Raising the well-mannered dog 

        I’ve mentioned “boundaries” in a few other places on the website, and I’m going to say it again. Dogs are pack animals, and because of this they thrive on structure and guidance. I’m not talking about alpha rolling and other such nonsense; instead I’m talking about firm and fair guidance and structure.

        Before you bring a dog into your home you should consider what you want your relationship with your dog to look like. Will your dog be allowed on furniture? Will your dog greet you enthusiastically at the door? Will your dog be allowed to bark out the windows when someone is in the yard? Will your dog sleep in your bedroom? On the bed? The list goes on, and the responses to those questions are going to shape your training plan for your dog. If you don’t want your dog on the furniture, don’t let them on the furniture as a puppy. If you want your dog to greet you calmly, don’t make a huge fuss over the puppy when you walk in the door. If you don’t want puppy to bark at the windows and when people are in the yard, set the puppy up to succeed by blocking the view of the windows and praising quiet indicators. So-on-and-so-forth; Set your dog up for success.

        Dogs are pack animals, and they desperately want to know where they fit in their pack. You and your family are their pack, and if no one takes a leadership role, your dog will feel that they need to step in to fill that role – and that’s an uncomfortable place for your dog to be. This can result in nervous, destructive, and even aggressive displays of behaviour as it causes a lot of stress for your dog.  The good news is that developing your leadership role is simple. Let’s take a closer look.

Leaders take care of, and provide for their followers.

        I’m not a fan of free-feeding (leaving a bowl of food down for the dog all the time) for many reasons, but this is one of the most important ones. Dogs can be fed numerous times a day – that’s fine – but there’s no need to leave the bowl down all day. When you prepare your dog’s meal you’re placing yourself in the provider role.

        Preparing and feeding your dog their meal is also a training opportunity. You can ask your dog to wait in their “place” while you prepare their meal; you can ask them to perform trained behaviours for bites of food; you can set the bowl down and ask them to wait for a moment before releasing them to the dish. There’s nothing wrong with asking your dog to work for their meal.

Leaders expect that their requests will be followed

        My whole life I’ve been involved with a Youth Organization, and one of the most important things that we teach teenagers is leadership skills. Yelling and screaming at people does not make you a leader, and the same is true for training a dog. You can’t force a dog to do anything anymore than you can force a teenager! Ask them; motivate them; encourage them along the way, and praise and reward them when the task is complete. When we reward the good behaviour the behaviour is more likely to be repeated.

        If your dog doesn’t perform the behaviour you’ve asked for, ask yourself why. Does the dog know the behaviour on a cue? Does the dog understand what you’re asking of them? Is the dog capable of doing what you’re asking of them? Could there be something interfering with that ability - pain, too high a distraction, etc.?

Leaders raise new leaders

        You want to be sure that everyone is involved with the dog’s care. Young children can practice training homework with the dog, and can accompany adults on walks (holding a second leash). Involving children (and other adults) in the dog’s care allows the dog to see that they are not in competition with the children. When children get involved in caring for their family pet they are learning about responsibility and the value of caring for others, and there’s no downsides to that. 

© Shari Joanisse 2023