Photo by: Kay in t Veen

"You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed," - Antoine de Saint-Exupery

When people decide to get a dog, they always want it to become an obedient and affectionate companion. Unfortunately, sometimes things tend to get out of hand and your once wonderful dog may develop various kinds of unwanted behaviour such as obsessions, aggression, fear, disobedience, possessiveness, etc. Usually we blame the dog, but no dog is born with an obsession, possessive habits or extreme aggression towards the world. It's our mistakes that make them behave so. In most cases these mistakes are made unconsciously, but this is not an excuse because your dog doesn't know if you do something consciously or unconsciously, intentionally or not. It only reacts to what you do. Thus, it is extremely important to know the right way of behaviour with your dog so that the dog follows the right behaviour line too.
Every dog owner should know and follow the simple principles described below.

Be a good pack leader

It's the rule number one. Regardless of the dog's size, being a confident pack leader is highly important. Most dog behaviour problems occur because the owners allow their "babies" do what they want, which results in the dog's being the leader and wrapping the owner around its tail. Have you ever watched a snappish Chihuahua that barks when it wants to and no one in the household can manage it? A classic example of dog dominant behaviour. Dogs respond best to clear leadership. You don't have to be harsh or brutal in order to establish the limitations and rules of your home. You just have to be consistent and firm. For example, if you don't want your dog to get on the couch, do insist that it goes down. It may take a while because the dog won't simply give up but will try to take the leadership over. You must be more unrelenting. That's a psychological fight you have to win, much like animals do in the wild.

Don't treat your dog like a human or child

Every dog owner loves his dog. It's natural. But often our love, expressed in a wrong moment, causes lots of problems. We should clearly realize that a dog is an animal with pack instincts but not a human baby covered with fur. For example, if the dog's scared and you're trying to comfort it like you'd do it for a child saying "It's okay", this will most probably enforce the wrong behaviour because the dog will take it as an approval of its actions. In other words, if the mind is fearful (aggressive, possessive, etc) and you say "It's okay", it means it's okay to be fearful (aggressive, possessive, etc).
If the dog's jumping around you in over-excitement when you're going for a walk, you can't just tell it, "Hey sweetie, wait for me outside" or "Please, sweetie, don't jump!" Phrases like these are usually gentle and persuading, and even full of love, and the dog thinks you're happy because of what it's doing. Besides, such phrases are pointless because you can't really persuade a dog to do something! Don't give affection when the dog is in an unstable state of mind such as anxiety, over-excitement, aggression, fear, and so on. These two things can be associated with each other, and the next time the dog wants affection, unwanted behaviour will be the tool to get it. It's not because the animal is intentionally mischievous but because it doesn't realize you are not pleased with what it is doing (and also because it doesn't recognize you as a pack leader). You must "talk" in the same language.

Body language is the key

When you communicate with your dog, it is very important to use language clear to you both. As we've figured out above, dogs do not understand our phrases and words (unless it's a command such as sit, lay, heel, etc). But dogs do understand body language - their natural way to communicate with other dogs. If your spirit is not strong enough, in most cases your movements and walk will lack confidence, your shoulders may be hunched, etc. Dogs clearly perceive this, and they will quickly try to take over the leading position. It's also important that you can read your dog's body signals as well as the dog reads yours. For example, when it begins to sniff the floor or walks to the door and glances in your direction, it is sending you a signal. You should pick up on this signal and take the dog outside. Note that, leaving the house, you should be the first one to cross the threshold as this will enforce your leadership role. The alpha dog leaves the house first.
Photo by hindesite

Every dog needs physical exercises, mental exercises, and love

If you want your dog to be happy, respect its natural needs. Physical exercises such as daily walks, jogging, active games such as fetching are very important to help your companion burn its energy, especially if you have a large dog. Mental exercises are also necessary (including discipline and limitations). If you don't give your dog enough mental work, if the dog has no mission or purpose, it may develop various obsessions trying to keep its mind busy. Sometimes such obsessions are really difficult to get rid of. Note that love is important too, but physical and mental work go first (dogs are not humans, rememeber?).

Proper socialization is vital

Without it, dogs can become really aggressive to other animals and people. At worst, a poorly socialized dog can be put down because it becomes too dangerous to the society, and it isn't the dog's fault. Remember about that.
Assuming the above said, we can conclude that most dog behaviour problems occur because of the two main reasons:
1) the dog doesn't accept you as a pack leader,
2) you haven't provided your dog with enough socialization, physical or mental exercise
(love isn't mentioned here because usually dog owners are generous for love, but they tend to forget about the necessity of physical and mental load).
Being a good pack leader and setting limitations for your dog don't mean you are being mean. If you don't treat the dog like a child, it doesn't mean you don't love your companion. It simply means that you give your dog what it expects to get according to its instincts. Both your and your dog benefit from it because the dog is happy, and you have an obedient companion.
Any dog owner should realize that having a dog is responsibility throughout the dog's life, and we should try our best to make this companionship happy and steady.

See also:

12 behaviour tips for new dog owners
7 simple dog health tips