Fear vs. Respect

Published Sep. 19, 2012

The other day, I saw Sam, a German Shorthaired Pointer, who has Separation Anxiety. When the male owner comes home each day, he yells at Sam for the destruction that he has caused in the owner’s absence. I spent some time explaining that this just makes Sam afraid of him, which is very unproductive.

Generally, I can get through to people with an explanation of this sort. However, this time, the owner pushed back with two questions: "Don’t you want your dog to fear you? How else will you get him to behave?"

I explained to him that even if that were true — that your dog will only behave if he fears you — Separation Anxiety has nothing whatsoever to do with obedience training or respect. It is a physiologic reaction to the owner’s departure. How would fear help alleviate your dog’s anxiety? That is nonsense. Fear fuels your dog’s anxiety, not diffuses it.

But, it did get me to thinking about that question. Do we want our pups to fear us or respect us? What is the difference anyway?

Fear is an emotion with a physiologic response of distress, apprehension, or alarm caused by the threat of danger or harm. Respect is an attitude of esteem, admiration, or deference (World English Dictionary). Gee, I think that I am going to choose respect from my pup, not fear.

If I, weighing in at 103 pounds, was able to control Rottweilers without them fearing me, surely it is not a necessary part of the dog-owner relationship. Reading those definitions, you can easily see that you can’t even have fear with the respect. They are incompatible.

How exactly do you get your puppy to respect you so that he will be obedient to you without teaching him to fear you? The best way to do this is to be consistent, give him boundaries at a young age, teach him at every juncture, control what he loves, and use those things to reward him.


Be Consistent

Once you have decided that you don’t like a behavior, make sure that it is not rewarded. If you don’t want your dog to jump on you, then don’t reward him for this behavior by petting him or letting others pet him when he does this. It is not fair to him and will just confuse him later when you are upset that he jumped on you.


Give Him Boundaries

There is no reason on this earth that your puppy should be making his own decisions right now. Your toddler doesn’t make many of her own decisions either. Your pup will grow up better with less freedom to make bad choices during these formative months. Keep him in his crate at least sometimes, on a leash in unfenced areas, and off of the furniture until he is at least one year old.

These types of boundaries help him to understand what he is allowed to do and what he is not allowed to do. By explaining the rules, putting them in place when the puppy is young, and sticking to them, he will be much better able to learn respect for you and will be more obedient to you.


Teach Him

When I took Maverick to the beach, he acted like a complete maniac. After all, the three things that he loves the most — dogs, people, and water — were all there. He forgot I existed. What did I teach him? I don’t exist so don’t bother listening to me because I am not near as rewarding as those other things. We have not gone back to the beach since then because he has not mastered the skills that he needs to go there. When he has mastered those skills, we will go back so that he can learn the right lessons.

Your dog will learn because of you and despite you, so make sure to teach him every chance you get.

Control What He Loves and Use Those Things to Reward Him

This is one of the most important parts of getting your dog to be obedient. What if I went back to the beach, but Maverick had to sit and stay for three minutes before he was allowed to go and play? What would I teach him? If you are obedient to me, you get the best stuff in the world!!

Now, he can’t pull me onto the beach because I would be teaching him that I don’t have any control over his access to the beach, so I can’t use it as a reward. I would also be teaching him that pulling was an appropriate behavior to get what he wants.

Fear and respect are not the same thing. Fear doesn’t get you any closer to your goal of an obedient dog, it pushes you farther away. Stick to the guidelines above and you will have a great relationship with your dog and your dog will respect you.

Dr. Lisa Radosta

Lisa Radosta, DVM, DACVB


Lisa Radosta, DVM, DACVB


Dr. Radosta is a board certified veterinary behaviorist and owner of Florida Veterinary Behavior Service since 2006.  She is a well known...

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