Becoming the leader your dog deserves
There is an abundance of information available through the Internet, T.V and books on how to become a good leader to your dog. I believe however the majority of it is just that, information, rather than knowledge. There are many dedicated owners who invest a lot of time, effort and money caring for their dog only to find themselves experiencing a range of problem behaviour including aggression, pulling on the lead, separation anxiety, not coming back when called and much more. Even the most experienced owners have admitted defeat when up against a particularly challenging dog.
If you’ve struggled to address your dogs behavioural issues there are generally two reasons why:
- People do not talk in detail about the most fundamental aspect of the dogs well being; it’s needs and how to fulfil them.
Instead conversations and advice from dog experts, dog walkers, family, friends and the man in the park are primarily geared towards discussing a model of behaviour, which consists of the following:
The problem with this model is that it unknowingly shifts many owners into autopilot fulfilling the actions without considering their dog’s actual needs. The moment we address a to do list of actions to nurture our dogs rather than looking at their needs as a whole – assessing what they need at each point in time – is the moment we inadvertently discard our most basic nurturing instincts and listening skills. Here are some examples of this:
I regularly hear owners claim, ‘my dog does not like going out when it is raining’, to which I would reply, ‘then do not take your dog out for a walk when it is raining’. People often look puzzled by this response, due to the deep-set belief that you must strictly abide by the list and take your dog out a certain number of times a day, rain or shine, or you are a bad dog owner, despite the dog communicating a need to stay at home where it is warm and dry.
Owners may comment that their dog will misbehave in the home if they do not walk them for a certain amount of time per day. The dog not having enough exercise is often used as an excuse for undesirable behaviour. But here is where it becomes less obvious – undesirable behaviour frequently originates from a different unmet need altogether. For example, the dog could be pacing up and down in the home and garden in an attempt to deal with perceived security needs. Or it may be constantly pestering the owner because it believes it is in charge of the household and so makes the decisions. The undesirable behaviour that occurred in the home is often reduced after a walk, as the dog has burnt off its nervous energy. However, walking the dog for these reasons fails to identify or address why the problematic behaviour occurred in the first place. Exercising the dog in this scenario will result in simply treating the symptoms rather than the disease. The dog will wake up the next day with the same problem behaviours and the guardian will likely repeat the same exercising and distraction technique. All that is really achieved by doing this is producing a fitter dog. Likewise, if you had debts and decided to go for a run, you will likely feel better afterwards. However, the next day, you would wake up with the same problems.
Socialising: this should be an important part of a dogs daily life, designed to boost their confidence needs by getting them used to other dogs. However if you stand back and allow your dog to get bullied or scared the experience will be unpleasant and her needs won’t be being fulfilled. In turn she may choose aggressive behaviour to warn dogs off in the future. In moments your dog feels uncertain in, it is necessary as her leader, you intervene so she understands that you will protect her.
Training: If your dog does develop behavioural issues and you are advised to use a training method that controls the dog such as a shock collar to stop it attacking, a spray collar to stop it barking or a haulti to stop a dog pulling you are merely silencing the dog and it’s concerns.
Each of these tactics may appear to ‘work in the form of the dogs problem behaviour subsiding. But the techniques again do not address the core issue – why does the dog feel it is necessary to protect the house in the first place? Why was it so stressed?
Now of course I am not saying do not exercise, socialise or train your dogs rather I am saying consider their actual needs with every activity in each moment.
- We don’t understand how the dog interprets our language
Many of us struggle to communicate effectively with our dogs because we are unaware of how our language appears to them when they have a genuine concern regarding their needs. For example when someone comes to the home and posts a leaflet through the letterbox, the dog, not knowing the delivery person’s intentions, commonly alerts the pack to the perceived danger by barking. However, we know the delivery person’s intentions, and so can be guilty of trying to quieten the dog in frustration. The dog then may assesses our body language and tonality at such times and sees a lack of positive action because, as far as it is concerned, we are failing to check out the danger. It therefore can perceive our attempt to silence it as us looking to it to protect us. In its mind, we are putting it in the role as leader. The harsh tone from us to quieten our dog only reinforces its assumption that it is its responsibility to protect the pack. If the dog doesn’t see us taking care of what it perceives as danger in a convincing, physical manner, it will try to fill the vacuum.
If the dog’s needs are not recognised or we are not using the correct language to communicate that we will provide for them, they will become stressed and their state will heighten. In these moments it is vital we learn actions to calm our dogs in each moment. Be that if the dogs state rises when she sees another dog – in which we could walk in the other way to demonstrate that we are aware of the perceived danger and are choosing to. If she jumps up excitedly at visitors – where we could put her in another room to calm down and show her a consequence of her bad manners. Or if our dog gets over excited each time we pick up the lead to go for a walk – to put it down again and only move forward once they are calm and responsive.
To summarise, our dogs need us to be emotionally aware of their needs and the individual actions needed to fulfil them. They need us to recognise their concerns and communicate clearly that we understand them. And they need this message backed up in a calm, consistent and convincing fashion to reinforce we are capable of the job. Once you’re able to do this then your dog will truly have the leader it so deserves.