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‘Follow me’: forging a strong bond with your puppy

The ‘follow me’ activity consists of simply walking with your puppy off leash then changing direction as soon as she walks over ten meters away from you. Instinctively, your puppy will resume her walk in your direction, because her instinct drives her to stay close and to follow her ‘reference’ person. We therefore make good use of an opportunity that is temporarily open to us to forge a strong bond with our puppy and lay the best foundations for a relationship based on simplicity and complicity. Going for a walk together allows us to build the relationship on mutual trust and respect. If one changes direction, the other pays attention to it and follows. If one stops, the other pays attention to it, slows down or stops as well. As when walking with a very good friend whom we talk to about everything, to whom we don’t need to say anything. If our dog stops to analyse a particularly interesting scent, let’s stop as well and wait for her, in the same way as we would like her to slow down and stay close if we stop to contemplate some beautiful scenery. With her sense of smell, our puppy (and every dog in general) gets every single shade of every ‘colour’ in her environment: let her enjoy it, as we ourselves enjoy being surrounded by the beauty of a rainbow or a sunset.

Let’s make the most of those few minutes spent each day with our puppy in an atmosphere of simplicity and without any gadgets, to understand how our body language is perceived by our dog: is she receptive to our body movements, or particularly attentive to our face, or our feet? How does she react when we abruptly change direction? Does she get excited, or confused? Does she jump, move more quickly, or does she move away from us, does she follow as she usually does? What happens when we hurry up? Or when we walk extremely slowly? And what about our facial expressions? Is our puppy more enthusiastic when we praise her with a smile on our face or with a frown, or are those facial expressions too much for her, making her jump, fiddle about, or opt for displacement behaviour? Let’s play with all this and understand all the messages we can send to our dog, with our whole body. By doing this, not only do we learn to understand the impact of our body language and our movements on our dog, we also learn to comprehend the messages our dog is giving us. And it is from this exchange of messages and mutual understanding that a beautiful relationship will emerge. Let’s make the most of this activity to understand what it’s like to be in our puppy’s paws.

How does she perceive the world? What’s important to her? What is of interest to her? And how does she show it? Is it with a raised paw, ears or body tensed forward, or with an intense look? Is she quickly distracted or worried by a change in her environment? And how does she react to it? Does she turn on us to see our reaction, does she come back to us, tail between her legs, does she lunge forward to get closer and interact with the source of the change? How does she react to our hand signal? Does it help her calm down or is she insensitive to it? And does it help her when we crouch to give her more support? Does her reaction to our hand signal differ from one situation to another, and if so, can we conclude anything? A puppy could be very worried by a dull sound but would not even pay attention to a high-pitched sound, or the contrary. She could be more sensitive at the beginning of the walk than at the end, or just the opposite. By learning how to communicate with our puppy, by comprehending her body language and her reactions to ours, we have her understand we are there for her and with her, as we would like her to be with us. What a wonderful foundation for a special relationship with our dog!

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