Dogs really want us to lead them

Dogs want you to be the leader.

As some of you know, I had a very well known production company come out last Saturday to do some filming on me and fortunately had some great clients and their dogs to work with, but one case in particular really stood out.

My clients in this circumstance were a married couple that had literally not been able to touch, hug, or interact for eight years because every time they would their dog would become highly agitated and attempt to attack the husband.  Basically, if the dog could talk, he would be telling the husband that the wife was his human, so to back off, showing absolutely no respect at all to either person.  Whenever this would take place, the wife would soothe and pet him in an attempt to calm his state of mind and “make him feel better” but was in fact, simply reinforcing the bad behavior with affection and coddling. You see, everything in this dog’s life was positive.  All it had ever known was positive, as it had always had unlimited access to people, as much affection as it desired, and toys abound.  This dog believed that it was the boss of the house, and even worse, the leader of the pack. 

 Not only did their dog go into the red zone when my client and her husband interacted, but also when she would shake someone’s hand, walk by someone on a bike or skateboard, or have company come into the home.  The couple’s one year old child couldn’t have play dates, walking the dog was very difficult, and the couple obviously couldn’t enjoy a social life if it involved their home in any way.  This family had essentially become prisoners to their dog, who was interfering with nearly everything they were doing on a day-to-day basis.  Their dog thought it owned the people in it’s home.  In fact, not only did this dog think he owned the people, but also the street, and even the neighborhood! 

So with all of the unlimited affection, catering, and positive reinforcement he was getting, was this dog happy?  No. They were actually intensifying his current state of mind and telling him that they agreed with his bad behavior and obvious stress. So many dogs are actually unknowingly trained to misbehave every day!  Let me tell you something right now: you are not doing your dog or yourself any favors by allowing him to run your home.  You are also not doing your dog or yourself any favors by ignoring or reinforcing bad behavior.  Ignoring or redirecting bad behavior with treats will not fix serious behavior issues.  This is not proper, balanced communication, and how can you possibly establish a good relationship with your dog without communicating in a way they clearly understand?  This dog had an enormous amount of anxiety and the solution was easy: he needed rules and boundaries, and someone else to be the leader.

We became proactive with the couple’s dog by first taking him on a structured walk outside, then working on the “place” command with several “real world” distractions indoors.  Within twenty minutes, the dog was in a relaxed state and actually smiling.  At that point, my client actually looked over at both her husband and myself and said with wonder, “I have never seen our dog so relaxed and happy.” 

 My client was absolutely right.  Their dog had finally been relieved of the pressure he’d felt for the past eight years, actually thinking he had to be the pack leader, protecting everyone, regulating interactions, and generally feeling incredibly overwhelmed.  So in the course of twenty minutes, he went from highly stressed and badly behaved to relaxed and well behaved with simple corrections and structure.  All we really did was tell and show the dog what to do.  Dogs love being told what to do. 

When a dog thinks he is leader of the pack, he will become mentally unstable when he cannot make every decision about what the pack is doing next, and then when we get emotionally worked up over his bad behavior and cater to him, it only creates more instability and stress, which of course leads to behavior problems.  Millions of dogs are given up on every single day because they simply were not shown leadership.  Put the emotion aside and realize that in the dog world, discipline, order and respect means survival and stability, and that a happy and content dog is not only one that gets enough physical and mental stimulation, but also a dog that is clear about you being his leader that will confidently and consistently make good decisions for the pack, which in turn creates a stable, well behaved, relaxed and happy dog.

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