Here is a picture I snapped the other day while taking a pack walk with my crew and my client's dogs. Would you guess that 5 of the dogs in this photo above have been in some pretty nasty dog fights? Yep-- the 3 ladies in pink would duke it out over attention from their mom. It got to the point that the newest one was going to be returned to the shelter because of their blowouts. The corgi and greyhound would tear each other up over personal space, guests in the house, toys, and anything else they didn't want to "share". Mr. Poodle hasn't been in any dog fights, but he was "knock, knock, knocking on heaven's door" from biting the stew out of some humans until I took him from the chopping block and brought him into my pack. Goodness gracious, how in the world can all of this drama be on a pack walk--totally under control and peaceful?
The answer: humans stop thinking like people, and start thinking like dogs. We bring these animals into our lives and have so much expectation of our relationships. We want them to cuddle with us, love us, love each other, be protective of us from strangers, but not our friends when they come over. We want them to jump up and be really excited when we want to play, but not when we are busy and don't. We want them to lay in our laps and soak up affection, but not when we are eating or dressed nicely. We want them to sleep quietly beside us, but only when we are by ourselves, not when when we are trying to share our bed with someone else. We want them to bark when we think it's cute, but not when we are watching TV and they are trying to get our attention. We want them to have fun and be carefree on a walk, but not drag us around or bark at every dog or bicycle we see. We have so many expectations of them, and what it means for them to be OUR dog.
Unfortunately, the rules and expectations of nature apply to humans just as much as they apply to dogs. All the behaviors we get from our dogs we influence, by what we do (or what we don't do!). It is important for people to understand that if they want their dog's behavior to change, they will have to change their behavior as well. It is selfish to think that dogs will just be what we want them to be, without us putting in our time, and making sacrifice as well. All of these expectations that we have for our dogs really don't mean a thing if our dogs don't actually understand what we are asking. All of the standards we have for our doggie relationships will not be achieved if we don't represent a source of leadership and guidance for our dogs.
How do we make them understand? It starts when we stop thinking like people, and start thinking like dogs. We must take the time to understand the needs of dogs. We must appreciate that they need guidance and leadership from us. We are not doing them any favors when we let them "do whatever they want." More than likely, they arn't making good choices. They don't speak English, read the news, or watch TV. If they did, we'd just have to put on an episode of Dog Whisperer and they'd be like "Ok, gotcha. No more fighting with each other." It is up to us to communicate that message to our dogs, and take the role of pack leader. It is our responsibility to be the source of information on how to behave, and we express it in a way that they understand.
How do we achieve calmness and cooperation with our dogs? We must give them clear information of what we want; we don't send them mixed signals. We take the time to address these situations in their language, not ours. This pack of six dogs has only the option of walking calmly and following me. Sniffing, pulling, competing for who gets to be in front, and peeing on every mailbox are NOT options, period. If one of these dogs starts creeping ahead, they get a little "leash pop" and then think "oh yeah, I don't do this" and fall back into the pack. It's not an argument or debate of what you can or can't do- it's split second conversation of "yes and no". You achieve this by being consistent in the information you give your dog, and correcting them for making the wrong choice. Create only the options to make the right choice, by being consistent in communicating what is not. If you successfully show your dog "yes, this behavior is good" or "no, this behavior is not", you will have a dog who understands their options. If you make things simple for them, you'll get a little doggy light bulb going off and a response like "Ok! Now you're speaking my language! Pushing the other dog out of the way when I want your attention is NOT ok. I need to do something else instead" or "snapping at people when I see the on the sidewalk is NOT ok. I need to do something else instead." After that, you see his next choice and decide if it's an appropriate reaction or not. You will have a dog who understands he's got a limited amount of options, but is also learning how to make the right choices, because he sees what you are asking for and what you will accept. Dogs appreciate the clarity!
It is important for me to mention, that the role that you take with your dog must continue through your whole relationship. You can't take the assertive leadership role with him so he will behave on a walk, but when you come inside give him no boundaries, loosey goosey, non-enforced rules, and then get frustrated that he is all over the furniture and not listening to you. Dogs listen to a leader who is consistent in what they ask. They take seriously someone who has earned their respect, not someone who goes back and forth on expectations. It's not because they are trying to be difficult, it is because to a dog, if you change your position you arn't being consistent-- "wishy washy" doesn't serve purpose in the animal world and thus will be seen as "not the right choice for leader." If you do not represent a leader to your dog, they will start making their own choices and choosing their own options again, because yours really didn't mean anything. Someone who half applies their message should not be surprised when they get a half respected reaction. Dogs don't take time off from being dogs, so you can't take time off from being their leader.
If you continue to correct and interrupt the behavior you don't want, and guide towards and reward the behavior you do, you will have a dog making better choices because he knows what is and is not an option. Build a relationship of understanding, and you'll have a dog who appreciates your clarity and guidance. Human communication is confusing and foreign to a dog-- speak his language and you'll be surprised how he answers you.