I believe we should use only positive methods to teach our dogs to exhibit wanted behaviour. This means I do not identify myself with old fashioned theories such as the "dominance theory" or believe in using corrective measures such as shock collars, or other rough treatments. Instead, I believe we should always aim to understand why our dogs act as they do, because all behaviour comes from an underlying cause. You cannot address behaviour if you do not understand where it comes from. Hence we need to understand what is driving the dog before we can change it's behaviour.
A dog is an intelligent animal. While we have only just started understanding their language and behaviour, they have been adapting themselves for thousands of years to live with us successfully. Unfortunately we have been forced to restrict the freedom of dogs over the last several decades: they can no longer roam the streets and do whatever they feel like. This is understandable from a society's point of view. As a dog owners however, it is our job to generate as much freedom as possible for them within their restricted habitat. Only when we respect a dog's instincts and character can we develop a healthy relationship with our companion.
The first step towards this respect is to provide a dog with the room to make its own choices. It is up to us to create situations in such a manner that we set our dog up for success; so we ensure he makes the right decisions. The freedom of choice is so important as we already dictate 90% of our dogs lives; when he eats, when he can go in- or outside, when he goes for walks, where and how he sleeps etc. etc. Within this "mandatory" framework we should allow him the room to be independent. For example, letting your dog choose where to sleep and where to walk will feed into his feeling of independence. Once he learns he actually has a choice in life, this will nourish his confidence. Not only that, he will also feel safer. He knows he can influence how certain situations play out, and that his owner will support him in his choices. As many behavioural problems come forth from insecurity, you can imagine how important this is.
Having said that, there are other aspects that are very important to a dog. Consider the use of his nose - a very important part of learning about life. A mentally and physically healthy dog will use his nose a lot! They pick up scents to learn about new situations, objects and other living beings. Dogs are naturally very curious, and allowing them to use their nose will give them a lot of satisfaction. We refer to this as "mental stimulation", and it's crucial for a dog to be able to practice this behaviour.
Sounds easy enough doesn't it? Sometimes in practice things do not turn out as we had hoped. If you feel you are not able to find the reason for your dogs behaviour on your own, or you think you know why but don't know how to change it, get in touch with me. You can learn more about my services here.
Once a healthy and mutual understanding has been established between dog and owner the rest will flow from there. A dog would want to be with his owner; not because he "has" to, not because he is constantly hoping for a treat, but simply because he feels good and safe around him/her. I believe this should be the ultimate goal for dogs and owners.