How do you get your dog to listen? Should your dog fear or respect you? Are they different?

By Dr. Lisa Radosta


The other day, I saw Sam, a German Shorthaired Pointer, who has separation fear. When the pet parent comes home each day, she yells at Sam for the destruction that he has caused in her absence.  I explained that this only 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 pet parent 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 fear has nothing whatsoever to do with obedience training or respect. It is a physiologic reaction to the pet parent’s departure. 

Doesn’t fear help alleviate your dog’s anxiety?

That is nonsense. Fear fuels your dog’s anxiety, not diffuses it. 

But, it did get me 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 99 pounds was able to train and show my Rottweilers without them fearing me, surely it is not a necessary part of the dog/pet parent relationship.  Reading those definitions, you can easily see that you can’t even have fear with respect. They are incompatible.


How exactly do you get your pup to respect you so that he will listen when you ask him to perform behaviors without teaching him to fear you? The best way to do this is to be consistent, give him boundaries at a young age, regard each interaction as a teaching moment, and reinforce him with the things that he loves for performing desirable behaviors.

It feels good to get a doggy hug. But if you don’t want your dog to jump on you at other times, this may be sending the wrong message. Be consistent.


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 earth that a young dog should be making his own decisions. 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, ex-pen, or other confinement area at least sometimes, on a leash in unfenced areas, and introduce him to any other household rules early on. These types of boundaries help him to understand what is expected of him and what is permissible as a member of your family. By explaining the rules, putting them in place when the puppy is young, and sticking to them, your puppy will be less confused, frustrated, and anxious. Dogs who are calm as opposed to frustrated or anxious are better able to make good decisions.  

Teach him

When I took my dog Maverick to the beach, he acted like a complete loon. 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 that you get.

Use the things that he loves to reinforce good decisions and positive behaviors

This is one of the most important parts of getting your dog to pay attention to you and listen to you.  What if I went back to the beach, but Maverick had to sit and stay for 30 seconds before he was

Reinforce appropriate behaviors quickly and consistently to make them stronger and more frequent. Your dog can learn to respect established boundaries. Lessons can be taught without resorting to methods that will create fear and anxiety.

allowed to go and play? What would I teach him? If you listen to me and do this one little thing, you get the best stuff in the world!! 


Fear and respect are not the same thing. Fear doesn’t get you any closer to your goal of living with an obedient dog. It pushes you farther away. Aim for mutual respect between you and your dog and avoid making your dog afraid of you.