Most People view dog training as teaching their dogs obedience cues or just getting rid of bad behaviors. The questions that should be asked are “how do we make obedience useful?” and “why do these bad behaviors exist in the first place?” An all too common problem I see is complete lack of structure and leadership being given to our dogs.
The first thing dog owners need to understand is that dogs are pack animals. When you bring a new dog or puppy into your home they immediately start figuring out where they fit into their new pack. If dogs do not get leadership, they often times assume leadership. This is where the problems start.
People tend to humanize their dogs and spoil them rotten just as if they were furry little children. I commonly see an abundance of toys scattered around the house, no dog crates, loose dogs running around, jumping on guest, jumping on furniture, chewing inappropriate things, barking, bolting out doorways etc… Along with the completely untrained wild dog in the house I commonly see owners shouting cues or yelling “no” with no way of actually following up with these behaviors.
Dogs require Exercise, structured play or walks in conjunction with obedience training. We have to work the body and the mind. There’s an old saying in dog training “a tired dog is a good dog” this is true but exercise alone won’t solve behavioral issues. Most new dog owners aren’t prepared to meet the dogs needs as far as energy is concerned. I have a cat and I have a dog, they have very different needs. Most cats are content snuggling with you all day, being lazy and staying indoors. The same can’t be said for dogs. I find that a lot of dog owners really want to treat their dogs like cats, they want their dogs to be cuddly and lounge around with them all day. This just doesn’t work for most dogs. For example my Doberman requires at least an hr of exercise daily and multiple small training sessions.
How to provide Leadership and Structure
- Use Dog Crates. Every dog should be crate trained. Dogs have a den instinct, it is not cruel. Crates are great tools to teach the dog to be alone and not so needy or demanding. Crates are an excellent management tool when you can not pay attention to your dog. For those of you who have dogs that destroy your personal items when you are not paying attention remember this, a dog does not know the difference between expensive and non expensive items. They can tear up the hand me down couch your parents gave you or a brand new lazy boy. Crates also prevent dog to dog issues in multiple dog households. They can be fed in their crates or given chew toys in their crate so they don’t have to worry about guarding them from other dogs. Dog crates become a place of peace and security for your dogs.
- Use Gates/Limit Access. Again do not give your dog freedom of the entire house. when your dog proves to you they can be trusted then you can start giving your dog more freedom. Use gates and shut doors.
- Use Leashes and Tethers. The use of leashes in the house is incredibly important when creating pack structure. Leashes allow us to follow through with our behavioral cues and corrections. They restrict freedom until our dogs are trained to the point where they are reliable. They help set the tone by showing the dog that your home is a place that has rules. Homes shouldn’t be a place where wild and crazy behavior is allowed. Remember this dogs will only do what you allow them to do. Tethering your dog to you or to sturdy objects by you again establishes control and can give your dog a little bit more space than a dog crate. I use tethers to keep my dog by me and out of trouble.
- Make Your Dog Earn Everything. This goes by a few different names, Nothing in life is free policy, No lunch for free policy or permission based training. When dogs are forced to think and slow down before they get things it inhibits reactive impulsive behavior. This is actually pretty scientific, dogs have 2 parts to there brains. The cerebral cortex is the thinking side and the lymbic system is the impulsive reactive side. When one side is activated it actually inhibits the other side, so in short if your dog is thinking they are not reacting if they are reacting they are not really thinking. This also sends the message to your dog that you control every aspect of their lives. You become the center of your dogs world and that is how it should be. Most dogs are not equipped to be good leaders anyway so this actually takes a lot of stress off of our dogs when they are lead not leading. This protocol teaches impulse control, reducess stress, increases confidence and increases calmness.
- Pick Up All The Dog Toys and Bones. When toys and bones are left out we are asking for possessive behavior especially in multiple dog households. I’m not saying don’t play with your dog, I’m saying play with them more and do it on your own terms. Most people have toys and bones scattered across their floors, not only does this look messy but it also leads to our dogs constantly demanding we play with them, and more times than not we give in. Again think about who is really in control here if our dog is being demanding and pushy and we keep giving into this behavior we are positively reinforcing our dogs for being demanding and pushy. Play with your dogs! Make sure you make them do obedience before you release them to play and make sure they know how to “out” balls and tugs
- No Free Feeding. Free feeding is when the dogs bowl is always full and the bowl is never picked up. Basically food is always available. Dogs should be allowed to eat for 10-15 minutes tops then the opportunity to eat goes away until their next feeding time. Dogs that are free fed tend to have lower food drive. Free feeding is also highly problematic in multiple dog households. Dogs will become possessive of their food, food bowls and even the space around it. Train your dog for their daily meals so they earn their food or feed them in their dog crates. Free feeding also makes potty training incredibly difficult and tends to make dogs incredibly picky with food. Most dogs I know that have been free fed go on mini hunger strikes until their owners try new food, this cycle tends to repeat itself.
- Exercise Your Dogs Body and Mind. Make sure you go on structured walks or jogs with your dog. This not only tires them out physically but mentally as well. Walking simulates hunting, roaming and pack behavior. There’s reasons our dogs get so excited for walks. Train a solid heel ( I have youtube videos of how to train heel) Do not let your dogs pull and go to the bathroom everywhere. Make them go before the walk or release them to go on the walk, either way be in control of them. Like I said above ” a tired dog is a good dog” when our dogs energy is spent doing productive things like walking, structured play and training the less energy they will have to get into things or be obnoxious.
- Too Much Affection Not Enough Control. We can be affectionate to our dogs, again on our own terms. Wild out of control greetings on our part only create wild out of control greetings from our dogs. We definitely should be affectionate to our dogs, we love them, we enjoy them, that’s why we have them. I’m saying affection should not be given whenever the dog wants it or at times we feel bad for them. Love them by giving them whet they need by being a good leader. I often feel like dog owners give too much affection to try to make themselves feel better for the lack of quality time they spend with their dogs. It will not make up for it. Spend quality time so you do not feel the need to compensate.
- Quality Time vs Quantity Time. This follows a lot of what iv’e previously stated, but its worth its own section. Unsupervised freedom, too much affection, loads of toys, food and treats are not the right way to love your dog. If you do these things your dog may enjoy you, they may even love you, but they will not respect you or view you as someone who is in control.
Possessive, aggressive, demanding, fearful, over excited behaviors etc… can all be symptoms of a lack of leadership and structure. Follow these guidelines and these behaviors will greatly improve or disappear. I always first start by treating the root cause instead of just correcting the symptoms