Dogs are part of our lives. They are a part of our family. We want to take them everywhere. We buy them the best food and their favorite toys. We love them like furry little children. But they are still dogs and need to be treated as such. Sound harsh? To your dog, it sounds like plain common sense.
To understand why your canine companion is treating you like a dog, you need to better understand the way they think. In this day and age, it is very trendy to rationalize your dog’s actions or explain away their bad behaviors. However, it is unfair to humanize them by projecting our emotions onto them. People sometimes forget that dogs are animals and don’t have the same thought processes we do. They can’t be expected to always make the same decisions we would.
Don’t you just hate it when your best friend’s Labrador jumps on you and gets you muddy or scratches your legs? Isn’t it annoying when your friend’s dog begs for your food at the dinner table—or worse, takes food from your plate? It’s rude, isn’t it? Don’t allow your dog to be “that dog”. Teach him to have good manners and raise your expectations of your dog. Set boundaries for your dog and then enforce them!
Bad manners can be easily corrected with clear direction from you. Remember you are the leader and need to define the rules. “Bad manners” consist of the following behaviors:
Jumping: Do not allow the dog to decide how, when, and whom he will greet. Be aware of the friendly saboteurs. Everyone has that special someone in their life who says “I don’t mind.” Think about this: Is it okay for him to jump on you when you are wearing shorts or a business suit? Is it ok if he jumps on Grandma? Is it okay for him to jump on your two year old? Be consistent. It is never ok. If your dog is small do not pick him up. He has two more legs than you do and is perfectly fine on the floor. If he growls or barks at people, picking him up only emboldens and encourages this behavior. In his eyes, he is now at human eye level and able to take on the world.
Barking/whining for attention: If you are reading the paper and your dog barks at you because he thinks “Hey, you’re not doing anything else. You may as well get my ball and throw it for me,” then the dog has decided when it’s play time and how you should be spending your time. Play should be initiated on your terms.
Fussing in the crate: If your dog hears you come in the door and starts going ballistic in the crate: barking, whining, digging, etc., ignore him and do not allow him out until he has calmed down. Never release him from the crate when he is in an agitated/excitable state. It only confirms his belief that the crazier I get the quicker I get out. Desensitize him to the crate by putting him in it for short amounts of time while you are still in the house. The crate should be in the most common room in the house.
Pulling on the leash: You define the pace and direction–not your dog. You may not always want to go for a run or you may not have three hours to smell every flower. It is ok to allow your dog to spend time reading pee-mail but he should move on when you’re ready.
Claiming the bed/couch: If your dog growls or nips when you tell him to get off of the bed or couch then he is not allowed on the furniture. That’s it. It’s that simple. This is a privilege, not an entitlement. If you want to snuggle with him then you get on the floor with him for a few minutes. Some dogs may be re-introduced to furniture privileges when you have a better relationship and the boundaries are clearly defined but some may not ever be allowed to sleep in bed with you again. It depends on each individual dog.
Barking excessively out the window: There is nothing wrong with allowing your dog to inform you that there is something out there in front of the yard. When the dog doesn’t stop when asked or if he gets overly-agitated, it’s time to set boundaries.
It’s treat time: There is nothing wrong with giving your dog a treat when you decide to, but if your dog decides when he deserves one then you have a clear relationship problem.
Begging: Do not feed the dog from the table, from your plate, and do not drop food on the floor while you are cooking dinner. Do not allow him to stand underneath the table like a land shark waiting for chum or scour the floor like a vacuum.
Counter surfing: Do not allow your dog to stand up and take a peek at the goodies on your counter top. If your dog is eye level with the counter top do not allow him to rest his chin on the counter or engorge in a full meal!
Stealing socks/tissues/etc: Dogs like these sorts of things because they smell like you! Most often, this is your dog’s way of trying to engage you into a game of chase. If it’s not an emergency or something he can hurt himself with– don’t engage.
YOU are the Leader
If your dog is exhibiting any of these behaviors, you need to change the roles in your home. Your dog needs to know that you are the leader of the household pack. Remember, the companion dogs we know today are still descendants of wolves and they still have a pack mentality. It is your job as leader to make sure your dog’s basic needs are met, that he is safe from harm, that he has a clearly defined social structure and lots of love and attention. If he is certain that you are doing the job well and that he does not have to continue to vie for the “top dog” position, it will remove a lot of pressure from his shoulders. He can relax, get comfortable and enjoy being a pet dog. Ninety percent of behavior problems can be addressed by clarifying your position and changing your interactions with your dog. He will thank you for it!
Dogs communicate with body language and eye contact. You want to remove as much of that as possible so there are no mixed signals between you and your dog. To a dog, excessive eye contact is either intimidating or a challenge and neither of those are really what you want to communicate. Body language is how your dog reads your intentions and interactions. It is a lot for them to process if you are chasing after them and screaming. They are faster than you and you probably just scared the daylights out of them! For the next few weeks, keep a leash on your dog and let him drag it around. Only do this while you are home to supervise his safety and do not keep it on him while he is in the crate. If you need to correct your dog or stop him from playing the chase me game just step on or grab the leash instead of the dog. It is best to teach your dog appropriate behaviors by setting up the situation. This way you are in control of the situation and more likely to effectively define the desirable response.
Consistency is the key to success. If you are inconsistent with your dog then you are confusing him. Dogs learn by repetition and they learn that a behavior is either right or it is wrong. Dogs do not have a gray area and do not generalize. It is your job to clearly define the rules. They need structure and boundaries in their lives. It takes time and effort but you can have a wonderful, rewarding relationship with your dog.
Some people may dream of a dog who can put his own toys away and some just want the dog to simply stop urinating in their home. Maybe you fall somewhere in between. Whatever your end goal is, you should know that you are not asking too much and that with positive guidance and effective correction your relationship with your dog will improve.
Keep up the Good Work
The sky is the limit. A well-mannered dog is a happy dog. Consider formal obedience training to expand your dog’s knowledge. Obedience helps you learn how to communicate effectively with your dog and keep him active. It is important to exercise your dog physically and it is just as important to exercise your dog mentally. It is also exciting to work as a team and see the results in every aspect of your life. The rewards are endless and your relationship will continue to thrive! —Laura Pakis
Published author and national speaker on dog training, Laura Pakis, owner and founder of Acme Canine, LLC has been a professional dog trainer for numerous years. She feels responsible ownership is an important part of having a dog and guides her business toward providing dog owners with not only training knowledge but also care and understanding of dogs.