This week, America celebrates the anniversary of declaring independence from England, but what does independence mean? At its simplest, it means freedom from control or support by someone or something else.
When children grow up, they become independent from their parents — although it frequently takes longer to give up that support from their parents’ wallets! And that growing-up process involves lots of little independences: learning to ride a bicycle without training wheels or assistance, going to school alone, deciding on your own outfits, people to date, college to go to, etc….
Growing up is all about achieving that independence. But, surprisingly, I see far too many adults who have given up their independence willingly without realizing it, and they give it up to their dogs.
It’s a story I’ve heard more often than you’d think:
“I haven’t been on a date in years because my dog won’t let me bring anyone over.”
“I never go on vacation because my dog doesn’t do well staying with strangers.”
“My partner and I can never cuddle anymore because the dog gets in between us.”
Who’s the boss in each of these situations? It’s not the human. It doesn’t have to happen but it does, and far too frequently, because we allow it by refusing to claim our independence and failing to take back control.
And why do people do that? For the most part, it’s because they’re afraid of making their dogs mad at them, or of hurting the dog’s feelings. Well, if America’s Founders had felt that way, we’d still be singing “God Save the Queen” and having tea at four p.m. every day.
Not that you need to start an armed revolution or throw your dog’s food into the harbor or anything drastic like that. You just have to declare your independence, and then take it — and the taking it begins with establishing those rules, boundaries, and limitations that you should have had in place from the beginning.
Of course, before you can get those in place you have to be the one in charge to begin with, and to do that you have to use your single best tool to your advantage: The Walk.
I talk all the time about how important the Walk is to your relationship with your dog, but it’s worth explaining exactly why that is. Simply put, it is the closest you can get with your dog to what the natural experience of hunting in the pack is like. It’s the two of you, exploring your territory and moving forward together. But, while you’re moving together, one of you is always in the lead, and the one in the lead needs to be you, the human.
If the dog is in the lead, then you’re not in charge. And if you’re leading but your dog isn’t following you — pulling you back, or refusing to go forward — then you’re not in charge either.
Fortunately, Mastering the Walk can be done, and it will also help you develop the calm, assertive energy that you’ll need in order for your dog to follow you in all things. The first step to taking control on the Walk is the first step to gaining your independence from your dog — which is also the route to balance and happiness in your relationship.
So if your dog is currently in charge, don’t despair. You can win your independence and take back control, and your dog will love you for it — and it won’t take a revolution to do it, just a conscious decision to be in charge.
Stay calm, and be the boss!