16 December 2008

Leader of the Pack

Do any of these sound like your dog?

  • Plays catch me games? (With toys, your cell phone, when they need discipline, to entertain themselves, to avoid going in the crate?)Bites at your heels, pant leg, hands?

  • Tries to "hump" you and anyone in your house?

  • Only listens and obeys when there is nothing else happening?

  • Urinates or poops on your bed?

  • Growls or attacks you or refuses to move when you move them from a specific location?

  • Won't listen when you try to train them to do something new?

  • Runs over you, your family and your guests?

  • Is over protective of their toys and food?

  • Won't come when called the first time or with distractions?

Do you let your dog?

  • Go upstairs, downstairs and through doorways first?

  • Eat first?

  • Sleep in bed with you?

  • Talk back to you if you try to move them off of the couch, bed, kitchen table?

  • Jump on furniture any time they want?

  • Have toys lying all over the house?

  • Jump on you and everyone else without being given the command "paws up?"

  • Jump into your vehicle without permission?

  • Poke at you, bark or steal things to get your attention?

  • Free feed with food available at all times?

If you or your dog do two or more of these, your dog is the leader of your pack and you are the Omega. You need to make some changes and put in some hard work to get the wonderful canine citizen that you want. To regain your leadership position, you need to work with a pack mentality. The steps are subtle and will work if you stick with them, but you can't stop practicing once your dog responds. As soon as you forget and get lax, your dog will resume their position as pack leader.

Your dog will continue to test your leadership ability to see if you really say what you mean. The quantity of testing lessens with time, and become far less frequent once the dog gets to be about five years old.

Leadership Training
Take your dog to an obedience class or hire a private trainer to work with the two of you. Check out any school or trainer you are considering. Go and see how they train and what they offer. Avoid classes that use treats all the time or coercion all the time. Neither of these methods teach your dog to work from their heart which will make your dog more reliable and more fun to train.

No Such Thing as a Free Lunch
From this point forward, you need to run the pack. Nothing is ever given for free. Your dog must earn everything it gets. No free-for-all petting fests, make your dog sit first. Use both verbal commands and hand signals for the sit. (With your right hand palm facing upward, drop your hand below the dog's nose and lift upwards, like you are lifting a weight, toward your shoulder, bending your elbow. Keep your hand about one hand length away from your dog's nose and remember never touch the dog with any hand signal.) Once the dog is sitting, you may pet them. If the dog gets up, stop petting and ask for the sit again. If the dog doesn't sit on the first request, ask them to sit and then place them into the sit. You can also use a leash and collar to help them understand this is not a plea, but a command performance. If your dog refuses to comply, do not yell. Keep your voice steady and calm, like you are giving someone driving directions. The more your dog ignores you, the deeper and slower your voice should become. Because you are working diligently on this reprogramming, your dog is now sitting for everything. Sit to greet you, sit to greet your guests, sit to be fed, sit for petting, sit before chasing a favorite toy, sit before going inside or outside, sit before getting into the car. It has become one big sit-in. You are seeing your dog become more controllable and you are starting to rise into the Alpha position in your pack.

Bondage Indoors
Keep a leash on your dog inside for at least the first two weeks. You'll know they are improving when they start listening better. At first snap or tie the leash to you. Now you are in charge. Your pet will start listening to you and becoming more familiar with the words you use when you want a response from them. Having the dog attached to you also lets you correct the dogs mistakes without chasing him all over the house. Once they start improving and becoming more consistent, you can let them drag the leash around the house when you are around to supervise. Again, you can correct more easily when the leash is available to step on and stop the chase me games.

Bondage Outdoors
Use a 20-foot or 30-foot long line. This is a great way to teach your dog to come the first time you ask. Teach the dog that there is no option but to pay attention to you. Once the dog is familiar with working at a distance from you and has become reliable because you are working at this for short periods several times a day, you can let your dog drag the long line around with them while you supervise. Don't rush through this step, take your time to be certain the dog understands all the commands before removing the long line.

Food is Power
Set up a feeding schedule. If you free feed (food available all the time) stop right now. You need to be in charge of the feeding schedule. For adults dogs, feed once in the morning and once in the late afternoon or early evening. Dogs are concerned with very few things which mostly consist of eating, sleeping, playing and reproduction. If they can accomplish these things on their own, why do they need you? Setting a feeding schedule (challenge feeding) teaches your dog that they need to rely on you, creates an appetite so your dog will look forward to feeding and will therefore enjoy the food more and you will be gaining pack status without working too hard.

