Downeast Dog News

The Four Essentials for a Great Dog – Part 1

Knowledge, Relationship, Management, & Training
By Don Hanson | Feb 01, 2016

Most dogs become great dogs only after we invest time and energy in helping them to become the near-perfect companions we want them to be. However, I believe that every dog has the potential to be a great dog if his person; 1) has adequate and up- to-date knowledge about dogs, 2) wants to develop and nurture a relationship with his dog, 3) understands the importance of managing the dog and his environment, and 4) is committed to training the dog. All of this needs to happen throughout the life of the dog, as just like us, the dog is a living, breathing entity that is constantly learning and changing. This month I will discuss knowledge and relationship.


When someone tells me that he is considering getting a dog, I suggest that even before looking for a dog that he needs to do four things: 1) learn as much as possible about dog behavior and husbandry; 2) research the characteristics of the breeds or mixes that he is considering, paying particular attention to health and behavioral issues associated with the breed or breeds;  3) learn how dogs and people can best communicate with one another; and  4) investigate what he needs to do to meet the dog’s, physical, mental, and emotional needs. This is no small list, but one that I feel is essential if he wants to have a great dog. I recommend that people do this before deciding on a dog because not all breeds or individual dogs will be the best choice for an individual and his lifestyle. The dog world has created a wide variety of breeds, many that were bred for very specific purposes. Some of what these breeds have been bred to do may not fit within the person’s perception of a great dog, so he wants to choose wisely because once he has the dog, it should be for a lifetime.

There are many sources where one can obtain knowledge about dogs, but not all are always reliable choices. If someone is trying to sell you or give you a dog, it is essential to understand that that person’s primary motivation is you leaving with a dog. The person may have a bias in any transaction, and even though his heart may be in the right place, he may not give you the best, unbiased information.

Books, videos, the internet, family, and friends can all be sources of information about dogs; however, the information they present may be incorrect or outdated, in which case it may be detrimental. Information from the internet can be especially questionable (see Kennel and daycare operators and groomers typically have interactions with a wide variety of dogs as do veterinarians and can share their perceptions on certain breeds. The latter can be especially helpful in assessing health issues related to a specific breed.

A dog's behavior is often a major determining factor in whether or not he becomes a great dog; I recommend that anyone getting a dog works with a Certified Professional Dog Trainer/Professional Canine Trainer-Accredited (CPDT or PCT-A) or Certified Dog Behavior Consultant or Professional Canine Behavior Consultant-Accredited (CDBC or PCBC-A), both before and after getting a dog. Individuals with these credentials have demonstrated their knowledge by successfully completing a comprehensive exam. Additionally, they are required to complete regular, continuing education in order to maintain their certification. Without question, these individuals are the most knowledgeable resource for current, up-to-date information about dog behavior and training. If you do choose to obtain knowledge without the assistance of one of these experts, be wary of anyone telling you the following: 1) you must be dominant or alpha to train a dog; 2) dogs should work for praise not food; 3) dogs have an innate and almost “saint-like” desire to please us; and 4) dogs know right from wrong. These are four of the most harmful myths still being perpetuated about dogs.



The relationship or bond between you and your dog is the foundation for everything you will do together. It involves doing things together that you both enjoy and incorporating your dog into as much of your life as possible.

You can train your dog all you want, but, first and foremost, you must have a mutually positive relationship. You need to like and enjoy your dog, and your dog needs to like and enjoy you. Many problems perceived as training problems are in fact relationship problems.

The following are some important tips to help you with both training and your relationship with your dog.

  1. Spend quality time with your dog every day. Train, play, exercise, and enjoy quiet time with your dog.
  2. Acknowledge your dog many times throughout the day. Make eye contact, smile at him, and give him a gentle touch when he is not demanding attention.
  3. Always acknowledge and appreciate good behavior. Too often we only pay attention when the dog does something we do not want him to do.
  4. Know your dog’s likes and dislikes and be a responsible guardian and remove your dog from tense situations whenever possible.
  5. Understand and accept your dog's breed characteristics. Learn how the characteristics can be used to make training easier and learn which characteristics may make training more frustrating.
  6. Remember that your dog has his own species-specific needs and make sure that you meet them.
  7. When something goes awry, such as your favorite slippers being chewed or the dog racing out of an open door, examine the situation to see what you can do differently in the future to prevent the behavior from occurring again -either management or training or both – and then do it!
  8. Accept your dog for the unique canine spirit that he is. As much as we might want a dog that excels at dog sports, loves visiting a nursing home, or wants to snuggle with every person he meets, not every dog is going to become the particular dog that we had hoped would be our companion.

Next month, I will focus on the two remaining essentials to having a great dog, management and training. 


Don Hanson is the co-owner of the Green Acres Kennel Shop ( in Bangor. He is a Bach Foundation Registered Animal Practitioner, Certified Dog Behavior Consultant, and Certified Professional Dog Trainer. He produces and co- hosts a weekly radio show and podcast, The Woof Meow Show heard on The Pulse AM620 WZON and streamed at  every Saturday at 12 Noon. A list of upcoming shows and podcasts of past shows can be found at Don also writes about pets at his blog: