Christmas and Hanukkah are over this year, and Kwanzaa only has a few days to go, but I have a question for you: What did you give your dog for the holidays?
I can guess some of the answers: bones, treats, toys, hugs… Those are all great, but those are also all forms of affection. And, honestly, none of them would be at the top of your dog’s list of gifts she wants for the holidays.
So, if our dogs could make wish lists or write letters to Santa, what would they ask for? Simple.
To humans, that gift probably sounds about as appealing as new socks to a middle-schooler but, trust me, this is exactly what your dog wants and needs. If you don’t give them this one gift, then you are not doing your job.
Dogs are pack animals, and they need their Pack Leaders. That is a law of nature, and breaking Nature’s laws is a very dangerous game. Don’t believe me? What happens to someone who jumps off of a tall building thinking that they can break the law of gravity this one time?
They prove that the law of gravity exists, and meet a not pleasant end.
Too many dog owners prove that dog laws exist when they break them, and wind up with dogs that misbehave. Your dog misbehaving when you don’t follow the laws is as inevitable as a bowling ball dropped from a hot air balloon hitting the ground.
As I have discussed, it’s natural and easy for humans to think of their dogs as little furry children, which is the worst thing we can do. However, if you want to think of them as children, I want you to think of them as a very specific type of child.
Imagine a child who watches you constantly, and asks you one question, over and over. That question is, “What do you want me to do now?”
This is why creating rules, boundaries, and limitations is so important in the process of having a balanced dog. By giving our dogs these limits, we are answering the question in a way that persists when we aren’t there.
Consistency, repetition, and patience are absolutely necessary, but the reward is worth it. Create a rule for your dog, and this rule becomes the answer to their question. For example, teach your dog that they are not allowed on the sofa unless you invite them, and when you’re not there, the answer to “What do you want me to do now?” is instinctively “Not get on the sofa.”
Crate train your dog or teach them “go to your space,” and this becomes another answer to the question when you’re not around.
In order to do this, of course, you have to emphasize one answer over all others when your dog asks, “What do you want me to do now?” That answer is, “Be calm and submissive.”
I mentioned before that your dog is constantly asking that question, but what you may not realize is that you are constantly answering it. When your dog misbehaves and you don’t correct them, you are answering yes to the misbehavior. When your dog is fearful or barking and you give them attention and affection, you are answering, “Yes, do this.” When your dog is calm and submissive but you are not calm yourself, you’re answering, “No, don’t be calm.”
The worst answer you can give is the inconsistent one, which is exactly what happens when you only enforce the rules with your dog sometimes. An accidental “yes” will lead to misbehavior and can easily be fixed, but a dog has absolutely no idea what to do when the answer is an accidental “maybe.”
Leaders never answer “maybe.” They answer “yes” or “no,” clearly and consistently. You know how you want your dog to behave. Once you realize that your dog wants to and needs to know as well, it becomes much easier to provide that leadership without thinking of it as a negative thing.
The best present you can give your dogs this season, or any time, is clear and consistent leadership, and definitive answers to their question.
Stay calm, and give answers.
From the basics of dog psychology to life transitions, Cesar takes what he has learned through years of training and presents his book “Short Guide to a Happy Dog.”