Training our dogs is important. It is essential. There is, however, something even more crucial, something without which, all the training in the world will avail us nothing. It is the relationship we have with our dog. How we interact with our dog and how they perceive us. A dog may know hundred commands, but if that bond, trust, and respect isn’t there, it is unlikely that they will perform those commands with reliability.

Dog training is more than just sit, down, stay, come, heel. It is creating the proper relationship with our dogs, providing a structure in which the dog can flourish. Our dogs are family, we love them as we would any family member and want them to be happy and comfortable. It is important to realize though that they are another species. They understand and perceive the world differently than we do. It is incumbent upon us to realize this, to interact and communicate with them in a way that they understand. So many times, well intentioned people create or perpetuate issues in dogs simply because they miss this critical point.

Set Your Dog Up For Success

I see dogs all the time who were raised from 8 weeks old in loving homes, never abused, in fact they are often pampered and showered with affection. Yet they are overbearingly bratty, or have issues of fear or aggression that are worse than some rescue dogs I’ve worked with who came from horrible situations. How does this happen? Because, while they may have every toy known to man and have humans who love them, they are lacking the one critical element. Structure. A clear path for them to follow that will guide them successfully through our hectic human world.
When I first started training I learned from an amazing and talented trainer. She had been training for over 30 years and was a valuable coach and mentor. She trained using the concept of being the pack leader. Over the years, I have heard and read volumes about this theory, for and against. You can argue with either side till you’re blue in the face. But let me tell you what matters as far as I’m concerned. What matters is what works, what gets results, what method of interacting with our dogs can provide them and us, day in and day out, with the best quality of life. Knowing all we can about dogs, how they think, how they perceive the world, what motivates them, these are all essential. But we cannot get hung up on terms and theories. Do what works.
So, what does work? Focus on teaching your dog. Not just obedience, but expectations, boundaries, and respect. Teach them to trust you. Teach them to be level headed, how to respond appropriately in the modern home and in society. Call it leadership, call it being the alpha, call it being a fur baby parent. I don’t care, titles and terms don’t mean anything to me here. What matters is that we take responsibility. Acknowledge the fact that we have in our care a living, breathing, sentient being. They are highly intelligent, they have thoughts, they have bred in traits, they have innate needs, and they are capable of love, trust, and being hurt. Spoiling them and anthropomorphizing does them a disservice. Love them for what they are, you will see your bond strengthen and your dog will amaze you.

Stick With It!

This does take time and effort. But no more, and often less, than the effort many spend responding to the behaviors resulting from an untrained, unguided dog. This method of providing structure and expectations becomes simply a part of the routine, a way of living. The more we are consistent in our expectations, the more our dogs follow through out of habit. Stick with it. How is it that the same dog, who knows solid obedience and manners, can with one person act like lunatic, disregarding all commands, doing zoomies off the couch, and knocking company over. Then, at the simple appearance of a different person, fall right into a happy heel position, eagerly following commands and completely changing demeanor? Relationship. Bond. Respect. Call it what you will, but it is the deciding factor for a dog. If all we are to our dog is a fence post holding them back with a tight leash on a walk, the dispenser of toys and treats whenever they have a whim, the person who repeats a command 20 times and then gives up, then why in the world would our dog attend to us?
As with people, dogs won’t follow someone who’s not a leader. This has nothing to do with being mean or overbearing, or getting your dog to fear you. It has everything to do with them learning that they have a job, they have expectations, and when they fulfill that job, awesome things happen.
This is, as I said, a crucial topic. The most crucial really. To cover it as it deserves, I will focus my following blogs on breaking down the specifics, so that you can have the tools to create this relationship with your dog. My partner, Rachel and I encourage everyone to interact with us in this process so that you and your dog may be better served. Leave comments and ask questions in the comment section below. Let us help you reach new heights with your dog.

Eric has been helping owners regain their lives and enjoy their companions for 10 years. Eric's experience runs from rehabilitating aggressive dogs, tackling the toughest behavioral challenges, and training service dogs, to training narcotics dogs and hunting dogs. As well as anything in between. A Michigan native, Eric learned his craft apprenticing under two long time trainers in Colorado and went on to teach dozens of other trainers as well as countless pet owners.

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