Many of my clients are concerned that if they don’t train their dog to be obedient, he might become the “boss” of the household. They fear nipping will turn into aggression. They worry their dog is going to get out of control, display bad manners, or become unmanageable.
On the other hand, my biggest concern is always this: does this dog feel safe? Does this dog trust his handler? Is the dog able to express natural behaviors without being punished or reprimanded?
A dog who feels secure can develop a deep attachment with his owner, and therefore naturally becomes obedient. Without this secure attachment, a myriad of behavioral issues can develop—because the dog feels unsafe and this creates fear. Fear can be expressed as: hyperactivity, disobedience, attention-seeking, “jealousy,” possessiveness, resource-guarding, “protectiveness,” shyness, submissiveness, urination, aggression, dominance, panic, and separation anxiety (just to name a few!).
The closer you can attune to your dog’s individual emotional needs, the more he will trust you. Do your best not to reprimand your dog when his behavior stems from fear or anxiety. You also don’t need to coddle or enable these fear-based behaviors. Try instead to remain neutral and decipher what your dog needs in that moment. Could it be some time to decompress in his crate or a quiet room? Maybe he needs some free time in the yard to zoom or dig. Perhaps he needs a break from training, or would enjoy some quiet time with a bone.
Once you’ve aligned yourself with your dog’s need for safety, let him show his true personality! Appreciating your dog’s individuality, quirks, natural play or prey drive, and his innate connection to a higher intelligence (nature), will give you a starting point for building emotional rapport.
Notice the peace you feel when you serve your dog’s needs first. This is not a permission slip to treat him like a baby, nor to become entangled in a codependent relationship. Rather, it is an invitation to honor your dog as a representation of true heart energy, something more ancient and divine than your ego-self. Your dog is a tuning fork immersed in the field of your emotional body, which extends far beyond the physical one. See how quickly his behavior changes when you ground and center yourself. And how much fun it can be to feel truly connected to this little piece of nature that graces your household.
The dog is not meant to be a robot who responds to commands, and he isn’t something wild that needs taming, either. Your dog is here to be a partner, a study in present-moment awareness, and a perfect reflection of your emotional state.