way to build trust, there are steps we can take to fill up our trust account with our dogs so that if unavoidable situations arise, we’re not damaging our relationship.
1. They choose you (even when other exciting things are around)
If you’re the person your dog chooses to be around, that’s a pretty strong sign that they trust you and enjoy being with you.
Even if your recall isn’t perfect and your dog’s focus isn’t 100% on you, if your dog chooses to check in with you and orients towards you even in the presence of others, they trust you.
2. They’ll let you do things they don’t particularly like (like grooming/nail clipping)
We all have to tolerate or do things we don’t like sometimes, that’s just real life sadly! If your dog doesn’t particularly like having their nails trimmed, ear drops administered or having their eyes cleaned for example, but they allow you to do it without losing the plot… this is trust in action!
There are things we can do to help our dogs feel more comfortable and to build trust that allows us to do things that are dog’s don’t much like but that are essential for their welfare.
The key to this is having enough in your trust bank account that when your dog has to tolerate things they don’t like (for their welfare), they can bounce back from it quickly.
We’ll cover this in more detail further down.
3. They look to you for reassurance in situations that make them nervous or afraid
When your dog is afraid, caught by surprise or unsure, do they look to you for guidance? This is a sign that you’re a safe person that your dog trusts to look after them, especially when they don’t feel confident.
When a loud noise surprises them, a dog they’re unsure about comes near or something catches them off guard – if you’re the person they turn to, your dog knows they can trust in you.
4. They’ll give stuff back (even if the temptation to steal was too big to resist)
Your dog might not have the best impulse control in the world – when that thing they know they’re not allowed is left unattended, they may steal it. But if they give it back when asked, you know they trust you.
This is a biggie and an important area which needs plenty of trust in the bank to ensure things don’t go wrong.
Snatching things or forcibly taking things from your dog’s mouth can quickly put your trust account into overdraft – and get you into very hairy territory.
If you struggle with getting things back from your dog, read my guide on preventing resource guarding in dogs. Take a read and protect your trust and your safety.
5. They respond when you talk to them or call them
I’m not talking about an impressive recall here, although if you’ve mastered that – you can be pretty sure your dog trusts that coming back when called results in happy rewards!
Does your dog respond positively when you call them? Are they quick to look at you and listen when you talk to them? This is a sign that your dog is engaged with you and trusts that when you call – good things happen.
6. They’re confident you’ve always got their back
Whether it’s being around things/people your dog isn’t very keen on or visits to the vet, your dog knows that you’ll always advocate for them and support them.
Our dogs won’t always love everything they come into contact with or gleefully enjoy some of the necessary parts of life – but if your dog feels confident you’ll always look after them, the trust between you is strong.
7. They communicate with you (confident you’ll pay attention)
I’ve saved the best for last! Trust isn’t a one way street – it takes two to develop a relationship where trust can bloom. If your dog is confident about expressing themselves, it’s a sign that you’ve listened to your dog and you welcome their communication.
Dogs are sentient beings who have feelings of their own. And if you’re someone who allows and encourages your dog to communicate with you – you’ll reap the enormous benefit of tremendous trust and understanding.
Does my dog trust me?
You may have read through that list and confidently declared a solid yes to some of the signs and felt a tad deflated if you stumbled across some that don’t hold true for you right now.
It’s really important to realise that trust can be present in some scenarios but not in others. And not all of those things will necessarily have been in your control.
For example, if your dog had a negative experience at the vets or with another dog, it may take time for them to feel confident and able to trust in those environments.
You can rebuild or establish trust in situations where it’s currently weaker than you’d like. Read on for my top tips to help you and your dog grow trust with one another.
Wait… What is trust exactly?
Trust is a belief that someone/something will reliably respond in a way that we expect. Trust is founded on feelings of safety, confidence we won’t be harmed and a feeling that our expectations will be met.
This is true for us as humans, but also for our dogs.
Creating a relationship with your dog where they know what to expect and where they feel safe, are the two founding factors of developing enviable trust with one another.
My 5 top tips for building trust with your dog
1. Learn to understand dog body language (beyond the basics)
Understanding your dog and the very subtle nuances of dog body language makes a BIG difference. When you can see the signs your dog is becoming uncomfortable, scared or unhappy, you can act quickly to advocate for them. This is the fastest way to build trust with your dog.
I really can’t emphasise strongly enough how much you and your dog will benefit from you learning dog body language that goes beyond the obvious tail wags and stress signals.
Seek help from a professional dog trainer who uses positive reinforcement methods for help with this.
2. Allow your dog to communicate (and pay attention!)
Once you have dog body language sussed, you’ll be able to better understand your dog’s communications. We don’t speak the same language – but allowing your dog to express themselves will boost your understanding of them massively.
This doesn’t mean they’ll get their own way all the time. It means that you’ll have a much deeper understanding of what makes them tick and what really doesn’t – which is rocket fuel for supercharging your trust.
3. Acknowledge and respect your dog’s needs
Our dogs have needs – some dictated by what we bred them for and some influenced by their own personalities, likes, and dislikes.
Doing our best to understand what our dog’s wants and needs are and giving them opportunities to fulfil them appropriately, will result in a dog who is happy and content.
Beyond instinctive behaviours, we also need to allow our dog the right to make choices. Their world’s are largely controlled by us, so where we can give them choices, we should!
For example, if your dog wants to lie down alone or in another room – respect that and give them space, rather than trying to cajole them to come and join you.
This respect for their needs and wants will build trust. Your dog will learn that you respect their needs and their choices. And who doesn’t want that in their relationships?
4. Be consistent
Since trust is founded on reliability, creating consistent routines can help your dog understand what to expect – which builds trust.
This doesn’t need to be a strict daily routine where everything is regimented, but mini routines around things you do regularly can help make things predictable for your dog.
For example, you can have a routine you follow for getting your dog ready for a walk, letting them out of the car, for when guests come over, etc.
This helps your dog to understand what to expect, which means they feel better prepared for what comes next.
5. Choose positive reinforcement (and give aversives the elbow)
Positive reinforcement builds trust. Using fear, pain or intimidation destroys trust.
This goes beyond training and reaches into every aspect of your life with your dog. If you want to encourage positive behaviour and grow trust between you and your dog – choose kindness.
While using aversive tools or punishment might appear to give you a quick result, the damage to your relationship, trust and your dog’s predictability will be broken.
The long and short of it is this: trust fuels both your relationship and good behaviour.
Put the effort in and don’t give in to quick fixes – and I know you’ll reap the benefits and feel so proud of the bond you share with your dog.
Whatever else may/may not be on your wishlist when it comes to life with your dog and their behaviour… fundamentally, we all want our dogs to be happy and to know that we have a rock solid relationship.
The fact that you’ve read this far shows how much you care and how much you want to get this right.
To learn more about understanding your dog and supporting them through every life stage, check out my dog development webinar.
Whether you have a puppy, adolescent or adult dog – it’s packed with all the key information you need to make sense of your dog’s behaviour so you can support them and build trust throughout your lives together.