“What should I teach my dog?” or some form of that question tends to come up in early conversations with clients. My answer is always the same:

“I don’t know.”

Part of my reason for saying that is the shock value; a client isn’t expecting to hear that sort of response when they’ve hired me for my opinion. I have their attention.

But it is also the truth.

I don’t know what you should teach your dog.

All of these things that you’ve been told that you have to teach your dog are rules that we’ve made up as a society, but this is your dog. You get to make the rules that make sense for your life with your dog.

I do have one rule, though. It is that the things that you teach (or don’t teach) your dog and how you teach them can’t be physically or emotionally harmful to you, your dog, or anyone else. That’s it.

Most people aren’t prepared for this freedom. They don’t know what they want to teach their dogs once the box of what they’ve been told by friends, the internet, or other trainers has been removed. So, I start by focusing less on the “what” and more on the “how.”

My first objective is to teach a person how to communicate, not what to communicate.

Some of you might be saying, “wait, what about what the dog wants?”

You’re right. If I feel like a dog’s needs aren’t being met, I will provide guidance. However, when a person learns to communicate with their dog, this means that they also learn to listen to their dog. I have yet to meet a human who willful ignores what their dog is telling them.

We all want what is best for our dogs. Best to remember that.