After many years of helping people train their dogs I find that most people are convinced that love and love alone is all you need to have a happy, healthy bond with your dog. Yes, it is very important, but it is not the only thing. You alone are responsible for working with and improving the bond between you and your dog. It is my desire to help you do your very best. There are many philosophies relating to training and behavior modification. There are as many opinions on this as there are people who work with dogs. I believe that there is no “one way” to train your dog. That each dog and their human are unique individuals and what may work for one may not work for another. If you are working with a trainer, reading a book or watching a video, and it doesn’t feel right to you, or isn’t working, then find another way.
You’ve all heard this before, dogs are pack animals. Yet I believe that many of us don’t fully realize what that means. It means that being a part of the pack is a driving force of the canine psyche. That belonging and knowing their place in the pack gives them security. Because of the human family dynamic, we can NOT have a family dog who is the pack leader. All family dogs must learn to accept their place in your pack. This is NOT being mean to the dog, they do not think like that. In many human families, the dog is a very confused and insecure individual because we send them mixed signals under the guise of being kind and loving. This results in what we humans consider unacceptable behavior and sometimes ends in dangerous aggression to humans. Thousands of dogs are euthanized each year because they are unwanted. Many of these dogs end up in shelters because they “won’t listen, “ they’re “too aggressive,” etc. The same dogs can be loving family pets under the right circumstances. Now think about it, is making sure your dog is a loved and welcome member of your family for the rest of it’s life worth a little effort on your part?
Our canine companions are amazing beings with wonderful qualities that those of us who love them, would never want to live without. Dogs guide the blind, protect our homes, serve with our military and police. They assist the disabled, detect cancer, explosives, narcotics. They find lost children, people trapped in the rubble of earthquakes and so much more. What makes these dogs different than our family pets? Nothing! They are however, socialized, worked with and encouraged to use their abilities to help their human pack.
Your dog has genetic tendencies that come from their wolf ancestors. It also has instincts and tendencies that have been genetically nurtured by humans to breed particular tendencies into whatever breed or breeds that your dog may be. These tendencies mean that different breeds learn and behave in different ways. We must keep this in mind when we are attempting to mold behavior. Your dog has wonderful qualities and feelings, but they are NOT human. We are human and WE are the ones that are supposed to have superior intelligence. Yet many dogs die or have frustrating, sometimes abused lives because we humans are upset that our dogs can’t understand what we want. We need to understand them in order to communicate with them. Whenever you are frustrated, try to keep that in mind.
Why did I remind you of all of that? Because I want you to become comfortable in the leadership role. YOU need to be in charge and comfortable with that. You aren’t being mean to your dog, you are giving it security and comfort. Now, does being the leader mean that you go around bullying your dog? Of course not! You don’t see the alpha dog going around constantly bullying the other dogs. He or she is secure in their position and enforce it with minor effort. Only the dogs, within the pack, that feel insecure go around testing and competing with the others. Your dog is a master of body language. You are sending signals that you are completely unaware of. Little things like, stepping around your dog when he is lying in the floor, constantly picking up a small dog, petting your dog when they flip their muzzle under your hand, can send signals that you are not in charge. So, from now on, NO FREE RIDES! No, I’m not telling you not to pet and love your dog. I am telling you that you should expect a behavior from your dog before you pet or feed your dog. On the other hand, I want your dog to have complete trust in you. With leadership comes responsibility.
To begin with, I want you to begin to condition your dog to sit before you pet him. I want your dog to sit before you open a door for him, feed him, etc. Punctuate your dog’s life by having him do something for you before you do something for him. In this way, we begin to re-route your dog’s thinking. No excuses like, I’m busy, etc. Hold a treat, or even your hand just above, and toward the back of your dog’s head and when they sit to reach the treat, reward them. You have a dog and you must interact with him during the day to pet and feed him. It just takes an effort on your part to re-train yourself to interact in a different way. Every moment you have with your dog is a training session. Learn to use all of your interactions with your dog as a lesson. And yes, that includes just hanging out, lounging on the sofa, if that is what you want. It also includes the ability to take your dog with your almost anywhere you go and do fun and exciting things together. Isn’t that what you imagined yourself doing when you got your dog in the first place?
The next thing is that a tired dog is a happy dog. Sufficient exercise is very important. Your dog, like you was designed to get out and do something to survive every day. In between periods of exertion, dogs do rest quite a bit. When it is hot, they find a cool spot and relax. But your dog has plenty of energy to do what it is required to not only survive, but to do the work that it was bred to do. So, somehow, some way, find out how to make exercise a part of your dog’s life. It might also help you as well. If your dog likes to retrieve, then playing fetch is good. If your dog likes to chase, but not bring the ball back, get a bucket of balls or a stack of Frisbees and keep throwing until he’s tired. But, handy hint, act like you don’t want the ball, have another one handy and start to run away when your dog turns back to you with the ball in their mouth. When they reach you, praise and pet the dog, don’t reach right away for the ball. Then, show the dog the other ball as you reach for the one in his mouth. See if this doesn’t help teach your dog to bring things back to you. Walks, runs, dog parks and for those that can afford it, doggy day care are good options. As a dog trainer I will tell you that the biggest challenge I face is devoting enough time to exercise my dogs properly. Doing that alone will make a huge change in behavior.
Let’s get ready to make some changes in your life with your dog. Nothing pleases me more than helping you change a frustrating situation into one of the best relationships you’ve ever had. I hope this helps you begin the process.