What Makes Some Dog Owners More Successful Than Others?

Have you ever wondered why some dogs listen to their owners while others ignore them?  Most of the time it’s not because of the dogs - it’s because of the owners who have taken the time to research breeds and temperaments in order to find one that fits them and their lifestyles the best.  In addition, the owners have been 100% consistent in their training and enforcing of rules, and they have provided their dogs with an adequate amount of physical and mental stimulation.  Here are some additional tips on how to create the relationship you would like to have with your dog.

Be a benevolent leader – Dogs are social pack animals, and as such, they need a well-defined, stable pack structure with you as the leader.  Being the leader does not mean that you are forceful.  It means that you get to control the activities that the dog views as valuable.  It also means that you never use punishment as a form of correction.  Any punishment will only escalate the situation and likely lead to aggression and mistrust by the dog.  Instead, use rewards for positive behaviors. And be patient.  To help you stay patient, keep training sessions short and fun, and choose a time when your dog is a little tired and hungry, which means he’ll also be a little less distracted, (and a little more motivated to offer the behavior that will earn him the treat).

Provide your dog with plenty of mental and physical exercise – If there is only one thing you take away from this article, this suggestion is it.  More often than not, the reason most dogs engage in destructive or negative behavior is that they are not getting enough mental or physical stimulation.  It’s been said that “a tired dog is a good dog,” and I wholeheartedly agree.  Dogs are much less likely to get into trouble or defy obedience cues when they’re tired. 

Even with ample physical exercise, most dogs still get bored at times.  If a dog is bored, he will find something with which to entertain himself  - such as knocking over the kitchen trash can and strewing the contents throughout the house!  To avoid such unpleasant surprises, provide your pet with interactive toys that will keep him occupied and mentally stimulated for long periods of time.  Also, remember that, just like with humans, individual dogs’ energy levels vary. That is why doing your research prior to picking a breed is so important.  Ideally the energy level of your new companion will match your own.  Many dogs end up in the shelter because their owners didn’t first investigate whether or not their lifestyles and activity levels would be a good fit for the breed they chose.

Implement a No Free Lunch Policy - While you are in the process of training your dog, only reward him after he has provided acceptable behavior or the action that you asked for.  If you provide praise or treats when he hasn’t done anything, he won’t learn to associate treats with a specific behavior.  For example, have your dog sit or shake hands before his meals; or if he wants to be petted, ask him to sit or lie down first.  Basically, anything of value to him, like going for walks, getting treats, playing, etc. must first be earned by doing something that you ask of him.  Training provides a great way to communicate with your dog.

Set house rules that reinforce your leadership - For example, only you - the leader - can decide if - and when, and for how long - the dog is allowed on the couch.  And remember, if you invite your dog onto the couch, you should also be able to get him to leave the couch at your request.  If he doesn’t obey, then his couch privileges should be revoked until he learns to comply with your requests.  Continue your training, with the dog focused on you as the owner and leader.

Teach your dog to respect your space – If your dog tends to crisscross in front of you as you’re walking, it means he doesn’t know about or respect the space you need to move forward.  When this happens, just shuffle your feet forward (so that you don’t accidentally step on him), and keep moving.  He will soon figure it out.   Similarly, if your dog is crowding your personal space, whether on the couch or in front of the door as you’re trying to leave, use your arms or legs to nudge him out of your personal space.  You don’t need to look at or speak to the dog while doing this; your body language will convey your message.

Control access to your dog’s food or toys – If you leave food out for your dog to graze on all day, he won’t learn to associate something he loves - in this case food - with you as the person who gives it to him.  Nor will he have the opportunity to earn his food by first offering you an obedience cue.  The same goes for toys.  To ensure that your dog associates you with oodles of fun, reserve his favorite toys for when you’re available to play with them together, and put them away as soon as you’re done.  In addition, it’s a good idea to rotate the availability of toys instead of leaving them all out at the same time.  Doing so will provide variety and prevent boredom, thereby keeping your best friend mentally and physically stimulated. 

Invest in healthy, nutritious food – If possible, always feed your dog healthy organic food that is free of chemicals, dyes, sugar, corn, and animal by-products.  You would be surprised how much having the right food can affect a dog’s behavior.  For example, one possible reason dogs eat their own stools is because they are not getting enough nutrients from their food.  Being fed a substandard diet can affect not only a dog’s behavior, but also his health.