Earning Your Dog’s Respect

I am often asked how I am able to do the things I do with dogs. Many people have tried to get their dogs to complete a certain task, whether it be getting their dogs to come to them, go into a crate or ring, or to simply calm down and be quiet. But these people often end up frustrated, and sometimes they take it out on the dog(s). Imagine how their frustration grows when they have invested a lot of their time and energy into getting the dog to complete this task and I come along and make it look easy. Don’t get me wrong. These people are usually very thankful that the dog did complete the task, finally, but they become frustrated with themselves for not being able to get the dog(s) to do it themselves. So they ask me, "How’d you do that?" One person even said, "Now, that just makes me mad!" But in different words.

Look, there is no magical secret. That is the first and foremost misconception. I am not a magic man wielding my power over dogs. I simply, yes simply, understand their language because I have studied it for 20 years. Anyone can do this, yes even you! Sure, some people have a "gift" for it like myself, but really that "gift" is just a love for it. Not a special ability. The "gift" just keeps me motivated, and if you have enough motivation, why… you can do anything!

So, to those who want to know how I do it, I’ll tell you. Earn the dog’s respect. That simple. Really. "Well, how do you earn the dog’s respect?" I’ll tell you. In a few simple steps below.

1.) Refrain from getting frustrated. Stay calm. This is the number one most important rule if you want to gain your dog’s or any dog’s respect. If you try to get the dog to do something, and he won’t budge, then there is a reason. Flying off the handle and yelling, screaming, hitting things, making loud noises, cussing, and jerking at his collar will NOT work. And if it does work, your dog has learned to fear you, and is not truly happy. Fear, is not respect. Dogs obey out of fear, for fear of harm. Dogs act out of respect, because they trust you and choose to listen and act. If you don’t stay calm, you will be seen as unbalanced by the dog. Dogs do not listen to unbalanced people, or dogs. Those dogs, and people will often be ignored, or attacked depending on the situation. But a calm person or dog is seen as balanced, and the dogs know that the calm ones mean business. Even the slightest bit of frustration can cause some dogs to lock up, avoid, or even attack.

2.) Set a goal and follow through. No matter how big, or small, you must have a goal in mind. Say the goal is to get your dog in the tub. No matter what happens, you MUST accomplish your goal every single time. One of the biggest mistakes people make is that they give in too soon. Some people say, "Well, he just doesn’t feel like it right now." or "He’s just not ready yet." The facts are that he may not feel like it, and he may not be ready, but he still needs to do it when you ask or he’ll learn he doesn’t have to listen to you. In the wild he could get killed for not honoring the pack leader. So when he doesn’t honor you, and nothing happens, guess who becomes the pack leader? Not you. Accomplish your goal every single time, and your dog will begin to respect you. All of the dogs at the daycare I work for know that when I tell them to go into the ring, they are going in the ring. There is no fight, or struggle to get them in. And I average about 20 dogs a day. If the dog is being stubborn, I will block and herd that dog where I need him to be. I rarely have to grab the collar and drag a dog to where I need him. This is because my goal is to get the pack into that ring, and I make sure I accomplish it.

3.) If the dog is hesitant, figure out why. Some dogs are less confident than others. If they are afraid of something, they will often avoid or flee from it. So in example, if you are trying to get your dog in the tub and she hesitates, take a moment to study her body language. What is she saying to you? Is she curved over with her tail tucked and ears laid flat? If so, this means she is feeling afraid. If she is licking her lips while curved, then she is saying that she is afraid and stressed about the situation. If she is nipping at you when you reach for her, it is out of fear, not aggression. You job is to accomplish your goal, so you need to figure out how to make your dog feel differently about the situation. This is where having some training experience is very handy. Because you may have to break down the process to get her to even go close to the offending object. If your dog is showing signs of stress and fear as mentioned above, either seek a trainer or behaviorist in your area to help, or look for one of my blog entries on dog training for help. Do not force a fearful or stressed dog to do something, because you can cause the dog to develop a phobia or squeeze out a bite.

