How BELIEVABLE are you in the eyes of your dog?
A lot of people think bombproof obedience, compliance, and respect in dog training is gained and cultivated by being domineering, physically rough, or mean. This is simply not the case.
Creating a relationship with your dog where they learn to listen and begin to reliably choose YOU and your will over distractions, no matter what the setting, does not require bribing with food, yelling, repeating yourself, or getting angry. All you need is patience, repetition, clear communication (and whatever tools you find best facilitate this for you and your dog), consistency, and most importantly, follow through.
Follow through is the missing link that I see so many clients struggle with. People will come in with a dog who listens "really well" 60% of the time, but only if they feel like it... "So what you're saying..." I tell them, "...is that your dog does not listen?" I dog who only listens when they feel like it, by definition, is NOT an obedient dog. In a world with cars, aggressive animals, and other sketchy real-world situations, we all know how important it is for a dog who wants freedom and the privilege to do awesome things out and about, needs to listen AND comply the first time. No matter how exciting that other dog, kid, bike, shiny thing, or hotdog on the ground is.
One of the best ways to get to that level of focus and compliance? Follow through on the LITTLE THINGS. Does your dog sit only half the time you ask when you're in the house or on a walk? Only do a half-down when you asked for a full one because he's excited? Pull just a little on the leash when he sees something that gets him riled? Perhaps you let this go, because he is being so good MOST of the time. Or let it go and praised him for a half-hearted down because of how cute he looked, or because you "love" him. This is where humanizing a dog can become so dangerous. Love to dogs equals structured, leadership, and appropriately-earned affection. Anything else makes them unstable, emotionally dependent, and sometimes even nasty and entitled.
To a dog, the world, including his relationship with you can be very back and white. If they see a grey area, they will capitalize on it and look for the easy way out; they see that inch, get ready- they are going to take the full ten miles. The kind of leadership dogs need should be clear and fair. In order to be so, rules must be non-negotiable! This means when you say sit, that means every time. Down, all the way, and even when they don't really feel like it. Pulling should NEVER be tolerated. Follow through every time, whether by means of spacial pressure, leash pressure, withholding praise, etc. Otherwise, how is it clear or fair when we suddenly expect our dogs to listen in situations where it IS a matter of safety, and really matters?
The simple answer is to let your pup know that it always matters, and that you, his protector, advocator, and leader, are going to follow through on a command EVERY time. You will start to see a serious drop in the level of silliness and non-compliance, and a serious strengthening of the bond between you and your dog. Remember: dogs WANT structure, they want leadership, and they want you to be the one to give it. Training is a 24/7 lifestyle, not an isolated event.
Your dog is always training, so never stop training your dog. This is part of what you signed up for when you brought him into your life- live up to his expectations. Be the human he sees you as.
Make some small changes, watch the compound effect take hold, and see the real magic begin to happen as your dog becomes the sort of companion that can go anywhere and everywhere!