Your relationship with your dog is probably the most important thing to concentrate on in the early days. I would say it is even more important than training the basic skills such as sit and down, come and walk on a lead. Once you have established this relationship, all the other things will come easily. You will have earned your dog’s trust and respect. I have listed all the relationship “issues” that must be dealt with from the beginning.
1. You control all the resources – food, play with you or other dogs, walks, rides in the car, going outside or coming inside, attention and affection. None of these things should be taken for granted. They are all privileges that have to be earned by polite behaviour when around you or other humans. Impolite behaviour would be things like jumping up to greet or get attention, barging through doors or gateways ahead of you, rushing out of the car the minute the door is opened, ignoring you when you call, begging for food at the table or when you are eating. I’m sure you can think of a few bad behaviours that would be classified as impolite.
2. Be consistent in all your dealings with your dog. Make sure he understands exactly what you require of him with clear signals and body language. Keep your verbal cues quiet. A dog’s hearing is much more acute than ours and it is certainly not necessary to raise your voice for him to hear. If he appears not to hear it is not necessarily because he is being “stubborn”, or “disrespectful” or “spiteful”. These are all human characteristics and probably don’t apply to dogs at all. What is probably more likely is that your dog is either confused or simply that he hasn’t learnt what you are asking of him.
3. Be quite sure that your dog agrees with you when it comes to choosing reinforcement. What might seem like a great reward to you maybe isn’t for your dog. Sometimes food isn’t always a great reinforcer under all conditions. A game or play might be better. I know that when I’m training my dogs in the field food is the last thing they want. All they really want is another retrieve – now that’s reinforcing. So when we’re out training I don’t even bother to take treats.
4. And finally, learn to read your dog. Observe his body language and see what he does with his ears when he is unhappy – his facial expression when he is anxious. Make it your responsibility to deal with his problems in a way that will make him more secure, not threatened.
All of these things will make you a better pack leader. The qualities of a pack leader are:
Control of Resources
Provision of Shelter and Food