If your dog is just resisting because she doesn’t want to get in the tub, she won’t curve herself. Instead, she will keep her posture straight. She may play keep away from you, she may bark, she may put the brakes on when you try to pull her, or all three. The key to knowing that she is simply being stubborn is her body posture. Figure out why she is being so stubborn. Does she hate water? Does she associate the tub as a negative thing for any reason? If so, change this by making it a game. Stubborn dogs are often easily lured by simply changing your tactics. It could just be that the goal you set is boring and there is no real reward in it for the dog. If you offer a treat, but the dog seems like she could care less, then the treat does not equal the motivation and energy needed to complete the task. Or put simply, it may not be worth it. Try upping the anti.

4.) Reward when the task is complete. Once you have followed through and the dog has completed the goal, reward the dog with something that the dog sees as rewarding. Often people will reward the dog with something they see as rewarding, and not with what the dog sees as rewarding. You can tell what the dog finds rewarding simply by watching them. Do they like to chase things? Do they like to take naps? Do they like to go for walks? Toys? Balls? What is the dog actively pursuing a lot of the time? Is what they are pursuing healthy for them? Ask these questions to find a reward for your dog. Some dogs are very simple and a nice scratch behind the ears, or above the tail is sufficient reward. Other dogs require more and would rather chase a ball, play with a toy, or take a nap on their owner’s lap. Most dogs are happy with something to chew on, like a bone or rawhide. Only let your dog have these with supervision. Rawhides can be dangerous. Treats are great, but too often people get stuck on treats and so do the dogs. Obesity becomes an issue, and the dogs’ diet becomes unhealthy. Some treats aren’t fully digested by dogs and this can cause coprophagia (eating poo). Use treats in moderation.

5.) Set up some rules and remain steadfast. Once you set up a rule, then you must enforce it every time. Dogs will test the rules often. If they find that they can break it with no consequence, then they will continue to break it. Dogs learn by repetition, so you may have to enforce the rules more than once. You will also need to determine what the consequence for breaking the rules should be. It could be time alone, which a lot of dogs don’t like, or a squirt from the squirt bottle (doesn’t work that well on water loving breeds like Labs and Newfies) or you can block and muzzle. Block and muzzle is where you block the dog until they submit to you (lower their head or roll over on their back) and then put your hand around their muzzle. WARNING: Don’t try it with dogs that show ANY signs of aggression! You may get bitten! Or you can leg bump, which is where you walk into the dog and gently bumb them with your shin. DO NOT KICK! Don’t leg bump small dogs, because you could accidently injure them. The same is true with very tall dogs, like skinny Great Danes. You could injure their hips and/or legs. You must stand up straight when leg bumping. What you are doing is mimicing an alpha dog’s butt bump. This is where an alpha dog will turn himself and litterally bumb another dog with his butt. It’s a way for the alpha to say "I’m boss, knock it off." While doing the butt bump, the alpha dog will stand erect and proud, so you must do the same for it to work. Sometimes it helps to say "Hey!" or something short when leg bumping.

6.) Stay consistent! This is really important. Lack of consistency is a leading reason why people fail with their dogs. By staying consistent, you are showing your dog that you are the boss. Consistency is a very important ingredient when trying to earn your dog’s respect. Dogs thrive on it, and with out it they often panic. You can not let your dog do something one time, and then not the other. The reverse is true as well. Once a dog learns a rewarding behavior, that behavior tends to stick. So if every time your dog barks at the mailman and the mailman goes away, that is a reward to your dog. Because your dog successfully defended his and your territory from an intruder. The mailman is usually consistent and comes and goes at the same time everyday.  Your dog picks up on this, and will be ready when the mailman comes. This example can be applied to anything, but the point is that dogs need, count on, thrive on, learn from, and down right live on consistency.

If you put all of these things together, you will earn your dog’s respect. It really is a lot simpler than it sounds. Keep in mind that dogs learn by trial and error. They do something, and if no one disagrees with it, and it’s rewarding, they will do it again. If someone stronger disagrees with it, then they will usually move on. Dogs do not think like people, so don’t feel bad about enforcing the rules. Your dog will respect you for making the rules and then enforcing them. They are a lot like kids in that way. Push them too hard, and they rebel; don’t push hard enough and they will become uncontrollable.

