Man kneels down to his Golden Retreiver's level in a Mediterrean court yard in a respectful manner toward his dog.

How to Treat Your Dog with Respect — A Trainer Weighs In

Just about every article I read about raising or training a dog discusses respect. A lot of guidance is given about how to train your dog so he will respect you and obey your commands. Regardless of the training method used, including today’s more widely accepted positive reinforcement focus, the end goals often seem similar. This is your house, and your rules and your dog needs to respect that. But not much is said about how to treat your dog with respect.

While it is true that a household pet needs to respect your household rules, what about your sweet pooch? This is his home as well.

Like any living creature, your dog wants to be loved, unrestrained, treated well, and feel safe. In most cases, this can best be accomplished through the development of mutual, caring respect. To do this, you should have reasonable expectations of your dog. Additionally, provide him with clear and calm guidance, and positive incentives, and allow him to have personal space and freedom of choice as much as possible.

Why Treating Your Dog with Respect is So Important

First of all, respecting your pet dog or any creature is the ethical thing to do. I believe that the Golden Rule — treating others as we would like to be treated — applies to any living, breathing creature as well as nature in general. Our pets have feelings and needs as much as we do. And frankly, that is why we are able to integrate dogs so well within our households because of their similar needs.

For centuries dogs have been easy to domestic due to many of our mutual needs for companionship. Not only do dogs enjoy interaction with humans, but they also appreciate the free food and shelter, and will eventually consider us to be their pack. Stray dogs have long been observed to hang around human communities even when it may be dangerous to do so. They search for scraps of food as well as the possibility of positive interactions with a kind soul. Strays who become aggressive, usually do so after being threatened or chased away. Be sure to see my post about Free-Roaming Dogs and how they often struggle just to survive.

Secondly, treating your dog respectfully is the smart thing to do. It makes training more effective and helps to ensure that your dog will have a good temperament. On the other hand, training dogs through fear, intimidation or severe restrictions can also teach a dog to be fearful, aggressive, and distrustful. Disrespect for your dog’s needs can be a formula for unwanted behavior down the road. Whereas handling dogs with care, and concern for their needs can go a long way in building a trusting and respectful relationship. You are more apt to instill loyal and positive behavior when you show respect to your dog.

How to Build Respect into your Daily Interactions and Training

Respect is about letting pet dogs make choices, so their needs can be met and their desires fulfilled. It’s a balance. As an example, I don’t let my dogs chase squirrels.

Sherry Clark, Dog Trainer
and Owner of Brainy Dog
Log in Bright Red for BrainDog.com training site. Brainy Dog teaches owners to be respectful of their dogs.

Respectful Language toward Your Dog

When I adopted my two rescue dogs, the first trainer I worked with was Sherry Clark of Brainy Dog. I was most impressed with how Sherry respected all of the dogs she worked with. She always spoke in a gentle, calm voice, and often said “thank you” after asking the dogs in her daycare to stop barking. She seemed to truly care about what my dogs were feeling and thinking, and how they might interpret what we were trying to tell them.

I recently spoke to Sherry about how we could better offer respect to our dogs. Here is what she had to say: “Respect is about letting pet dogs make choices, so their needs can be met and their desires fulfilled. It’s a balance. As an example, I don’t let my dogs chase squirrels. But I do let them decide which toy to play with, which snack to chew and which dog to spend time with. Respect in training means creating options for them to choose from. I try to make the most fun choice, the safest choice for a dog. When my dogs choose to run with me instead of chasing squirrels, all of our needs are met.   

Sherry’s Helpful Tips to Treat Your Dog with Respect

Here is Sherry’s quick list of some ways to be respectful and build trust:

  • Create options for your dogs such as allowing them to sleep in longer if they are tired.
  • If a dog wants to stop a training session to drink some water, pee, or rest, allow that. The dog is correct. We should have taken a break earlier.
  • If your dog hates vet visits, do some training to try to make it fun for him.
  • A lot of dogs hate to get their nails trimmed, which can be traumatic for them, especially if they have ever been nicked. Respect their concern and train them to make this a fun activity.
  • Let your dog choose from a couple of toys you offer. When playtime is over, instead of taking the toy away, trade it for something else and say thank you.

