Who’s Your Daddy?!
(or mommy as the case may be)
I like to call it “leadership.” It goes by many other terms in the dog behavior world, “Member of the Family”, “Nothing in Life is Free”, “NILIF”, “No Free Lunch Policy” to name but a few. To me, providing consistency and structure to my dogs’ daily life boils down to nothing more than just plain old leadership. They need it, they love it and it works really well!
We have to be realistic, I know. We love our dogs so much and spoiling them is part of the fun! Yes, yes, now on to “deferred gratification.” That evil phrase that means, in the immortal words of the Rolling Stones, “You can’t always get what you want!” — at least not right away. If we take the time to implement some well-crafted leadership early in our relationship with our dogs, it pays big dividends later on via their good behavior. Then, random acts of spoiling are less likely to derail the process and are taken in the spirit in which they are intended, and not taken for granted or as a matter of course.
Dogs are individuals and each soul is unique to be sure. The thing is, they all come hard wired direct from the factory a certain way. It’s not really a negotiable thing.
Being the leader isn’t a bad thing. As a human being, you are exponentially more likely to lead in a way that works best for humans, more than say, a dog would! Cute though your new dog may be, rules are rules! That’s my point. Whatever structure you decide on for your household stick to it and don’t allow your doe-eyed bundle of love to take over! That will spell trouble for sure. (Example: Husband says no dogs on the furniture. Dog gets up the couch and looks darn cute. Action: stick to the rules and get the dog off the couch gently, using a food lure for example.) Followed of course, by showing the dear where their cozy bed is- on the floor, directly in front of the fireplace, in the bosom of the family room etc….
At the core of “leadership” is the notion that in the wild dogs have to earn everything they get. No lead dog comes along and gives them the best parts of a fresh kill just for being cute. If you look back through history, dogs had very specific important jobs to fulfill within the family system. Things like hunting, protecting the family, eradicating vermin, herding sheep etc…. In exchange for performing these jobs dogs earned meals and their place as respected members of the family. In today’s society, many of these jobs no longer exist so our modern dogs are at a loss for what they are supposed to be doing in this regard. As leaders, we can show them that they have several “mini” jobs to do in order to earn precious valued resources. A side benefit of this methodology is that it works great for humans from a management perspective too! Your dog’s job can be something as easy as a “sit” or “down” or “stay.” Let’s say it’s time to go for your daily walk. Your dog is very motivated! Have your dog perform a sit-stay while you connect the leash. After several seconds of the sit-stay, say “OK!” and then the reward is the walk itself. Another example is having your dog earn dinner by performing a sit-stay, down-stay or stand-stay. After they hold the position for several seconds, say “OK!” and they are free to eat their meal. I’ve taught my sweet greyhound Corsa to wave for things as a way of earning them and it’s more than just a little bit cute! So when we talk about earning resources, all it means is having your dog perform a simple act of obedience in exchange for something they want (a resource.) Let’s define the resources, give or take there are about seven biggies to be concerned with:
6. Sleeping Place
7. Access to and movement around the house
Not all dogs need a strict NILIF prescription. With most “middle of the road” personality dogs I wouldn’t suggest that they have to earn every single one of these seven things by performing a simple act of obedience, but with a very strong-willed dog I might. It’s a gentle and efficient way to get the message across to them that you are in charge and worthy of following. Leadership isn’t just for strong-willed dogs. It works extremely well with shy and sensitive dogs. When you exhibit leadership with a shy dog they become more confident. When they know what is expected of them, and they can deliver, their confidence grows. It is also less stressful for a shy dog when they know that there is a strong leader to follow–YOU! Whether the dog is shy, congenial, strong-willed or any personality type in between, I recommend the use of leadership in every day interactions especially for meals and walks. If you develop a plan to control the resources precious to your dog then you automatically position yourself as the leader. If you give your dog everything for “free” according to the code hard-wired in their cute cuddly brain–they must surely be GOD WHO MUST BE OBEYED! And you are the servant who shall be treated as such. That’s when you may see varying degrees of problem behaviors arise.
When you practice the sort of leadership described here, you get the benefits of both management and obedience. They all work together harmoniously to enhance your relationship with your dog in a healthy and positive way.
Genie Tuttle, CPDT-KA has been training dogs of all breeds for over 25 years. She has earned the Certified Pet Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA) credential which is the first independently issued credential in the dog training industry today. She is a member of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT.) Genie has been a greyhound owner for over 15 years and is currently owned by greyhounds Manx and Corsa. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org or www.doggenie.com.
Published in the April 2006 issue of Greyt Times newsletter, the official publication of the Homestretch Greyhound Rescue and Adoption.