You Always Eat First
Your pet needs to see you eat before you feed them. What you eat is not important, it is the ritual of eating first that counts. You can eat an ice cube, a baby carrot, donuts, cookies, fruit, bread, anything works. (Don't use this as an excuse to fall off the healthy diet wagon.) Bottom line, your dog needs to see you eat. Pack rules dictate that the leaders (Alphas) always eat first. The pack eats in sequence starting with the Alpha and working through the ranks to the Omega.

Will Work for Food
Have your dog sit before you put the bowl down. Once the dog sits, set the food bowl down. Your dog should wait for your okay before eating. Your dog can't eat unless you have given the go ahead. The word you choose doesn't matter, just use it consistently. (Some choices could be: eat; chow; dinner; feeders.) Make certain your dog really is waiting for the go-ahead to eat. Practice using different lengths of time before allowing your dog to eat.

Table Manners
The instant your dog leaves the food dish, pick it up (even if there is food in the dish) and put it away until the next feeding. (If you are feeding with canned food or wetting the food, throw out the remainder or place it in the refrigerator.) You want your dog to understand that while the dish is down it is time to eat and once he leaves the bowl that dinner is over. This helps create good manners in your dog.

Toy Collector
Pick up all your dog's toys and place them in a basket or plastic container and then put the container in a closet. You are in control of the toys, and never have more than two toys available at any time. Toy rotation keeps all your toys more interesting to your dog. If your dog has toys strewn all over the house, they have effectively told you in dog lingo that the entire house is their territory. By gathering up the toys and keeping them, you now control the fun and the house is now your territory and you can allow your dog the privilege of playing when you think it is appropriate. (Toy collecting will also reduce tripping and swearing in the middle of the night.)

Sweet Dreams
If you allow your dog to sleep on the bed with you or be on the furniture with you, you are telling them they are your equal. If they think they are equal to you, their is no hierarchy and thus no pack leadership role for you. As equals, they don't need to listen to you or respect you. Dogs that are well behaved and have no "issues" can sleep with you and be on your furniture, but a dog with "issues" must not be on equal footing with you. If you want to lay down and pet your dog, get on the floor at their level. In their world this is an honor for you to get on the floor with them. When they come up to your level, the dog quickly figures out that they are wonderful and you are pond scum. At this point, playing and cuddling are down on their level. Once you have Courteous Canine, you can invite your pet to come up and play or cuddle. Don't let them on the furniture without an invitation. When you are done playing or cuddling, you ask them to get off and return to their own level.

Up the Down Staircase and Out the Door
Always go upstairs, downstairs and through doors first. At the doorway have your dog sit and wait. You go through the door first and then glance back and say "let's Go." The same thing applies for up and down the stairs. Use "Let's Go" instead of Come, Come means something entirely different. "Let's Go" means follow me now. Don't turn and face your pet during this training step, just glance over your shoulder and give your command in a cheerful voice.

Walk with Me
During all walks, have your dog walk with you in the area of Heel position. (On your left side with their head lined up with your pant leg seam.) Don't let your dog wander all over in front of you, it teaches your dog not to respect your relationship. Walking is a time for you to bond with your dog, to challenge your dog's mind and to teach your dog to walk pleasantly next to your side. A dog that is allowed to race all over ahead of you will always have a problem of pulling on the leash. When your dog has progressed far enough that he is almost trustworthy enough to stay by you off leash, you can let them investigate (on leash) every once in a while. From the exercise point of view, your dog is getting more exercise walking with you, in heel position, then he does pulling on the end of the leash ahead of you.

Walk with Me and Investigate
At some point during your walk, stop in a nice spot, attach your retractable leash or you long line to the collar, unhook your regular leash. Stand in one place so your dog can check out the radius of the area you are standing in and let them investigate and be a dog. When you are ready to continue walking, call your dog and rehook the regular leash and then take off the retractable leash or long line an continue your walk. When changing leashes, ALWAYS hook on the line you want to use while the other leash is attached. Both leashes will be connected and you can decide which one you want to remove. This will save you from chasing your dog after they twist out of your grasp.