Sherry also adds that dogs at different levels may be given different choices depending on their personality. As an example, some dogs who are very pushy or reactive may benefit from more guidance from their owner. Other dogs who are soft, easy-going, fearful, or anxious may do better with being able to have more choices to build their self-esteem and confidence. A good trainer can help with this.

Try to Understand Your Dog’s Perspective of the World

Dog and Human Language– Speaking Respectfully to Your Dog

When we try to communicate with our dogs, we expect them to learn “human” words and language. Yet, we often do not understand or try to understand “dog” thinking or behavior. If your dog does not obey your commands, it may be that he simply does not understand what you are telling him to do. Dogs understand words and short phrases, but they do not comprehend full sentences. Scolding him or getting angry will only frighten him and make the training session a negative experience. Rather than respond in the way you want, he may slink away and avoid this set of commands.

If you have ever watched a dog tilt his head and lift an ear, it is probably because he is listening for familiar words that have meaning to him. Dogs really do pay attention. In fact so much so, that they may stare at you for long periods of time to try to anticipate what may be next on the agenda for the day.

So, just know that your dog is paying attention. But he can only understand a few words at a time. And he is also trying to read your body language. So, the way you carry yourself, your tone of voice, and specific words are all things that your dog is trying to interpret the best he can. Think how you might react if someone starts waving their arms at you and speaking in a foreign language that you totally do not understand. You would be confused and possibly intimidated if their body language and tone seemed harsh.

Taking Your Dog for a Walk Should Respect Your Dog’s Needs

Two dogs on leashes walking together in the park.

Another good example of a dog’s view of the world is how they might feel about walking on a leash. How many times have you been out walking your dog and someone wants their dog to meet yours? This has happened to me several times. One of my dogs can be very reactive and finds head-on meetings to be an invitation to bark and growl. Yet, when we are off-leash at the dog park, she is fine with other dogs.

What’s the difference? It is not natural for dogs to meet head-on as that seems like a threat. Dogs prefer to meet alongside another dog first to sniff them out and easily run away if they feel threatened. But on a leash, a dog is restrained and feels no alternative but to bark, growl, or bite if feeling threatened. Also, dogs are more protective of their owner and more territorial when on a leash.

Additionally, how many times have you seen owners marching or dragging their dogs on a walk? Dogs need more than just to pee and poop. This is their most exciting part of the day aside from mealtime. They want to have time to explore, sniff, see who has been there before them, and leave their own messages. Ideally, a walk should be a minimum of 30 minutes. This gives your dog a chance to take in all of the exciting things during their outing. See my post Walking Your Dog — Thoughts from the Other End of the Leash for a dog’s perspective on the matter.

Respect Your Dog’s Personal Space

Other things to think about are allowing your dog his own personal space. Try to give your dog as much space to move in and run around freely. My townhouse backyard is sizable but not like a huge grassy lot. Therefore, I take my dogs to a local dog park frequently to let them run around, bark, and chase balls.

I place my dog’s dinner bowls in a place apart from others where they can eat peacefully. I also try not to wake my dogs up when they are sleeping or napping. HolidayBarn.com has a great post on The 10 Commandments of Canine Respect. Be sure to visit their article for more insights.

As soon as my newly adopted dogs were used to their routine and the rules in our house, I gave them full access to my home and installed a doggie door. They were allowed to do pretty much whatever they wanted within reason. However, I discovered that they could not be in the backyard when I was gone. My neighbors informed me that they howled and barked their heads off when I was away. So, the doggie door now gets closed when I am gone.

It is important, however, to understand that everyone’s dog is different. Some dogs may need more restrictions than others to keep them safe and their owners sane!

I would love to let my dogs run outside whenever they want and go wherever they want. But alas, in today’s modern world that could be deadly for them and a nuisance to my neighbors. So, they get as much freedom as safety and common sense will allow. And, I think they are actually ok with this. They trust me and they know I care about them.

Final Thoughts

Respect is a two-way street. The way you treat your dog will be reflected in how he reacts to you and thinks of you. Respect does not equate to fear, contrary to popular thought. Respect is earned and stems from trust, faith, and mutual understanding. It is truly a covenant with another being that underscores the well-being of the other.

Respect your dog and he will respect you. It is that simple and undergirds the health of your relationship with your favorite pooch.