The Human/Animal Bond
As defined by the American Veterinary Medical Association:
The human-animal bond is a mutually beneficial and dynamic relationship between people and other animals that is influenced by behaviors that are essential to the health and well being of both. This includes, but is not limited to, emotional, psychological, and physical interactions of people, other animals, and the environment.
My relationships with the 8 Guide Dogs that I have thus far in my life have taught me the essence of the human-animal bond in practical real-life terms. In fact, my experience with my Guide Dog Roselle transcended everyday life experience into the realm of true courage and even heroism. What was it based on? What was the secret? One word: Teamwork!
One of my teaching topics is designed to encourage pet owners, helping them transform their relationships with their dogs into successful, lasting partnerships. These insights apply not only to dog training but to team-building and business management as well.
July 2008 Interview on the Human-Animal Bond
I: What is the essence of a successful human-animal bond as it applies to everyday pet owners?
MH: Teamwork. You must view having a dog as a real life relationship. If you do so, owning a pet can be more fulfilling than you might have imagined.
American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) says more than 57% of all households have a pet. Many dog owners act irresponsibly concerning pet ownership, resulting in broken relationships, crowded shelters and animals unnecessarily euthanized.
I: What makes you uniquely qualified to teach others on this subject?
MH: As a blind person, I depend on my dog…..in fact, as you know, my Guide Dog Roselle saved my life. Many people who have heard me speak tell me that the story of my partnership with Roselle is one of the most moving and inspiring stories of true heroism that they’ve ever heard.
I: Why do you refer to pet dogs as “partners”?
MH: They can live as life partners. If you treat them as a partner, colleague, member of the family with rules and responsibilities they act the part. Even so, because dogs act more like children, you must take leadership role. It is up to the dog owner to bring out the best in their pet. We should have control. Guide dogs aren’t the only dogs that can be “amazing”.
I: How do you go about establishing a relationship with a dog? Is that really possible in the way most of us think of having a relationship?
MH: You can have true relationship with a dog if you set rules and boundaries. Be consistent. Set the tone. Show the same unconditional love to the dog you expect from it. Build two-way trust. Dogs want these things from us: Love, friendship, security, respect, boundaries.
Teams have leaders and members. You must be the leader, but respect the positions of the others on the team including dogs. Expect the same from dogs in your family as humans as far as it goes. But don’t forget the important distinction: Don’t treat dogs as human – they’re not. The main concept we teach at Guide Dogs for the Blind and other schools is team building. Everything stems from that.
Roselle told me it was safe to evacuate according to procedure. I worked to keep her focused, respected the team’s need for her to do her job.
I: Naturally, people respect the work of service animals, and are maybe even envious when they see their excellent behavior. Is it possible to apply the type of team relationship that blind people have with their guide dogs to regular pet owners and their pets?
MH: Each member of the team has a job to do. This understanding is essential to the training of owner and pet. The relationship begins with owner.
The worst thing that a dog owner can do is to be inconsistent or to expect a pet to act “human”. Pets are not human. We can have interrelationship, but we are not the same.
I: This resonates with some of the principles demonstrated on the “Dog Whisperer” where so many behavior problems stem from people trying to turn their dogs into humans or worse yet, children.
MH: Dogs look to us. They love unconditionally, but trust must be earned both ways. We can become better dog-owners, spouses, parents and managers by learning and applying unconditional love.
People can learn a lot about teamwork and effective management by understanding the human-animal bond. To put it simply: Establish roles. Establish rules. Reward good behavior. Do not over react to bad behavior. Develop trust based on mutual respect.
Don’t forget: Learn to “Sit” and “Stay!” Dog training is a fascinating discipline that can be taught. Resources are available at your local humane society.