The way we approach our dogs has a profound impact on the type of dog and companion they will become. There are key strategies to leading a dog to become a well-balanced, happy companion. There are also things we can do that will lead to a fearful, unreliable dog. Now, I am not the perfect dog guardian, but I can tell you that I get better and better with each dog that I raise. Through my mistakes and my triumphs, my dogs have taught me how to show up for them. 

ENERGY

Be aware of the energy you bring. Dogs are very sensitive to our energy, and they will match it. If you think you can hide your anger at your dog’s mistake, think again. They know immediately how you are feeling. Sometimes I will see the reflection of my energy in my dog and that is my signal to change it. Meet your dog with the beautiful energy that he brings to you. 

AN EFFECTIVE LEADER

Our dogs want to please us, and it is up to us in order to clearly and concisely translate our expectations to them. Some behaviors take longer to train. Some dogs take longer to train. So we must be patient. When things are not going the way we hope, we must look at ourselves and see how we can improve our training techniques. Ask questions such as: Am I being consistent in my commands, my expectations, and my own behavior? What can I do to better to convey my request to my dog? Our dogs will work harder for us and try to please us when they feel loved and safe.

INSTILL TRUST

The worst thing that we can do is instill fear in our dogs. Once fear is a part of your relationship with your dog, it is very difficult to remove it. A dog will be harder to train when fear is part of the equation. He must trust you to guide him, and if he trusts you, he will follow you to the ends of the earth. If he fears you, he will lose confidence and often develop negative behaviors such as aggression and destructive tendencies. This perpetuates the cycle of the guardian getting angry—dog acting out—guardian getting angry. This is a losing strategy for everyone and will deeply affect the bond between you and your dog. It is important to recognize this pattern immediately and course correct as soon as possible.

BUILD THE BOND

The best things we can do for our dogs are to show up with love, understanding, and patience. Designate daily bonding time and exercise with your dog. Focus on him for that specified time and truly enjoy each other’s presence. This is, of course, great for both of you. Try getting up earlier in the morning, so you have time to bond before the craziness of the day begins. Include your dog in your favorite hobbies. Just sitting on the floor with my dogs brings obvious joy to them.

TRAINING

Join a structured class whether it’s obedience, rally, agility, etc., and develop skills with your dog with the guidance of a trainer. Spend 15 minutes every day or every other day training. When dogs receive regular training, they gain confidence because they find out how to please you—which is their ultimate goal.

CONSISTENCY

Be consistent with your dog. Dogs require consistency and repetition to understand our expectations. Consistency also helps build their confidence because they know what to expect. A mistake I often see is allowing the dog to behave a certain way some of the time and reprimanding him for the same behavior other times. Examples include laying on the couch, jumping on people, and begging. Decide what your expectations are and stick to them so that you do not cause confusion.

Raising a dog comes with responsibility and commitment. But when we show up as the leader our dog needs, we get to reap the benefits of a devoted companion we can truly share our lives with. And, in the end, it is really the dog who is making us better.