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About thecanineguru

I am a canine behaviorist of 23 years and offer canine rehabilitation, training, and behavior change to clients under the given name "The Canine Guru." I am known mostly for my online presence through my blogs, Doggy Times and Doggy Times II. Both were honored by MSN Editors multiple times. My methodology focuses on energy and how to use and read it. I firmly believe in operant conditioning and positive reinforcement. I don't feel that choke, pinch, or electric collars are necessary when working with dogs. The harshest method I ever use is the squirt bottle and the occasional touch, or poke. I'm known for "speaking" to dogs in their own language using body language, energy, touch, and the occasional sound.
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10 Responses to Earning Your Dog’s Respect

  1. CG says:

    Looks like you have another chapter of your book written!!! CEG

  2. Steve says:

    Hi Canineguru.
    Found your blog and found it very interesting. Having had dogs of my own my whole life, and recently, having taken in a lodger with his own puppy, I thought myself quite educated on the way dogs think, feel and behave. The latest addition to my ‘family’ is a 6 month old Basset Hound, and I’ve resorted to pouring over your blog to get tips and clues to the new pooch psychology. Bassets are notoriously stubborn, which has been born out in the past few weeks of my attempts to train her.

    I’ve had good results, however, and am now using your blog to reinforce my methods and learn new techniques. She’s a stubborn one, not even responding to her name, but we’re making slow progress. Earning respect has been one of the hardest tasks, but I’m going to put your advice to the test this evening when I get home.

    Thanks, Steve
    Iver, Bucks, UK

  3. Angie S says:

    Wow, thanks for posting this. It’s all the things that I know I “should be” doing, but I’m currently not. This article puts gaining trust into perspective and will greatly help me get focused on a better training plan for my puppy, so I can earn her trust!

  4. Charlie says:

    He CG,
    I thought I’d browse the respect issue on the internet today because I seem to have hit that plateau with my little guy. Technically he’s my gf’s dog, but of course I end up doing 95% of the work so she can enjoy her 5% of fun-time with him. And yes, this does cause some frustration and animosity in me since I’m getting ever-closer to him in the process. I think he’s great, I dig hanging out with him, and he’s (I’d say) 75% a “good dog”. But as days go by, I’m realizing that the “good dog” thing is really an association he’s made with praise and affection for tasks completed. It’s not truly “respect”. It just so happens that I feed him when he’s hungry, walk him when he needs exercise, and take him outside with he needs to pee/poo. These are more coincidences than anything else. Because of that inherent alignment, I gain a degree of what some people may think is respect. So where does it tapper off; take a curve? When I want him to do something he has no interest whatsoever in doing… He barely looks my direction when I call his name anymore and certainly doesn’t come when called. Most people in my life don’t even realize this because he tends to follow me around everywhere I go. If I get up and go to kitchen, he’s right behind me. If I go outside to start the car, he’s leaning on the door. If I’m at my brothers house (who also has dogs) and run out for a pack of smokes (no commentary on the smoking please, I’m aware I should stop, all smokers are aware they should stop), he’s whimpering for 10-mins after I leave and waiting patiently for my return. There is an absolutely connection between us; I just question the level of actual respect in that connection. Today, I took him for a normal lunchtime walk. I come home from work every day to walk him, re-visit basic obedience training, and in general spend some time with him. The walk got delayed by him stopping at every blessed tree on the route, to the point that I was going to be late back to work. (yes this frustrated me) So we reached the lawn boundary and he stopped; 100% brakes… I couldn’t entice him, I couldn’t pull him, I couldn’t wave my arms and say “come on boy”. My frustration peaked and I went over to him and picked him up to bring him inside. I usually give him a Kong with treats inside as I leave, but I was worried this would give him the impression that his not listening to me was being rewarded. I am finding myself increasingly frustrated by this relationship, and I’m sure he’s picking up on it. So I guess my question is… BESIDES the “don’t get frustrated part”, what are some actual ideas? I’ve been to countless advice websites and everything is so generic and “woosaaah”. It’s all “stay calm” – “be assertive” – “be consistent” and I find myself adding the phrase “AND DO WHAT???” to the end of each of them. A dog is sitting on one end of the room and you at the other. You want him to come. You say (calmly, assertively, etc) “come” and he does not come. You get a treat and you take the appropriate stance and you say “come” and he does not come. I’m not supposed to get frustrated, I’m not supposed to repeat the command over and over again, I’m not supposed to move closer to him and “go easy on him”. It seems like everyone’s marketing “how to” but only ever saying “how not to”…

