Many of us consider our dogs to be members of our family. In many ways, they are. We form a special bond with dogs that few other animals share. Some dog owners go so far as to interpret their dog’s every action in human terms. Given this special status, as family member and companion, we naturally start to look at our furry friends through “people-colored” glasses. This is where problems begin.
Often dog owners forego training because they don’t like the way they think the training makes their dog feel, or they feel guilty for setting rules and not letting their dog “be a dog.” This humanizing of a dog’s behavior leads to faulty judgments about what dogs understand, what they need, and what is best for the dog. Dogs simply do not think like people – something many owners do not understand or refuse to accept. Dogs are guided by principles of pack law, and they expect their leader to act in a certain way.
Misunderstanding of pack law is often the cause of behavior problems. Dogs instinctually crave leadership and are keenly attuned to the discipline associated with it. However, if dogs don’t sense leadership from owners, their primordial drive compels them to try to take charge, which can lead to behavior issues, such as barking, pulling on the leash, jumping or even worse behaviors.
Learning how to communicate leadership in a way a dog understands is key. Case in point: Two dogs, Brewster, an adult male rottweiler; and Brandon, a 10-month-old male boxer puppy; both have dominant personalities, but there is no doubt who is higher in the pack. Brewster makes sure of that by deciding when it’s time to play and who gets what toys. At times, to demonstrate his leadership, Brewster simply ignores Brandon – and if the over-active boxer crosses the line (tests the rules), Brewster enforces his rules with modeled consistency. His leadership in this relationship is 100 percent consistent.
The lesson for dog owners is to take control by communicating leadership – and do so consistently. There is no reason for your dog to lead you on walks, cut you off on the stairs, run first through open doorways, jump on visitors, or bark every time the doorbell rings or a person walks by your house. Typically, these are things dog do when they think they are in charge. And for those that shudder at the thought of ever ignoring their dog’s nudges to be petted (as a demonstration of leadership), remember, this is an important lesson for your dog to understand its pack structure, thus providing the a safe and stress-free environment it needs.
Discipline and leadership are not enemies of fun. And in no way should training a dog inhibit its playfulness or spontaneity. But that doesn’t mean there should be no rules for inappropriate behavior. In fact, providing your dog with consistent leadership and ground rules for behavior will make it feel more secure and relaxed and make for a more self-assured companion. Dogs must learn who is in charge in a way they understand. Remember, dogs are pack animals, and in a pack, rules and hierarchy are the cornerstones of a happy, secure, and stable family.
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