I think the biggest mistake dog owners can make is to treat dogs like humans. The human race can be such a kind, compassionate species that we tend to look at our companions as furry humans, when in reality they are canines and have a very different thought process. This is what differentiates mankind from other species in pack societies; there must be a specific order, from the leader down to the last follower. Everyone has a place. The leaders are the strength of the pack, while the followers need the leader to guide them and keep them safe. Dogs have an instinct to constantly test the being above them and an instinct to know they will always be tested by the being below them. Instinct tells them that if there is not a strong leader in charge, their life and the lives of the rest of their pack are at stake. This primal instinct keeps the pack secure and happy.
Dogs instinctually crave rules to follow and limits as to what they are allowed to do. When dogs live with humans, the humans become the dog's pack. For the relationship to succeed, humans must become the dog's pack leader. Too often the humans in the pack only give the dog love and overlook the other needs of the dog. While dogs enjoy being given affection, it does not satisfy the animal and it is not what makes them well balanced, stable minded, secure and happy. You need to provide proper emotional stability in order to achieve this and showing you have an orderly pack with rules to follow is what the dog needs. Giving your dog affection is important for the human and enjoyed by the dog, but must be done at the correct times.
Similarly, when a human shares its affection with a dog that is in any other state of mind but a calm, submissive one (for example, aggressive, obsessive, shy, skittish, fear or hyperactivity, etc.) and you give it a hug or pat on the head and tell it all is OK, it is comforting to the human but intensifies the dog’s current state of mind. You are telling the dog it is OK to feel that way. While a human feels they are comforting the dog, the dog sees it as approval of their current state of mind. If your dog has a traumatic experience and you show it affection during that time by trying to comfort it, you leave it stuck in that state of mind. Later when your dog faces this traumatic situation again and you comfort the dog, this intensifies the situation even more. Your actions are creating the problem. Dogs do not see comfort and affection in the same way as humans. Dogs are always looking for a strong stable being to rely on.
If you show weakness to your dog, the dog instinctually takes over the role of leader whether he wants to or not because there must be a strong leader and order in a dog's pack. If the dog does not feel he is strong enough to handle the role of leader it can be very stressful or even terrifying for the dog to have such a heavy burden of responsibility. Humans often give the dog mixed leadership signals, which throw the dog off balance, confusing his psyche and causing many of the psychological/behavioral problems we see in dogs today. Mental tension and energy build up within the dog, which lead to many common canine problems: eliminating in the house, obsessive or neurotic behaviors, chewing on themselves, being overly excited, barking excessively, not following their owner’s commands, running off, getting into the trash, destroying things in the house, obsessively digging, chewing the furniture, tail-chasing, scratching, aggression towards other dogs, animals or humans, snapping, biting, growling, and becoming just plain uncontrollable. Whatever the problem is, it is more likely than not, traceable back to the way the dog is treated. The good human knows their own mind and communicates clearly to their dog.
Overt affection is also the number one cause of separation anxiety. In a pack, only the leader is allowed to leave; however, the followers never leave the leader. If your dog is instinctually seeing you as its follower and you leave it, the dog can be so mentally dissatisfied it will often take its frustration out on your house or itself.
On the same note: when a dog is constantly leaning on you, putting his paw on you, using his nose to make you pet him and always feeling the need to be touching you in some way, this is not your dog loving you. It is your dog displaying dominant behaviors. In the dog world, space is respect. A dog that is constantly nudging you and leaning on you is not only disrespecting you, it is being the dominant dog.
Dogs pick up on the energy of their humans. They can tell if you are hyper, nervous, scared or calm. You will be able to communicate successfully with your dog if you use your body’s energy rather than excited words. For example, if your dog does something wrong and you yell and scream or hit the dog, it confuses the dog. This is not the way a pack leader corrects his followers. However, if you approach your dog in a very self-assured and calm manner to correct the dog at the moment he is doing the unwanted behavior with an assertive voice correction or a touch to their neck, your dogs will understand this because you are mimicking the way dogs correct one another—with calm, self-assured body language. If you want your dog to do or stop doing something, you need to first convince yourself it will happen. Stay calm and self-assured as your dog will pick up on your emotion. Remember, the dog must be doing the deed at the moment of correction in order for you to successfully communicate.
A dog does not possess the same reasoning skills as a human. Dogs do have emotions, but their emotions are different from humans. They are simple creatures with instincts and their emotions lack complex thought process. They feel joy when they know you are pleased, they feel sad when someone dies. However, they do not premeditate or plan ahead, feel guilt and do not dwell in the past or future. They live for the moment.
Because a dog lives in the present, it is much easier to rehabilitate a dog than a human. If you begin treating your dog in a very self-assured manner, giving love at the right times and correcting at the right moments, you can change your friend into a happy and mentally stable dog.