Before I go any further, I want to lay something out very clearly for you. Your dogs are not people. Every time you pretend your dog is another human member of the house, you’re not just ignoring the ways of nature; you’re putting expectations on them they cannot hope to fulfil. A dog without a sound pack structure and a clear alpha leader will not understand that growling at the cats when eating is a bad behaviour. They feel the need to protect themselves because you have not asserted clearly that you will protect them.
The same goes for everything you do in taking care of your dog. Every day, millions of dollars are spent to pamper dogs around the world. While there is nothing wrong with good grooming (I encourage it) or an occasional treat, you will never train your dog by lavishing them with expensive meals and pedicures. They need the structure and assertiveness that they expect from you instinctually.
The honest truth is that a dog understands very little of what you do for it beyond the pack structure you establish and the attention you give it.
How Pack Leadership Ensures an Obedient Dog
So, how is it that people like Cesar Milan can instantly quell the unwanted behaviours of an out of control dog? To be sure, there are some elements of TV magic involved, but in truth, he is merely giving the dog exactly what it wants. And while it may be hard to hear this, your dog needs and desires that stern attention.
Of course, I do not mean you should punish your dog. There is a very definite difference between asserting dominance and punishment. Punishment shames your dog because they did not behave as you expect them to behave. If you never taught them their role in the pack and how they are expected to behave, it is unfair and can exacerbate those bad behaviours. On the other hand, if you simply assert your role over your dog, they will understand that you have a higher social standing, and will slowly learn to accept the commands you give.
When you don’t show dominant leadership behaviours over your dog, your dog compensates or attempts to take that control themselves. Dogs with aggressive, alpha personalities will often end up ruling the house themselves, refusing to behave and making life miserable for anyone that gets in their way. Meek, submissive dogs may act out in other ways, by chewing up items around your home, making messes, or barking excessively.
Finally, you should know that there is no in-between for dogs. Everything is very black and white for them in terms of leadership. So, when you start working toward asserting your dominance, you need to do it all in. You cannot waver, make exceptions because they’ve been “really good” or take a break from asserting the dominant behaviour that a dog needs to see in their owner. You’re either a follower or a leader, and you need to be the leader.
How Dogs Interact
Have you ever tried yelling at a dog over and over again when they won’t behave? It’s almost like they cannot hear you. You may be failing to back up your dominance with the body language and energy a dog needs to see. Raw anger rarely works in combatting a dog with obedience issues. Imagine what would happen if, whenever your children broke a rule, you yelled at them from another room without any visible consequences. Eventually, they would ignore you and start pushing their boundaries.
Dogs are similar in that they need to be shown that there are tangible reasons to respond to your commands. You need to show them with your body language and energy that you are in charge of the situation and you need to use cues that dogs understand to consistently put them back in their place in the pack. Empty punishment and yelling are not going to get either of those things done.
Communication is very important to dogs, but they don’t communicate the same way that we do. While you might be able to lie to your spouse and tell them you are okay when you are really angry, a dog will almost always know – picking up on cues in your body language, tone, and behaviour that correspond to your anger.
I once knew a dog owner who would often find the odd behavioural problems her dog exhibited funny. The dog would get confused and jump on the couch when he should not. He would bark at strange lights on the wall. He would occasionally bite pillows and chew up socks. She found it hilarious for some reason, so even when scolding the dog and attempting to show him that those behaviours were not okay, she was exhibiting body language that said she was actually amused. The dog would do it even more often then, because he thought it was a good thing. The words didn’t matter, nor did the tone of voice. It was the body language that communicated her true feelings to the dog.
Addressing the Real Problems
When it comes to addressing behavioural problems, they are more often than not related to issues with the owner, and not the dog. A dog is a dog – they don’t know anything else. They are not humans and they do not have human emotions (as much as we may transfer upon them), so their behaviours are almost always the result of something else in the household.
The key to success then is to first recognize the source and cause of the problems – what issues you may have that are causing the dog to behave poorly. Consider some of these possible issues:
- Do you spoil your dog?
- Do you fail to follow through on your punishments?
- Are you meek or apologetic when commanding your dog?
- Do you defer to others in the house about your dog?
- Do you allow your dog to walk you?
- Do you expect human emotions and responses from your dog?
These are all common problems – after all, the emotional connection we create with our pets is above and beyond any simple ownership. They reflect our emotions and at times, we reflect theirs. So, it is important to understand that everything you do has an impact on your dog – from the tiniest tone in your voice, to the way you feed or walk them on a daily basis.
By recognizing your own behavioural problems and how they impact the way your dog sees you, you’ll be able to change the foundation of the relationship you have and ultimately address the problems your dog has been having.
Claiming the Alpha position in your pack does many things. But, primarily, it creates a deferential leadership position for you and your dog. What does that mean? It’s similar to how a general will salute a private back when the two meet in passing. However, the general does not salute nearly as fully or at attention. They simply acknowledge the respect given to them by the private.
The same will occur between you and your dog. Your dog will recognize that you have a senior position and will defer to you on all major decisions, and for general protection – as it would in nature.
This does many things. It makes it easy to claim space in your home. You can claim your couch, your bed, your car, your door, your windows. They are all your space and your dog will only infringe upon them with your express permission – that salute back to them. If you don’t give it, they cannot get on the couch.
Ideally, with the right training and attitude, your dog will learn to defer to your leadership in almost all situations – learning to walk on a leash, eat their food without showing aggression, stay on the floor, and to respect other dogs and people and their space.