    • Charlie,

      You clearly seem confused and frustrated. It seems like you understand bits and pieces of how things should work, but are missing the other crucial parts. Unfortunately, I cannot answer all of your questions online. And, if we trainers and behaviorists gave away our trade secrets online via a free blog or website, then we would be out of work. :) The truth is that most of us give out enough information to get people in the door or on the phone. You can not learn everything you’d like to at this point with out hiring a professional to help, or… doing the research and practicing with trial and error. You have to find what works for you.

      Honestly, it does not sound like your dog respects you, you’re probably right about that. If he’s only answering or behaving for a reward, then he doesn’t see you as an entitled leader, but as a resource instead. Dogs show respect in a primal way. If you have the chance, watch dogs at play. When two or three dogs get along, they play well. If one dog signals distress during play with a yelp, generally play stops for a bit. The other dogs could kill that dog, or keep going, but they generally stop out of respect. When dogs are eating, the more entitled dogs will “guard” their food. Growling and bearing teeth is really the only way a dog can communicate “stay away.” They can’t say please or thank you. So they command respect by showing how powerful they are. The other dog nearby has a choice. Challenge the dog for his food, or respect his space. As pups, they generally learn the consequences of challenging others for their right to the food. This helps to shape them later in life.

      A dog should come to you because he wants to. But remember, he’s a dog, not a person. Yes there has to be a reward in the beginning. Canines, as most living creatures, are reward based. Wolves hunt for the reward of dinner. In the process they bond. Bonding brings forth respect. But back to the reward. The reward teaches the dog that coming is worth his time and energy. Later, the reward can simply be pleasing you. Now, that in mind, some breeds care about pleasing more than others. A dog’s bloodlines can also affect his personality, but that is a whole other topic that you can research on your own. Maybe you could take a class in agility, fly ball, dock diving, protection, hunting? When you and your dog have a common goal, you will bond in the process of achieving said goal. In the process of bonding, your dog will learn who the shot caller is. If your dog is a working breed, then some kind of activity is a must! Bored dogs will challenge you more and a smart bored dog will run circles around you. It’s the smart ones that often get in trouble the most. Because they learn your routine and how to work around it. ;)

      Your dog is challenging you. He want’s to see how many times you’ll repeat “Come.” Say it once, no response? Use a leash. But do not get angry or frustrated. Dog’s have to learn to understand our language, it’s not automatic. If he curves and lowers his body, tucks his tail, licks his lips, and avoids eye contact, then he may be afraid of you and become avoidant. Avoid this, or your problem will become harder to solve. If he straightens, stands upright, pricks his ears and bears his teeth, he’s challenging your authority and he may bite if pushed. You definitely need a trained professional to help with that.

      As I said, you can only learn so much from reading blogs and websites, but until you try and fail with your dog, you won’t learn. I encourage you to try different techniques, but “stay calm and be assertive” while doing so. Once your energy becomes unstable (frustrated, angry, upset, depressed), your dog has won the challenge. :)

    • Oh, and Charlie, you and your girlfriend should be on the same page. If she’s not willing to help enforce the rules and provide exercise, maybe it’s best to give the dog to another family. Dogs can sometimes play two people against each other just as kids do. :)

