Without even recognizing it, your dog may be “wearing the pants” in your house. Without a strong leader, it is natural for the dog to take charge and try and be the “pack leader”.
More often than not, it is the dog. While we observe the dogs and owners, we can often see how well the dogs have trained the owners. In fact, the root of many behavioral issues is that the dog thinks he is the “pack leader”. It’s not something owners realize until we point out the tell-tale signs. Suddenly the owners see things from their dog’s point of view and have a new respect for their dog’s intelligence.
For fun, we have listed some examples of dogs who have taken the lead to control situations to get what they want. These are real-life scenarios compiled from our clients. You may see yourself or your dog in these behaviors!
- Merlin (a border collie) wakes up my husband in the middle of the night to go out and then sneaks back upstairs and takes his spot in the bed.”
- “Our Boxer Olly loves to play in the mud. My husband started breaking a biscuit in half and throwing it on the lawn to clean Olly’s wet paws with the hose. Now Olly won’t go out on the lawn unless a treat is thrown.”
- “Our German Shepherd King has learned to use the door handle so we don’t have to let him out. That is the good news. The bad news is he doesn’t shut the door after himself, letting all the bugs in! When he is at daycare, he often opens the door to the garden and lets all the dogs out. This can be dangerous!”
- “Our dog Cuda has my number. When he wants to go for a walk, he goes and grabs his leash. He is relentless in his begging and I always give in because I work from home and don’t want my client’s to hear his barking!”
- “Snoopy our Labrador doesn’t like it when I am on my cell phone. He will literally block the screen with his body and tail until I put it down.”
- “My two dogs love to play fetch. Every time I go outside they will appear with a tennis ball and start jumping all over me until I throw it.”
- “Our Malamute Aska flips the indoor flap of my letter box to get my attention. He often does it in the middle of the night which wakes me up and leads me to go downstairs to make sure there is not a prowler. So I taped it up. He stopped immediately so I finally relaxed after two months and took the tape off. Did he forget? No! The day I took the tape off he woke me at night.”
- “If I ever have new people come over and they ignore Ozzie (a Shar pei/Rottweiler/German Shepherd mix), he will immediately run and get his favorite toy which is quite large. He shakes it in between our visitor’s legs until they rub his belly and say ‘hello’. Once he has received the attention, he will lie down and take a rest. Shutting him into another room doesn’t work because he has figured out how to open the door.”
- “My miniature Poodle dog has been crate trained. He is fine if I put him in there during the day…in fact, he loves it! However, at night, he barks uncontrollably until I let him out and give in.”
Do you find yourself giving in? Dogs can wear you down. They are fighting you for control. For 24 hours make a list of all instances where you are responding to your dog’s demands.
Don’t worry if the list is long. The way to turn things around is simple but it takes patience. Note when you are giving in to your dog and STOP doing it. Easier said than done, we know. You have to ignore attention-seeking behavior or demands from your dog. By not responding to your dog’s demands, you are communicating that you are the leader in a passive way that he instinctively understands. He may sulk, whine or bark but after a few days (or even weeks) he will see that his misbehaviors aren’t working anymore.
Don’t ignore your dog completely. Play with your dog as you build trust and allow him to use his intelligence in new ways. Dogs need to be mentally and physically stimulated or they will get into trouble. If your dog demands something from you, ignore him until he gives up and goes away. Wait 10 minutes and then call him back to play, eat or walk. This may seem minor to you but is massive to a canine brain.
You will be changing your relationship with your dog so that he begins to respect you versus controls you. The new behavior will become part of your life. Once you have pinpointed the changes to be made, remember to be consistent.
Vicki and Richard Horowitz, of Woodbridge, are dog behavioral therapists and trainers with Bark Busters, the world’s largest dog training company. For more information, call 1-877-500-BARK (2275) or visit www.dog-training-new-haven-ct.com.