Yes, I know, this column is supposed to be about dogs, their training and behavior, but in order to productively and successfully work with your dog, to get the greatest results, the humans must be trained first. I’ve previously written about getting to know your dog, their temperament and any idiosyncrasies or quirks they may have, and learning to read their body language. Here I will provide principle guidelines to assist you in achieving your training goals.

First and foremost is ensuring that all of your dog’s basic needs are being met. This includes addressing both the physical and psychological needs: exercise, food, shelter, mental stimulation and leadership. The human must remember to remain in the “leadership” zone at all times, to prevent the dog from usurping that position. The balance and dynamic of the relationship with your dog should always place you in command of the relationship. Being in the leadership zone involves modeling calm, assertive behavior to keep your dog under control, calmly.

Your dog is constantly keeping tabs on your “energy” and reacting to that energy. This means that they can sense any fear, anxiety, stress or excitement coming from you. It happens because when your body chemistry changes in response to a situation they pick up on the chemical changes. This is where the phrase “dogs can smell fear” comes from. It’s also why there are dogs that are now being used to sniff out cancer, alert for changes in blood sugar or anticipate seizures in people. Amazing animals!

Remember that a “purebred” dog is still a dog. It helps to see them as dogs, not as breeds. However, you must consider any “special needs” of the breed. For example, make sure that your herding dog gets appropriate, adequate mental and physical stimulation. Or that your Lab/golden has opportunities to chase and retrieve, etc.

“Training” per se is superficial. The goal is to have your dog respond to you as a leader, using your energy, vocalization/inflection, and body language as opposed to the sound of a verbal command. Alpha animals “train” their pack this way, since they cannot speak. Focus on your goals, the end result. Don’t get distracted, or frustrated, by right now.

Conversely, pay attention to your dog’s body language so it’s easier for you to anticipate inappropriate behavior. This way you may be able to prevent it, or distract them before the fact.

It’s critically important to understand the way dogs think. Their brains work differently than ours, When you say, “We’ve tried everything,” were you using human psychology or dog psychology? The dog fails when the human fails. Instead of making excuses for your dog’s behavior, develop new, alternative, positive behaviors for them.

Good Dogma has been training humans and their dogs since 1996. Readers are invited to submit questions to Contact information for all offered services can be found on our website