  5. Cristina says:

    This blog was EXTREMELY helpful, my boyfriend and I adopted our dog 2 months ago. She supposedly turned a year old now, and is a “Bull terrier mix” but most people just think she looks like a slimmer/more athletic pitbull. Anyhow, we work very hard on giving her the proper training. She sits, heels, stays and has never showed ONE sign of anger towards us or anybody. She only comes up on our couch/bed when we allow her and invite her. She is potty trained although she still has some accidents sometimes and we have learned not to blame her, but us for not giving her the proper walk and potty routine. When my boyfriend and I are at work we’ll leave her for 4-5 hours MAXIMUM alone, and she will chew up things we leave. This is a big problem. We assume it’s her being a puppy still and we leave her toys and have frustratedly punished her(5 mins time out) everytime. I’m not sure how well that works, we try to do it when we catch her being in bad behavior. We take her to the dog park, not as often anymore because I read she can pick up unwanted behaviors from dogs who go there as their only exercise and act up. Her only problem there is sometimes her hyper ways get other dogs annoyed and she won’t stop poking them and doing a low playful bark/growl to get them to play. I usually poke her neck for her to leave that dog alone and it works. She gets it…but sometimes does it regardless afterwards. Should we leave the park at that time? I don’t think she understands why we’re leaving though. Regardless I don’t want to take up much of your time, and if you lived in the southern Florida area I would go to your classes for sure. Her main problem is her excitement with people. She will bolt at the door, jump on people, lick them, even on my young nieces who I’m really trying to get them to get along(being that my sister and family think “pitbulls are aggressive and/or unpredictable) which I KNOW is not true. They are just very strong willed and do what you tell them, or what they want. That is our biggest problem, her hyperness. I will confess we don’t always give her her appropriate exercise all day, it’s about 95 degrees here in florida and very hard to exercise her without her panting to death after 15 mins. Is having a treat handy a good idea when people come over? Or is it just a quick fix because they want to eat the treat…I have tried this and it helps but right after she NEEDS to go greet and jump on the person, even if it’s my 4 year old niece. She play bites sometimes specially with people who aren’t assertive and gain her respect, she treats like a rough-play mate. We are willing to do whatever it takes to achieve our goals with her, if there is any way you could give me solid advice or at least tell me if my methods are working, I would be willing to pay the hourly rate for the information.I watch the Dog Whisperer but he rarely deals with an overly hyper-with strangers(or people who she hasn’t seen in an hour) dog. Thank you so much in advance.

    • Cristina,

      Thanks for reading my blogs! I’m glad you got something out of them. :) You have a lot to address, so I will do my best to answer your questions as best I can online. First off, if you got your dog at a local shelter, they will call the dog anything but a pit bull to get the dog adopted. So chances are, that your little buddy probably has a bit of pit bull in her at least. And just because there may be some pit in her, doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing. Pit bulls are actually great dogs, it’s people that mess them up. But, let’s not get started on that subject. ;)

      Here is were people get the most confused about leadership and entitlement… Just because a dog listens and obeys in the home, does not guarantee that the dog will listen and obey outside. Why? Because the dog may not see their owners as entitled outside the home. Sure, the owner can own everything in the home, but not outside. There is a saying, “If you want the dog to behave everywhere, you must train the dog everywhere.” So this applies to the dog park. If you want her to behave at the dog park, then teach her the rules at the dog park. If she over steps her bounds, then sure… leave. But can you catch her when it’s time to go? Or does she play keep away with herself? Keep away is a challenge of authority and patience. If you go after her all upset about what she just did, then she is sure to learn to avoid you catching her. Come, should always be positive, as should approaching her. This keeps dogs from running, because they know that any interaction with humans is going to be positive. (Just in case she’s a runner):)

      Jumping up is a doggy way of saying hello. Dogs will either jump up and mouth our arms/hands, or try and lick our lips/hands. Mouthing is a show of authority, so the dog is saying, “Welcome, I own this space and everything in it!” Licking is a show of respect, so the dog is saying, “Welcome, I don’t own anything, and I do not wish to challenge you because I see you are stronger than me!” Okay, so that’s a rough way of interpreting what dogs would be saying. If dogs could talk, it’d probably be more eloquent. Lol. So, the treat idea… nah, scratch it. You need to own the space where your guests arrive. Giving her a treat at the door may actually be reinforcing her to enter that space, when ideally, you want her to stay away from the door so people can come in. Her reward will be getting to meet the people that have arrived. She will get that reward for greeting them in a calm way. Have people ask her to sit after they’ve entered into the visiting space (living room, etc) and if she does, then let them pet her. If she doesn’t, then have them ignore her. This way your are replacing the unwanted behavior with an incompatible one. (She can’t jump up if she’s sitting down). This will eventually teach her that the proper way to greet people is to sit at their feet. Dogs build associations quickly, so if you are consistent, this will work. :)

