We’ve all seen it, the “spirited” little dog at the park that chases after everyone and snaps at their heels while the owner wrings their hands in the background, wheedling, “Now, Mitzi, we mustn’t do that, you silly girl.” But it’s not Mitzi’s fault she’s so obnoxious.
The reason why dogs are out so out of control these days is simple – people treat them like people. Newsflash folks; no matter how much we love them, dogs are not people. They’re dogs. They’re pack animals descended from wolves. Would you let a wolf eat at your kitchen table with you? Dress it up in a pink tutu? Laugh while it snaps and growls at a guest in your house? I didn’t think so.
I raised a 150 pound Rottweiler from a pup to the ripe old age of nine. He never really grew up, he always acted like a happy puppy because I treated him like a dog. Rottweilers are a breed that always want to be dominant but I learned several ways to diffuse that instinct without starting a war. Here are some tips to tame your pooch’s inner wolf with love.
- Be the boss. This is the cornerstone of every positive interaction you have with your dog. Dogs are pack animals, and want you to be their leader. They need to know where they place in the hierarchy to feel safe and secure. You are not being cruel to your dog by being the boss, you are giving him what he needs to be happy. Here are some ways to do this:
- When your dog is a puppy, handle him constantly. Pick up his feet, run your fingers in between his toes, handle his ears, his mouth, give him regular baths in the tub, groom him, cut his nails. Get him used to human touch. It may not be safe to do this with an adult dog that has learned bad habits. Consult a professional dog trainer if you have problems handling your adult dog.
- With your puppy, repeat all of the above while he is eating. Take the food away from him, put it back, handle him while he eats. This teaches him that you are giving him permission to eat, just as a pack leader would do. It also teaches him to trust that you will feed him and he has no need to aggressively protect his food. This can be a dangerous problem in adult dogs, especially with children in the household.
- At meal times, humans eat first. Do not allow your dog to beg at the table, or be fed scraps at the table. Feed him later when everyone else has finished. In the wild, the pack leader eats first.
- Stare him down. Making direct eye contact is a strong challenge to your dog’s authority. If you are correcting him for an unwanted behavior, like begging at the table, issue your “no” firmly with eye contact. If he doesn’t look away immediately, stand up or take a step toward him to be more dominant, keeping eye contact. DO NOT RAISE YOUR HAND AS A THREAT. The goal is not to make your dog afraid of you. Stare for as long as it takes, punctuated with another calm but firm “no.” If the dog looks away first, you have exerted your authority and won. If you look away first, shame on you. Aren’t you the boss here?
- Nix the furniture. A dog on the sofa with you is a dog that thinks he’s equal, or better, than you. If you must have your dog on the couch, make sure it is by invitation only, and he gets down when told to, without any aggressive argument.
- Insist on the right of way. You are making dinner and your dog is laying in the middle of the kitchen floor. Do you step over him every 30 seconds or make him move? The boss would make him move, especially if it is a 150 pound Rottweiler. When my dog saw me coming, he knew to get out of my way. I established my pack position when he was small simply by expecting him to be the one to yield.
- Hit the pavement. No matter what their size a dog needs exercise every day to burn off excess energy, especially if they have terrible leash manners. How else will they learn? Which brings us to. . .
- Get them to obedience school. Contrary to popular belief, dog obedience school teaches the human more than the dog. Dogs are instinctual creatures and they already know everything they need to know. Obedience school teaches their humans how to communicate exactly what is wanted of them. Dogs want to please you. It’s a human failing that we don’t speak their language.
These techniques work best on puppies or gentle dogs. If you have an adult dog with behavior problems, it’s best to consult a professional trainer to help deal with them. You could get seriously hurt if you attempt to challenge a dog who is used to being the boss, no matter what its size.
If you truly love your dog, then think about life from his perspective. Just because he brings you his favorite toy when you are sad, doesn’t mean he thinks like a human. Not all the time, anyway!