Why does THAT dog listen so well?

Have you ever found yourself asking that question?  If so, this article is for you.  I would have to say that the correct and only answer to that question is: the dog and owner/handler have achieved balance; they understand their unique roles.  I will explain how I teach that to my clients in this article.

Since I work with dogs every day this is an important subject to me.  Besides my clients in training, I work a Narcotics Detection Dog for our detection company Sniff Check.  I get to train alongside some of the best in the business, some of whom are law enforcement or military.  I think of how people are in awe of these working dogs and their handlers... people say stuff like, "he told that dog to sit and it did - and it never moved, it just stared at him".  Think balance.  Now, think about the dog you see pulling someone around the block while dressed up in a tutu.  How about your friend's dog that jumps on you and humps your leg every time you visit?  What about the dog that begs at the table until you  (I mean someone you know) fixes it a plate?  Simple.  There is no balance.

Dogs want to know their position in our life, but they need you to show them what that is.  They are now a domesticated animal, not a wild creature and they rely on you to show them everything!  This has nothing to do with diet, it has to do with primal needs.  We must keep perspective - they are dogs - not children, not fur-kids, not four-legged people.  I know that offends some people, and I don't apologize for using those references.  I know many people have found balance and their dogs have, too - even dressed up like a tarantula for Halloween.  But most dogs posses a propensity to lick their genetailia on a whim, in the middle of the living room while you have coffee and cake with your child's preschool teacher or your pastor, who stopped by for a social visit.  It all comes down to one easy thought: most dogs want to be treated like dogs BECAUSE they want to act like dogs.  I tell my clients to spoil them often, just bring it back to balance by being a good leader.

Being a good leader means that you can communicate to people and dogs alike who they are in the pack or as humans call it, the family.  Every family has a pecking order.  The  'Alpha' leader has to be a human because this is where the dog lives.  This is a very important position and it is not for everyone.  You must be able to be in charge and maintain order.  But even more than that, the Alpha provides good direction on how to be submissive to him/her.  Alpha decides when to hunt, in the wild.  In the home, Alpha needs to determine when food goes in the bowl, not the dog.  Alpha decides when to run around and give chase, in the wild.  In the home, Alpha takes out the leash and provides an intriguing walk.  Alpha in the wild is in control of breeding, sleeping, hunting, eating, playing, EVERYTHING!

When people give up Alpha status in the home, the next dog in line WILL TRY TO TAKE THE POSITION (just think teenager for a second).  This is a primal trait of dogs - even though there are some that don't show it as much, or have lost this desire through poor breeding practices, early spay/neuter, etc...  Dogs will do some strange things when they are trying to achieve Alpha in your home.  Some of those things include marking, chewing, biting, destroying, pushing, pulling, making your life miserable.  So, we ask ourselves, how do we maintain this Alpha status?  The short answer is by treating a dog like a dog wants to be treated.  First, we must provide clear directives and rules with behavior.  Dogs have a primal need to be in a pack - a pack has structure built on clarity.  We believe you need to keep the steps in order to achieve the most effective results.
Play time is the first rule of order that we establish.  This lets the dog know everything in this territory is yours.  You can play with the toys, my toys, when I say you can.  Toys are put up with the exception of play time.  We will play and have fun where and when I allow it.  We take to the yard and throw balls and toys, climb things and jump hurdles... on my direction.  When it is time to go play, we cut loose.  I have defined that I am in charge of fun and exercise.  Also, I get no slobbery toys pushed in the groin or dropped on my pillow this way.  I take the lead and get involved in a manner that they see me as the Alpha because I truly am in control, fully in control.  The dogs will come to me to play and they will do so respectfully.

The second thing is obedience, as well as, right and wrong behavior expectations.  It must be crystal clear what you expect out of your dog.  Leave no gray area that might lead to confusion.  For example, we teach impulse control and are very clear with what we expect.  If I say leave it, you leave it - to the point of turning your head away from it.  The dogs respond to this in such a way that is shows they are being fully submissive to my directive, I don't have to teach them to look away as part of the training - it just builds naturally and we reward for doing it.  We don't feed without doing something for the food, even if that means a simple handshake or a sit.  Waiting, not trampling you over - sitting calmly while you provide the meal - not barking at you telling you to provide the meal, or worse, begging at the kitchen door or table.

The third thing we do is we love the dogs.  Dogs need love and affection; they thrive on touch believe it or not.  From birth you can witness a mother dog and her pups connecting through touch alone.  A push here or a nudge there - sometimes a little growl or moan accompanies the touching.  This is where we go wrong sometimes.  Dogs need grooming and not many things can replace the bonding that takes place in grooming - even if it is just a 10-minute brushing session each week.  It doesn't matter if they look like they need to be brushed or not, put in the time for the relationship.  Long soft strokes of petting along the head and body go a long way.  Pushing your dog's head gently back into a front facing position shows authority without being mean, yelling, hitting or hurting your dog.  Then there is the game of tug.  I include this in the bonding time rather than play time because it can have special meaning.  It is a show of strength, but it is also a tool for serious trust formation.  While tugging, I stroke the muzzle with soft loving touches - I trust my dog not to bite me.  I teach the dog that biting should be a calm experience, not a frenzied one.  I allow the dog to win and watch him prance away with the tug - this is a HUGE confidence builder.  I end by taking the tug and putting it up... I am in control.

I will leave you with this: I was once told by a world-class, competitive dog trainer that "we have to love our dogs yet we must be careful not to love the dog so much that we steal its confidence".  I buy into that wholly and in proper context - don't keep your dog from being a dog.  I love my dogs like crazy; they know it and it certainly shows with their response to me.

Steve Kotowske
Unleash Your Inner Dog

Steve KotowskeComment