When dog trainers say that dogs need “structure” what we mean is **consistent rules**, dependable leadership & guidance. Structure means that the dog can rely on you to create a dependable routine in your household and out in the world.
Structure brings down their stress level (excitement/fear), which is the root cause of all problem behaviors in dogs. When a dog can rely on a safe routine, and they know that someone else (you) will take care of everything for them, they begin to learn to calm down and stop over-reacting. Dogs – and especially those with behavior problems such as separation anxiety, fear, pushiness, aggression, and many more issues – are HUGELY helped by giving them massive amounts of structure. It’s actually amazing to see.
Having clear, unbreakable rules is extremely therapeutic for dogs. Dogs thrive on clarity. Consistent patterns and expectations create a sense of security and increase calmness and trust in dogs. Many unacceptable behaviors are reduced or eliminated by simply setting up consistent household rules that your dog can rely on, such as door manners, crate training and duration training with the place command to build impulse control & calmness.
Permission-Based Dog Training
In a structured environment **everything** in the dog’s life becomes permission-based. You either allow it – or not. Why should you do this? Because this shapes good behaviors in your dog. This teaches your dog right from wrong. When everything is free, dogs are not motivated to change bad behaviors. Once you take charge and hold your dog accountable for making good choices, you become relevant to your dog. Your dog learns to look to you for permission and listen to what you say, rather than ignore you and make bad choices.
Once you take charge of everything that your dog values, your dog learns that nothing in life is free. Your dog begins to earn all rewards such as: eating, drinking, playing, going outside, walks, affection, attention, space (e.g. access to specific areas in the home, free-roaming indoors, or access to furniture if you allow that at all), dog bed/cot, crate.
Use all of the things your dog wants to reward your dog for good behavior. Don’t give these rewards unless they are **earned**. When you do this, your dog learns that everything and anything that they enjoy comes from you. You become the source of all good things! In order to get any of the good things in life, your dog needs to first behave well and listen to what you say.
Food is a huge motivator, so instead of using a dog bowl, you can use your dog’s meals to train your dog. Once your dog is perfectly obedience trained and has thoroughly developed the habit of being calm and listening to you, maybe you will choose to use the dog bowl again. Even then, getting food is permission-dependent. Your dog must wait patiently and calmly for their food. This cultivates respect and impulse control.
These good habits spread to being more calm, patient, and looking to you for permission and guidance in all other areas of your dog’s life. So that’s structure. It does wonders for dogs and humans love it too.
Everyday Dog Training
Dog training isn’t a “once and you’re done” kind of thing. It’s ongoing, like raising a kid, or like keeping in shape. You don’t just teach your kid how to behave for 5 minutes every afternoon, or for an hour on Saturdays. You can’t just go to the gym for a week or a month and expect to stay in top shape unless you continue to eat right and maintain your fitness. The same goes for dog training. Dog training is a lifestyle. It’s a regular part of your everyday routine.