My Dog is in Charge
Yes, I did say my dog is in charge.
And, yes, I mostly mean it!
I’m not willing to ear pinch, shock, prong, smack or otherwise force my dogs to do anything.
I prefer to use my mind, over my body.
I am pretty sure this will ensure my ability to love and handle large dogs far into my senior years, because I won’t need to physically manipulate them.
It also means I am more capable of handling seriously aggressive dogs.
Recently I saw a post from a famous dog trainer, who I won’t plug here, who is known for positive reinforcement training, who was trying to explain why positive trainers are not permissive trainers (for more on that and why click here).
I commented that in my opinion this was the best way to train (and yes, I started my career working under a trainer who thought all puppies should be fitted with prong collars, so I have seen both sides).
I mentioned that if your dog thinks he is in charge, there is a lot less conflict and fighting, and the dog chooses to listen.
I was clobbered, mostly because this was on a working dog forum and a large percentage people who handle working dogs use a lot of compulsion.
First I was challenged to get a Belgian Malinois (known for being difficult to work) and of course I have spent the last 15 years dedicated to this magnificent but hard to own breed.
Next, I was challenged to compete.
I have many, many titles in many sports, including protection sports, agility, dock diving and AKC obedience. I was even invited to AKC’s National competition because our scores were so high. Which is kind of a big deal, considering how many hundreds of people compete in all over the country in AKC obedience each weekend.
After showing pictures of titles, ribbons, certificates and working photos I was left alone.
I Believe in Balance
I believe in balanced training, you need balance to survive anything in life for more on balanced training click here.
And, again I don’t believe anything is “purely positive”, nature is one of the cruelest things I have ever seen. People and animals starve, get killed and die daily.
I have rules at my house, and I also have obedient dogs.
Why Being in Charge is Important to Your Dog
Everyone wants to be in charge.
We want to drive
We want to be our own boss
We want to be treated how we feel we deserve to be treated
And, no one like feeling forced into doing anything.
Force creates resentment.
Try forcing a toddler to do something he doesn’t want, or to wear something he doesn’t want… it can be quite challenging.
How about convincing that toddler that what you want is best, and actually what he wants!
I remember, as a brain washed child, growing up in WY and visiting the big city of Denver where we would go to the zoo for the day.
My mother put bells on my sister and I, wrapped in a pretty ribbon.
Giant, cow bells. There were no craft store bells back then…
That way she could hear exactly where we were at and make sure we weren’t abducted.
They were shiny and gold, and we loved them.
We had no idea she was actually “parenting” with them or that we could have been in danger in the city.
I remember as a teenager going into her room because she was giving me some of her old jewelry and seeing the bells. She laughed as she told me the story and gave me my bell.
She convinced me that I wanted the “special bell” (thankfully it was only for BIG occasions 😉
I Convince My Dog
I convince my dog that he wants to do what I want him to do, secretly, much in the same way my mother manipulated us as children! (which was ingenious and I now recognize that!).
I don’t reward his rotten behavior.
I either ignore it or I change it.
Occasionally, I correct it; but I don’t do it physically I do it mentally (okay sometimes I use my body or the leash but that isn’t what I mean).
Imagine Your Teenager
You don’t like their immediate behavior. Perhaps they snuck out to a party one night.
You know they know better (this is essential, does your dog know better have you actually trained him to do something else?). Most people have super unrealistic expectations of their dogs and so they hit or punish them for something that is natural for them (like jumping) without ever teaching them that it is not something they want. For more on that, read my article on Common Core Math and Other Things Your Dog Doesn’t Understand.
Now slap your teenager across the face when you find out (actually please don’t, I am trying to prove a point).
Do you think that the slap will keep them from sneaking out and partying with their friends again? One moment of pain or discomfort, may make them angry, but it probably won’t change a behavior that was super fun for them.
Now, take away their car, keys, and phone for a month or two.
Think that will change their behavior?
It may not… but chances are higher that taking away the things they love and need will make them think twice before showing the same behavior.
The same is true for your dog.
Hitting him may not make much of a long term difference but taking away something he wants will make an impact.
So I don’t ignore his bad behavior, I just take his phone away 😉 or the equivalent.
He learns that whatever that behavior is, is not rewarding and he stops showing it.
And, he chooses to continue the behavior that I reward.
Even though he thinks he is in charge (which means we are both winning), I know that he is merely doing the things I reward him for doing.
When I See Bad Behavior Rear Its Ugly Head
And, when I see bad behavior crop up… I wonder how I have been reinforcing it.
Because sometimes we inadvertently reward bad behavior, and then we can’t imagine WHY or WHERE this has come from.
For instance: If you teach your dog to stay off of the furniture 99% of the time, but allow him up to cuddle on rare occasion… you will likely see him jump on the furniture more often.
We must be consistent, especially until the dog understands.
I once had a client who taught her dog that when the husband went to work the dog was allowed in the bed.
The dog went through a stage of trying it around the husband (of course) but soon learned that the variable was the husband being gone and eventually stopped doing it in front of the husband.
I certainly don’t recommend this, because it can be confusing… but dogs are smart!
So if you want great dog training and less conflict; let your dog THINK he is the one in charge but stick to your guns about what you allow and what you won’t tolerate!
What do you think! You can bark, I won’t bite!
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.