Dogs and humans have lived in harmony for thousands of years. It’s one of the strongest and longest-enduring relationships between our species and any animal. Dogs have and continue to help us reach new heights; they’re dependable companions, loyal servants, guards at night, and companions to the disabled. And yet, for all the stock we’ve built up together, we so regularly get things wrong. Here are four key things you need to know about your dog.

Dogs live in the moment

One of the biggest mistakes we make is punishing our dog for an action he/she has committed hours earlier. We might come home, for instance, to find the carpets ruined and our dog sitting happily next to his handiwork.

Well, our immediate response is to take action, either through harsh words or actions.

To the dog, only bewilderment ensues. He has no idea what he’s being reprimanded for – he only knows that he’s in a situation deeply uncomfortable to his sense of wellbeing.

When you’re punishing any dog, it needs to be a second or two after the action has happened, or else you’re simply eroding the trust you two enjoy.

Dogs need to feel safe

Trust is key in any relationship, and that goes for the relationship we have with our dogs too.

Dogs feel safe when they have:

A) a stable place to sleep
B) a routine they can stick to day in, day out
C) clear guidelines on what constitutes acceptable behavior.

Any time you lash out, as outlined in the point above, hours after an incident has occurred, you erode that trust. Dogs are instinctual animals with hardwired defense mechanisms; if they feel frightened by the punishment they’re receiving (in other words, they don’t know why they’re receiving it) they’re more likely to display outward aggression in response.

A nip or a bite from a dog often means it’s frightened or discombobulated, not simply out to cause harm.

Dogs need to be stimulated

Whether it’s a long walk in the woods or extended playtime in the yard, dogs need to be active. Certain breeds are more restless than others, but no matter the breed, upping the exercise quotient will have a dramatic effect on your animal’s happiness. It’ll also make bedtimes easier: exercise will sap your dog’s energy so that he’s more willing to get a spot of shut eye at the appointed time.

Dogs see the world very differently to us

As owners, it’s tempting to think of our dog as a natural extension of us; a quasi daughter or son, in some way. We all know this is not true, and yet we hold our animal to absurdly high expectations. We expect them to understand what we’re thinking, and crucially, what we’re saying.

But because dogs are very different, and because we don’t share a common language, quick fixes don’t happen overnight.

A dog with severe anxiety isn’t simply going to understand your rationalizations and turn over a new leaf just because you will it to happen. Careful training – and repetition – can solve a host of issues, but ultimately, we need to be cognizant of the fact that humans and dogs are capable of sharing a bond in spite of our differences – not because of them.

The goal with any training is to keep the long-term play in mind; you can stop a behavior happening in the moment through force, but you won’t correct the underlying root cause. Raising your voice and using the tactics you devote to your children will only amp the dog up.

Quiet and considered control of the situation is always the best route to take.