I hear it everyday from highly intelligent, extremely caring and intuitive folks; “my dog is trying to dominate me because he or she is (INSERT NAUGHTY BEHAVIOR)”. It is an easy inference to make. Some professional trainers subscribe to a manhandle and choke dogs philosophy in order to get our furry friends to comply with cues. If you hire and trust a licensed individual who tells you that forcing a dog to do what you want would make you the boss; it would make sense, right? Well, what if your dog weighs 180 pounds and wants to smell pee on one side of the street and you want to walk on the other? Good luck with that. Or, let’s say your dog bites your hand when you grab her collar? I would not want to coerce her off the bed.
And, when you look up dog training on the internet; phrases like “pack leader” are scattered everywhere. While there certainly are VERY valid hierarchies within dog-dog relationships; your dog knows you are not a dog. So, unless you want to get on your hands and knees, shove your nose up your pup’s butt when you come home from work, THEN master amazingly intricate canine body language that can stop a dog in his or her tracks with a single, subtle posture change; you are not going to be successful.
If only understanding WHY dogs do what they do and how to teach them otherwise were so easy, a whole lot of us dog trainers would have to walk away from careers that we love. Let’s look at a few of the common “dominance” misunderstandings.
My dog pulls on the leash, so he’s trying to take control of the walk. Nope. Dogs pull because they are often going somewhere fun. PARK! WEEEEE! Let’s get there as fast as we can. Or, in the case of a really fearful dog. OHMYGOD, let’s get home where it’s safe and quiet as quickly as four-paw-possible.
Jumping on guests. Your canine buddy jumps on guests not because he wants people to bow before him and place a jeweled crown on his furry noggin’; but, because he CAN. And, it has likely been reinforced a time or two. Pup jumps, person either pets or pushes him off. Both are attention, and your dog will do it again.
Barking at you. This is a tad trickier. There are plenty of demand barkers out there. And, because many of us Chicago city dwellers want to be respectful of our neighbors and not let our dogs yap and yap until they tire themselves out; many folks eventually give the dog what they want or get so annoyed that they yell “NO!!!!” Good human, you learned how to bark. Ask yourself if you have ever reinforced barking. Dog barks at you while you eat dinner but also to be let out for a pee. Well, deary, you can not get upset for a behavior in one instant then reinforce the exact same behavior 20 minutes later. Not fair.
I certainly believe that dogs are MUCH smarter and more emotionally capable than current science has proven. But, they do not sit around all day plotting to take over our homes. Popular television shows lead us to believe that the ONLY cause to EVERY SINGLE dog behavioral issue is that Fido was never taught to be submissive and there’s one formula that will make him or her comply. If only it were that simple. However, if you take ten minutes of each day and just work a little bit on exactly what you want your dog to be good at; I promise, he will look to you more and more for guidance. And, he will like you a lot more if you are kind while he is trying to learn.