Dogs are natural FOLLOWERS...

There is an old saying that states how your dog wants to be 'alpha'.  While this does happen in some instances, this couldn't be further from the truth in most cases.  You see, most dogs are natural followers.  They are a social, pack animal, looking for their place within the pack.  Confusion comes in when we give too much credence to the notion that they are always willing to do what it takes to be in charge.   My friends that do 'pack' training would agree that once order is established, things go pretty smoothly.

I once sold a young male Dutch Shepherd to a friend who has a rather extensive, varied pack of nearly 30 dogs.  This young male worked up in the pack order to the number 3 position in just a matter of a month with no fighting.  I would be remiss if I didn't mention that he was only 7 months old when she got him.  What makes this work so well?  I believe it is both human leadership and dog genetics.  Let's look at the wolf model and consider one thing, and one thing only - it takes superior genetics to be the leader.  An alpha wolf, male or female, possesses the greatest physical and mental strength in the pack.  This is why the others submit, willingly, to their leadership.  Domestic dogs do not veer far from this ideology, we simply add the human factor.  The dog looks to humans for leadership.  They are created to do so.  It is up to you to assume the role.

As a human, you are far more intelligent than your dog.  At least I hope you are.  That should make up for a lack of athleticism as compared to your dog.  This is where you have an advantage.   Keeping in mind, we are now talking about domesticated animals, not wild wolves.  You control the food source, play, affection, rest, and the dreaded reproduction cycle - or you should be.  By acting as a leader in these key areas, you are able to establish a proper order for your domestic dog or dogs.  They will respect you and follow your lead once they understand their role.  You transfer authority to the dog leader in your pack, by supporting them once they have established their roles.  Keep in mind, dogs will always react based on your leadership, or lack thereof.

I was once told that people must be careful not to steal a dog's confidence by loving it out of them.  What a crazy, insane thought; we can actually steal the confidence through love.  It is absolutely the truth.  I instantly understood what was being conveyed by the man who shared this with me.  If there is one thing that I can share with you that you will remember, let it be this: "Do NOT use permissive words or phrases with your dog when it is acting up, being anxious or nervous."  By permissive I mean the simple "OK" or "It's all right".  By doing so you are reaffirming the bad behavior.  You are actually teaching your dog to not trust leadership.  Cowering behind you at a moving door should be met with a gentle correction for not trusting you, then praise them when they stand next to you and give you proper credit for being a good leader who has everything under control.  Likewise, when your dog is barking or lunging towards another dog or even a person, a gentle correction rather than what you deem as soothing words will teach your dog that you are a strong leader who is in control.  A few nice long strokes along your dog's back as it settles will help with the process.   A lot of GOOD BOY praises as quickly as it breaks attention with what is startling it will cement the idea that it is doing exactly what YOU want it to do in those scary situations.  Your timing is everything!   We will talk about timing in the next blog.


I often get the question, "How are you going to communicate with our dog?"  It turns out that people are often afraid of what 'communication' means.  I usually laugh and remind people that it is nothing short of what works.  That gets a puzzled look most times, but also affords a moment of silence.  I am a huge proponent of effective communication.  I don't yell at dogs or hit dogs - many of my clients will admit to having yelled at their dog or even swatted them with a newspaper.  Some have even resorted to spray bottles filled with water and vinegar.  I would be remiss if I left out the occasional client who says they have never even told their dog NO.

On the flip side, there is the client that believes treats are evil and unnecessary, while others lavish treats on their dog in order to get them to perform a simple behavior, even if only for a moment.

So, what does communication look like to me?  Whatever works.  If your dog does not listen to your urging that it should not do something and you have told it several times, I would suggest that you are nagging your dog and it is ignoring you.  Conversely, if you need a high value treat to get your dog to look at you and to sit for a moment, I believe you are not an effective communicator.  Sometimes I will use treats to get a dog to do a behavior - sometimes a toy - always praise.  Rather than repeatedly tell your dog NO as if it inherently understands the word (which it obviously does not), I might increase from verbal to a leash correction.  If a leash correction does not effectively communicate the meaning, I might choose a different tool from the tool box that will help the dog understand what I mean.

I will also adjust the training area - adapting to the dog's natural, primal learning ability.  I might walk stairs and abruptly stop with a dog who pulls or doesn't pay attention.  I have better balance on the stairs than the dog does, which commits the dog to respecting me and trusting me with its welfare.  When a dog trusts me, it will seek affirmation for its behavior.  Being a good communicator means you must figure out what method works best; dogs, like people are not all the same.