Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukah! During this time of the year, humans begin thinking about (or finally act on) getting a dog. Some people have never had a dog; some haven’t had one in their adult life; and others have experience but it was with a dog much older than what they wound up getting. And almost all might start saying, “I didn’t know what I was getting into with this guy/girl. Here are 5 steps to help you become a better pack leader to your new – or old – dog.
Have the Right Energy
People often get a dog out of an emotional void in their own lives, and this is exactly the WRONG reason to get a dog. It’s also unfair to put that kind of responsibility on a canine, who doesn’t relate to the world emotionally. Calm and assertive (confident and consistent) is what they need, and a new dog will test your abilities. If you get frustrated, they stop listening. If you get upset, they stop listening. If you yell or get angry, they stop listening. Anything other than calm leadership will not result in a happy house/human/dog. So be the pack leader.
Create the Rules
I often hear owners ask me, “Is this okay?” Unless you have gone off the rails, your rules are your rules. The dog’s job is to follow your rules and your lead. If that changes in the next 5 minutes, the dog’s job is to follow. But create rules, don’t let the dog create those rules… it never ends happily. Enforce the rules.
Dogs respond best to a ritual; a pattern of behavior that can be counted on so they know for themselves what is expected. Unlike a recent “dog training” video, the trainer didn’t want the dog going out the door ahead of him. He made the dog wait and give eye contact, then opened the door for the dog to go out ahead of him. What’s the message? I honestly don’t know, and neither will the dog. Changing to rules to suit your desire is one thing; enforcing the rules already in place is another. Once again, enforce the rules.
Fulfill your Dog
Fulfillment is defined as contentment, serenity, completion. Letting your dog run in a back yard to “drain their energy” is incomplete pack leadership. Ever been so physically tired that you needed to go to bed but you couldn’t sleep because your mind was racing? That’s your dog! As soon as they are physically recharged (which generally doesn’t take that long in the young ones) their mind tells them to get up and get going. Without mental and psychological challenges our dogs start chewing, ripping things up, tearing around the house like a crazy dog, and trying to get out of the house (often labelled by the owners as separation anxiety). Your “Leadership Walk” should be fulfilling several things: bonding, rules enforcement, following direction, having fun and sniffing, and a reinforcement for the both of you that you are a pack and the pack does things a certain way – calmly, until it’s time to run around.
Feel, Don’t Think
Dogs are instinctual and not emotional. Humans are intellectual, emotional, and to a small degree instinctual. But we don’t nurture that part of our existence; we REALLY nurture the emotional side (some more than others!) and THAT’S where we start to make excuses for our dogs’ behavior. “Well, he’s a rescue,” “He was attacked as a puppy,” “He’s had a hard life and he was abused,” or “He doesn’t like people who are ______________ (fill in the blank: white/black/male/female/wearing hats/wearing beards/small dogs/big dogs),” all of which indicate that the human is trying to think their way into a solution and love the dog’s attitude out of existence. I’ve written before that giving affection in that state of mind reinforces and rewards that state of mind. Short answer? Don’t do that! Be the role model for that behavior that you wish to see in your dog – if you wanted your child to stand a certain way you would probably say, “Stand like this,” and then demonstrate that posture. State of mind is no different, but you are going to have to challenge yourself to be a better teacher for your dog.
I have also started a video blog on Facebook called “Dog Talk! With Pack Leader. Today’s installment is exactly what we ended on here: making excuses for your dog’s behavior, or your shortcomings as a leader. They’re short, quick, to the point, and public so go to https://www.facebook.com/DogtalkwithPackLeader (my other pages are public as well; search for Greg DiFranza and/or https://www.facebook.com/kampk9jaxbch).
Until the next time, have a joyous holiday season with your dog and I’ll see you next year (well, 2 weeks, really)!