That is one type of leadership – unfortunately it’s not one that every person can authentically pull off. Some people have a softer touch than these obvious “alphas,” but can still lead dogs with expert precision.
When I am dealing with softer human personalities, I ask one simple question to help them understand leadership with their dog: Who is adjusting to whom?
I tell people to think of going on a romantic walk on a date, but when the walk starts your date ignores your existence and talks to everyone else they see gleefully. When there’s no one else around, they are taking pictures of themselves or chatting with someone on their phone. That’s what these Flexi-lead walks are like!
Or maybe they want their dog to sleep in a crate at night because they don’t want their couches covered in dog hair and the trash can tipped over when they wake, but when the dog whines a little bit on the first night they decide to let the dog out to sleep in bed or wherever else it likes. Not only have you created a lifetime whiner when you do this, you’ve established a precedent for how easy it is for your dog to train you!
Just the other day I received an e-mail from a guy whose dog needed to be let out every 3 hours or it would just go pee on the carpet – almost as if the dog was punishing the owner for not keeping to his (the dog’s) schedule.
Dog trainers compensate for this by giving people rigid rules and guidelines to start changing this all too common dynamic. These practices should include:
- 1) No animals allowed on the furniture or an invite only system for dogs to get on the furniture.
- 2) Dogs waiting at thresholds for the owner to lead them through.
- 3) Dogs walking in a heel.
- 4) Dogs waiting politely for their food.
- 5) Obedience training – after all, dogs following commands is teaching them how to follow your guidance.
- 6) Dogs get pet and affection when they are calm and relaxed rather than hyper and pushy.
Doing these little things helps people because it gets dogs to join the pack you already made, not create a new one with their own rules. These rules aren’t necessary for every dog, but if you start with a little more rigidity it will give you much more flexibility in the future. If your dog is having behavior problems, though, these rules are very necessary.
Hopefully when you get a dog you are bringing it into a happy and stable home. A rowdy, reckless dog can change a happy home to a chaotic home in no time, though – just go watch Marley and Me and you will see this happen. You can see from the first moments of this classic scene that Marley is making all the decisions (even when to wake up!) and the owner is passively trying to follow along with his high-energy dog:
When adding a new dog to your family, help them fit in with your family and not the other way around. Showing them the rules and expectations does not take a drill sergeant demeanor, it just takes calm consistency, a good plan, and a commitment to a peaceful house and a happy dog. After all, like most humans, dogs are most happy when they fit in with their family.
So today as you go through your day, ask yourself the one simple question: Who is adjusting to whom? If you find yourself bending over backwards for your dog, maybe it’s time to figure out what they’ve done for you lately.