It is important to love your dog more than you need your dog to love you. Selfish love causes behavioural problems.
It's such a simple concept. For me anyway - but then my spiritual beliefs are entirely founded on the concept of love, and giving love - and of intention. These two are formidable when combined. With humans, we are all naturally open to energy when we arrive in this world, but it doesn't take long for most people to gradually close themselves off. It's a natural shielding mechanism - we instinctively protect ourselves from all the negative energy we are bombarded with every day, and very few of us are lucky enough to be given the tools to allow us to remain open without coming to harm.
With animals, it's another story. They remain very open to energetic influences. Before you think I'm heading off in some New Age hippy direction (OK, I am - sort of), let me explain what I mean. Animals, using a combination of senses - sight, hearing, smell - can often tell what us humans are feeling even if we think we're masking it. According to what I've read, this is generally believed to be down to the interpretation of body language (visual cues), tone of voice, and also smell. We are all animals, and as such we emit chemicals which allow other animals to sense our state of being. Research into this ability in dogs, for example, has given us a whole variety of sniffer and assistance dogs that are trained to find contraband and detect things like the onset of epileptic fits or low/high blood sugar.
How do these amazing abilities allow us to better communicate with our animals? Well, I'm no behaviourist (I wanted to be one but when I looked into it originally you basically had to train as a vet nurse first, and I'm waaaay too squeamish), but I have had animals or had friends with animals all my life. I am also an energy healer, although it's not something I do nearly enough with.
What I have learned over the years is that if I let animals know I love them - if I clear my mind of all other feelings, especially fear and stress - animals almost invariably relax and become more receptive. It's useful with animals who are sick or panicking, although I find it hard to overcome my fear in some situations. More importantly, in every day terms it allows me to form a deep bond with my pets. I make sure that each of my pets (two cats, one dog) gets a period of my undivided attention as close to every day as I can manage, and in that period I stroke or cuddle them, or just put a hand on them, and I concentrate on how much I love them. It's important that it's unconditional love - no strings attached.
With Mollie, getting lots of love and a fair amount of cuddles from both us and next door has helped her to settle into a lovely, relatively calm dog. She starts each morning by coming up the bed for kisses (she sneaks from her crate to the bottom of our bed in the wee hours) , and gets lots of love during the day. She is open to us, when we need her to be, and if we make sure we're in the right frame of mind - open, relaxed - she is very responsive. I haven't got the behavioural knowledge to teach her tricks, but she will follow the direction of my hand if I want her to go in a particular direction, for example.
Knowing that they are loved unconditionally is, I believe, enormously empowering for pets. In the same way that people in a happy marriage, or children of loving parents have that foundation to work from, it provides an amazing baseline for our animals to work from. In my experience, it makes them more confident and more open and responsive.
An animal that is only loved when it does the right thing will always be nervous of the love being withdrawn, and so will be lacking in confidence. This in turn can lead to them making mistakes, and it can lead to a vicious circle of bad behaviour and punishment.
All it takes is five minutes every day. Sit down with your animal, at their level. If you can, touch them or make eye contact. Now say, out loud or in your head, "I love you and I will always be there for you, no matter what you do". Believe it. They will too. Make the same commitment to your pet that you would to a marriage or to a child. If you can't make that commitment to your pets, I honestly believe that you should seriously consider whether you should have any in the first place.