Having A Structure For Your Pooch:
And Why They’ll Thank You For It.
“Why should you spend your time training your dog? What’s the point? Aren’t all those things they learn just “tricks”, anyway?”
I have had this question before. It was in an “Intro” class, and was asked by a man who had been sent by his wife, in her stead, and he wasn’t planning on attending any classes, he just wanted to see what it was all about. It’s a great question! There are several reasons why, and not the least of which is to create a structure for your dog to follow. Just like kids, lines need to be defined for your dog(s), so that they can grow up learning how to behave properly in the world and, more importantly, your family.
Essentially, what it all comes down to is, dogs all need a “leader”. All of our domestic dogs evolved from wolves. And by ‘evolved’ I mean: Domesticated and bred down to all the breeds you see today, by our own ancestors who built mutually-beneficial relationships with the wild packs inhabiting the same land as them. Wolves live very similarly to us; in family-like packs where the alphas head the group. And because our domestic dogs share the same DNA, they also share the same instincts as their wild cousins. So, they will automatically look to you for guidance. And? If they don’t find that guidance or clear direction from you, their supposed alpha, they will appoint themselves as the alpha of the house. <Cue Danger Music>
So, what happens when a dog decides it’s the alpha of the house? That’s when we see behaviors such as not listening to you when you call them, or not caring if you correct them for doing something they shouldn’t be. They can get destructive, sometimes they can become aggressive toward people or other dogs, possessiveness can happen, or they will even choose to use your carpets and couches as their “grass” and “hydrant” for relieving themselves. In other words, most (all) unwanted behaviors come from lack of structure, and the fact that there has not been a clear alpha established in the home, so the dog has taken on the role itself. And creating it’s own rules (or lack, thereof). And, let me tell you, not all dogs are confident or dominant enough to be the alpha, even if they were in a dog pack.
Just imagine giving your 4-year old child full reign of the house. They choose what they get to do at all times, and you have no say. That doesn’t work for anyone, and can become very disastrous!
The client I mentioned earlier, came to Week 1 with his wife, and they had an adorable, yet very rowdy and unruly, puppy. It turned out that they felt bad for giving their dog so many ‘rules’, before ever attending a training class. They thought that they were being mean to their puppy, and were afraid to hurt his feelings. But, they had an 8-month old jumpy, barky, bitey, handful running their house and determining their routine for them, causing them to cater to him before themselves. And, he was going to turn out to be about 100lbs, when fully grown. Can you imagine a 100lb dog with no rules? Yikes!
Let me assure you of one thing, you will NOT hurt your dog’s feelings, by giving them a structure. And, you are most definitely not being mean to them by doing so, either. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. You will give them MUCH more confidence by using positive reinforcement training, giving them a routine to follow, with rules in and outside of the home. They will be a much happier, relaxed dog if you take on that alpha role in their life. You will make it clear where they belong in your pack, which gives them security. They will look to you for “what to do next” in most situations, which eliminates some forms of anxiety that they may have. Also, everybody – human and dog alike, will be MUCH less stressed! And who doesn’t want that? But, most importantly, you will build a strong bond with your dog, based on mutual love and respect, and that creates a great relationship that all parties can benefit from for YEARS. And, that’s the whole point of getting a dog in the first place, isn’t it?
My client? Turns out he LOVED going to classes with his wife. They came together every week, and he took on training that puppy like nothing else. And after a few weeks, he turned out to be one of the most well-behaved in the class. They came back for 3 more sessions, so I got to watch him grow up – which is a part of my job I LOVE. He became such a big, confident, mellow dog that listened to his whole family, including their young kids. They loved that dog like crazy, and when they started they were so frustrated with him and even dealing with feelings of regretting ever getting him. Such a turn around – and all by establishing rules and a good solid structure for him.
So, the moral of the story is – Don’t feel bad. Dogs don’t have feelings in the same ways we do. Not to say they don’t experience ‘feelings’. In this case, they enjoy having a solid structure and really appreciate having a clear leader to tell them what to do. In return, they will be loyal, loving, and protective of you and your family. Which makes for a very enjoyable relationship that not only benefits both parties, but is one of the most stress-relieving relationships you can have in life. As I always say, dogs are the best, so why not do the best for them?