      Also, if she is poking dogs with her muzzle and giving a low growl… that is not play. Play sounds are higher pitched. Nose punching is a form of bullying actually. So she may be bullying other lower self esteemed dogs. Survival of the fittest. Omega dogs will get picked on because they are seen as weak, therefore their genes are not desirable within the mating pool. This is hardwired into all animals, and it’s also a primitive reason people get bullied too… I know, not fair. :)

      She is very lucky to have two understanding owners such as yourselves. You understand that her accidents in the house are not her fault, and you try not to leave her alone too long. That’s great. It sounds like you two are great owners. As for the chewing issue… have you considered a crate? If trained correctly, dogs will see crates as their dens. Seeing as how they are den dwelling creatures, this is a good thing. I’ll let you look up how to crate train a dog on your own, but it’s worth it to look into it if you haven’t already. If for some reason that is out of the question, then try giving her something to chew that you agree with while you are away. You can use kongs filled with food and capped with peanut butter, or dental stix, or even hollow bones coated on the inside with honey, stuffed with food, and capped with peanut butter, cheese whiz, or liver paste, and even frozen. Chewing releases chemicals in the dog’s brain that relax her. So dogs will chew when stressed, anxious, or sometimes nervous. And chewing something that smells like you, makes them feel closer to you when you aren’t there, so it just ups the positive feeling. So start showing her what is appropriate to chew now before it gets way out of hand later.

      Hope this helps… and don’t worry about paying me… lol. ;)

  6. Cristina says:

    :) so much helpful info! She does run from us at the dog park sometimes, what I do is show her a toy and pretend were gonna play till were out the dog park gate lol. If that doesnt work, sometimes i use a treat…hopefully this is a good way to do it, unlike the “I will get a treat at the house door”idea(which you are so right by the way-duh!). She is a bit of a bully with dogs who don’t want to play with her, and with dominant or angry dogs she acts like a slave and bows over and leaves them alone haha. No aggression, but definitely not good to poke dogs like that. When she does that though, can I poke her neck and do the pshhh sound? I feel like it does work, but then again idk…if this isnt good, what is a good idea to fix that problem? Its embarrasing to have owners scared my dog will hurt theirs. On another note, I will DEFINITELY try the crate idea, I thought it was mean and she might become too anxious in there and build up stress but if it’s a good way to train them well try it out, I’ll do some research on it. Last thing, her hyperness…besides exercise, is there any other way to lower her excitement level when A)going for a walk B)having people over and her running like a horse up and down the house or C)seeing me/my bf when we get back home? Is time out a good idea to get her to calm down before we pet her? Or is ignoring her just as effective and eventually that’ll kick in? Because we do that and she listens but not most of the time. She just CANNOT contain herself. Thanks 8)

  7. Shannon says:

    hi! I have a lab/jack russel dog. He is my brothers dog, but i am the person who walks him, feeds him, pretty much takes care of him. I do everything for this dog except have its respect. i am with the dog all day watching him, playing with him and taking care of him.. but when my brother comes home from work, my dog just follows him around and pretty much worships him. This isn’t exactly a problem. Except my brother is pretty lazy an doesn’t bother to train him very well. i want to train him but he just wont listen to me. He also has a biting problem. He has bit a couple people, including me. (nothing serious, but im afraid it could get worse0 he has and most likely will never bite my brother, because of his worship in him. And i know you will probably say that my only choice is to get my brother to train this dog properly. Heres the catch.. My brother is going on a trip for at least a year and maybe longer. Guess who has been put in charge of this dog? i am happy to do it, but also worrying that i wont be able to handle it. I guess what im asking.. is how to get this dog to listen to me? If its possible.. I am really willing to do anything. Except i don’t have a job and am on a low budget so i don’t have the option to hire a trainer. If this is something i really should do.. then i can probably make it work. But i feel like its not an option for right now. Also, he is very timid. Whenever anyone he doesn’t know comes to the door he goes crazy. unless we slowly help him meet the person, he growls and start to bark aggressively.(this is especially for men.) He also barks at people when im walking him, if im not paying attention. Im afraid that one day he is going to seriously injure someone if we don’t so anything about this. Please help! I am very desperate and would really like to fix these problems!

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