When you're considering getting a puppy, remember that your dog is different from other relationships you have had. Understanding what your dog can and can’t do is important so that you properly anticipate what your dog will do for you.

First of all, your dog isn’t your guardian. Some people purchase strong breeds thinking that they will be the protector. You must be careful with this. Larger dogs are territorial and can protect the house, but they must understand that you are the leader at all times. You set the rules and enforce them.

The best way to get this through to your dog is to build a relationship of trust between the two of you. If your dog trusts you when something out of the ordinary or potentially threatening happens, he won’t rush to bite or attack. Rather, he’ll sit back, knowing that you are the leader and that you have it under control.

This is just one of the reasons why spending time with your dog and building a tight relationship is critical. Aggression is not necessarily a sign of a “strong” dog. Often it is a sign of a fearful dog. You never want fear to be your dog’s motivator.

Second, know a dog’s “tells.” Your dog is always sending out body language to let you and everyone else around him know what he feels. Sometimes these can be great cues for understanding what your dog is thinking.

Here are some important ones:

Signs of excitement

Ears pointed forward, intensity in the eyes, body leaning forward, body tense, slow tail wag, hairs on edge, tail held high or a rigid stance.

This is the pose you’ll see in your dog when he intently watches a squirrel or a raccoon. He’s ready to rush into action. This is not a time for petting or tugging on your dog. Make sure the children around you know this and leave the dog alone.

It is common for dogs in this state to feel a hand on their sides and snap. They don’t mean to bite anyone intentionally, but they are in such a state of excitement that the touch triggers them.

Signs of aggression

Snarling, aggressive barks, lunging at a passerby, tugging powerfully at the leash/straining or growling.

These are all signs that you must remove your dog from the situation he thinks is a threat. It may mean putting him in the car for a while to “cool down,” or it may mean leaving the area altogether and trying again later. As you get to know your dog, you’ll better gauge when you must make corrections quickly.

Signs of happiness

Relaxed body, enthusiastic wagging of the tail, tail thumping, playful bowing, or relaxed body position.

These can all be signs that your dog is ready to play. Likely you’ll notice this when you release your dog from his crate and during the free-play time. You may also see it when a new person or dog approaches. They are all good signs. Of course, you still need your dog to listen, but a dog that is accustomed and calm to new experiences is always a positive thing.

The good news is that as you spend time with your dog, you’ll naturally learn about his temperament and what triggers him to undesirable behaviors.

Third, pay attention to what your dog can manage. Dogs are just like children in that they are all different. What works for one puppy may not work for another. As you get to know your dog, you’ll understand what he can handle. If you like to take your dog to the beach and spend a full day there but notice that around midday, your dog needs a long nap, you’ll have clear insight into how much energy your pet has throughout any given day. This also works with training. You’ll know when your pet is exceptionally tired or losing concentration. Be sure to schedule training for the times when your pet is most alert. This is the way to make your training as effective as possible.