Your Dog Can Count
Do you find yourself repeating commands over and over and not getting the response you want from your dog? This is a futile exercise that takes up a lot of time and lets your dog know they are in total control. Don't plead with your dog to do what you ask, and remember to only ask ONCE. Dogs have excellent hearing. If you ask for a Sit and get no response, quickly place them into a Sit as you say it one more time. In a clam tone, praise your dog. Remember to be sure you can correct your dog if you ask for something and they don't comply with your wishes. This way, your dog will learn to obey you the first time knowing that the second request comes with a correction. Your pooch will stop ignoring you now.

Biting and Nipping are Never Okay
Biting and nipping are the highest of canine crimes. Putting teeth on a person is never okay, and is the worst form domination towards people and it is not okay for dogs at any age including puppies. By nipping, biting, mouthing, they are learning to dominate you and get you to do what they want you to do. Be certain in the knowledge that pups biting their mothers and littermates are corrected with a growl and possibly a snap if pup doesn't listen the first time. This is the process dogs go through to learn who they can and can't dominate. Do not slap the dog's nose or grab their mouth and hold it shut, all this does is exacerbate the problem. To correct this in a simple fashion, you can fill a plant mister spray bottle with water and set it to stream mode. Keep this near you and when your pup tries to bite or nip, give them your best mom dog growly voice and say AAHH! No Bite! (Your AAHH! should sound like a cat cacking up a big hairball.) If pup doesn't back off from biting, spray the full force in the face with the water. When they back off, tell them "Good" or "Thank You" in your best giving driving directions voice, then redirect your puppy onto something else like going outside, appropriate chew toy, different location and continue on your merry way. Don't pet or praise at this point or you'll end up right back where you started. If the plain water has no impact, you can add white vinegar or lemon juice to the mix. You can also buy lemon juice in the plastic lemon from your grocery store. The plastic lemons fit nicely into your hands and is quite portable. Wrap your hand around the ball with your thumb covering the squirt opening. Your dog won't be able to see that you are carrying it, and won't know when you are going to use the lemon, but they will smell that you have the lemon. When your pup nips at you, squeeze the lemon hard, and blast the juice into pup's mouth. While you are blasting, say in your best growly mom dog voice, "AAHH! No Bite!" Just like above, redirect your pup immediately after the lemon juice correction. Once you pup is improving and listening to your words, you can reduce the amount of lemon (you can reuse the lemon balls) or white vinegar in your mixture.

My Your Leg is Lovely
Most "humping" activity is dominance related and not of a sexual nature. Dogs of both sexes from puppies to adults will "hump" while trying to be the Alpha. Some dogs will stand still and allow this which lets the other dog know it is okay for them to be dominant. Sometimes the "humpee" will dart out from underneath and try to be the "humper." This tells the dog that they are not okay with someone else being the dominant dog. There are times when dogs are evenly matched and it can lead to a fight. If your dog tries this on you or anyone else stop it immediately. This behavior is not cute, and remember not to laugh or plead in a high pitched voice for your dog to stop. Both of those tell them they are doing something good. Spray them in the face with your training spray bottle and say "NO!" "AAHH!" or "BAD!" in your best deep, growly, mom dog voice. Put your dog in a down-stay for 3-5 minutes, then release them by going over and asking for a Sit and petting them in a calm manner.

The Bed is Mine
If your dog is urinating on your bed, he is telling you in no uncertain terms that he is dominant and the bed is his territory. If this is happening in your household, keep your dog off the bed for at least 6 months. Keep your bedroom door closed at all times so he can't sneak in there while you aren't looking, and to minimize the battle of the bed. If you want your dog sleeping in the room with you, keep him in a crate/kennel or tether him to the bed on a non chewable 2-3 foot lead to encourage him to sleep on the floor by the bed. (If you get up in the middle of the night, remember the dog is attached to the bed so you don't trip and fall.) If you choose to let pup up on the bed after this period, he should only be allowed on the bed when you invite him up. At any point where you want pup off the bed, he should do so without an attitude or back talk. If you are having difficulty, keep the leash on them and when you ask them to get off the bed, you can reinforce your command by taking the leash and telling pup "Off!" while directing them down off the bed. Tell your dog "Good" or "Thank You" when they get off the bed.

These clues will help you establish a leadership or Alpha role in your pack without having to fight with your dig every step of the way. Remember to be consistent and stick with it even when your dog tests his boundaries. Keep working with your dog using pack mentality, common sense and fair, humane methods. The bottom line is that you need to be smarter than your dog.

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