There’s a fair bit of mythology behind the idea of having a great dog, or even a good dog for that matter. A lot of folks spend a great deal of time and money seeking out and buying the best dog of the best type from the best breeder, as if being a good were something genetically installed in the dog before birth. Certainly genetics play a role in behavior, but not as much as we might think.
All dogs are born worthy in my opinion, beautiful sentient beings, living embodiments of possibility. That is good. But, what our dogs become after that is entirely up to us. Real goodness, even greatness, is born out of the dog’s interactions with human beings. That may sound like a heavy burden for us, but I think it’s actually quite empowering.
What can you do to help your dog be the greatest version of himself? I’ve got five ideas to get us started:
Show up. Our dogs can’t learn anything from us unless we’re present. Dogs left on their own, in the back yard for example, learn on their own how to stave off boredom and quell their anxiety. They dig and chew. They bark. They escape. When we make real contact with our dog and pay attention we can do so much more. Even sitting quietly with our dog, doing little more than noticing him and petting him can make a huge difference.
Learn. We know more about dogs now than we ever have. Just in the past 15 years research into dog behavior and cognition has skyrocketed. There are great books on dogs and videos about training. Reward-based dog trainers are available to us around the world, in numbers we’ve never seen before. Learning about your dog is easier now than ever. It’s a quick path to uncovering his greatness.
Teach. This is the next logical step after learning, applying what we’ve learned about dogs with our own dog. This is where the real greatness happens. Reward-based training is fast and lasting. Our dogs can learn a great deal in a short period of time and they can keep learning for a lifetime. Old methods that caused pain and discomfort have been updated with quicker, easier, dog-friendly ways of training. If you haven’t trained a dog in a few years, get ready for a big refreshing surprise.
Play. Play and training overlap. A game of fetch or tug can turn into a fantastic mini training session (Dog sits on cue– we throw the ball. Dog releases the rope on cue – we restart the game of tug). There are also great interactive toys to keep our dog’s mind fresh and active.
Exercise. Dogs become great through physical activity. Few things are as beautiful as a healthy dog in motion. Let’s try integrating training, playing and exercising. It’s easy with games like fetch and tug. Even brisk walks with some basic manners training mixed in can serve multiple purposes at one time.
Who our dogs become has everything to do with how we guide them and teach them. Even dogs with difficult pasts can become amazing companions with our help. Love is essential, but it’s never enough. Let’s be present. Let’s learn and then train. Let’s share joy through play and activity. Let’s settle in with our dogs and relax, set aside the mythology and find the magic.
Here’s to the goodness in all of our hearts, shared and taught, and then reflected back to us by our Great Dogs.
Michael Baugh CDBC, CPDT-KSA teaches dog training in Houston, TX. He specialized in dogs with fearful and aggressive behavior.