Why Some Dogs Are Bossy
Are you dealing with a bossy dog? Maybe even a conflicted dog, sometimes fearful sometimes pushy? It can be very frustrating when our dogs exhibit this type of behavior, yet there are some simple things we can learn that will make a huge difference in changing our dog's mindset and helping them become a well-behaved family pet.
The first thing we need to do is take a look at everyday interactions in the home. Who is reacting versus who is initiating? Many times the typical scenario begins with our dog misbehaving and with us simply reacting to the dog's actions. Of course a much better scenario involves telling our dog what they should do, and our dog complying. Remember this simple statement: Leaders act, followers react.
Dogs are programmed by their creator to naturally look for the leader of the pack and to defer leadership to this individual. I think this is part of their survival instinct. The problem arises when we don't understand how dogs determine who is in charge. If we are sending unclear and inconsistent signals, then our dog will feel insecure. This type of insecurity can actually cause a dog to attempt to step into the position of leader himself. Sometimes we will see overprotective territorial behavior, even a dominant component in the way the dog reacts to people in the home, especially children. This is not necessarily because the dog has a dominant personality. In fact, this type of dog is often a follower, not a leader, by nature, and the root of the behavior is insecurity. In the world of a dog, someone needs to be in charge. We know that this someone needs to be a human being--but our dog may not know this!
The great thing about teaching your dog that you are a leader he can trust is that it accomplishes many things that cannot be accomplished by dog training techniques alone. When leadership is put in place, misbehavior such as mouthing people's hands or pulling on clothing will often simply stop, without any need for extensive training.
Let's get back to thinking about the way dogs learn, as puppies, from their canine pack. It is helpful to understand the way young canines act in a pack in the wild. Yes, I know dogs are not wolves and our pet dogs don't live in the same type of environment as wild canines. But they do have certain inherent tendencies that allow them to understand pack mentality, as well as lessons they learned in their first few weeks of life with their canine mother. In the wild, canine leaders will not baby any animal that is over the age of about three or four weeks old. Independence is a necessary part of a dog's survival instinct, so young pups must quickly learn how to take care of themselves, depending on the pack leader only for protection and food. As far as affectionate play, pups find this among their peers, i.e. other puppies and subordinate adults of the pack. The true "leader dogs" in control of the pack rarely play with pups; in fact they ignore them most of the time. When they do play, it is all on the leader's terms--it is not whenever the pups decides to solicit attention
When the leader of the pack leaves to hunt, he often comes back empty-handed (sometimes the only kill of that day was a mouse which he has already eat himself). When he returns, the young dogs of the pack will run up to him, licking him in hopes of being given some food, but the hunter politely ignores their gestures and just continues walking into the pack, going about his business so the pups get the message and leave him alone. The pups are the one doing the fawning and the guy in charge is the one doing the ignoring.
What happens when you come in to your own home from work or after running errands? You probably fawn over your dog, because you are happy to see him. However, the leader of a canine pack would never do this. Pups who have been out playing come back from their romp and run up to their mother or to the leader of the pack and try to solicit attention. Up until a certain age, their mother will lick their faces in greeting, but when the head honcho dogs come back in, remember they IGNORE the other dogs, even the playful pups.
So the first step for a dog that does not understand that you are the leader, is to ignore him for the first few minutes that you are home. Simply don't say anything and do not give eye contact when you first arrive. Take a few moments to sit down and review your mail or go to the restroom. After your dog has calmed down and give up demanding attention, then you can call him over to you, give him some affection, snap his leash on and take him for a walk or allow him outside in your fenced yard for exercise and potty time.
Dogs are creatures of habit, and if you are consistent when you make changes, within a fairly short amount of time your dog will understand and accept the new routine. In the meantime, pup is also learning a valuable lesson...that you are in control, versus simply reacting to his demands. You will not be withdrawing affection, playtime or daily walks and exercise; you will just be changing the timing of these interactions so that you are the one in charge of "when". Make sure you initiate these positive things when your dog is calm, not when he is hectic. In this way, you are also teaching impulse control. All good things come to them who wait!
Why is it so important that your dogs understand you arein charge of the family pack? Dogs need to feel safe. When a dog understands that you are a trusted leader, then he can relax and feel he is under your safe protection. If he does not feel confident of your ability to protect him, then he will feel the need to protect himself, his territory and perhaps his entire pack, canine and human. This can leader to other problems, like a need to protect valued resources, such as food, toys or bones. But if you are in control, then your dog can depend on YOU to protect him and provide for him. Once your dog understands this, there is no need for him to become frustrate or exhibit nervous aggressive behaviors.
Keep in mind it is the leader's job to scope out and protect the territory, to provide the food, to decide where everyone hangs out and most importantly, to enforce the rules. The training suggestions in all of our articles and dog ebooks are geared towards helping your dog understand that you are taking care of all these elements of life, so he can just relax and feel safe in your ability to protect him.
Need further help? Consider purchasing our ebook entitled Follow the Leader..How to Use Walking as a Behavioral Tool. Did you know that when you walk your dog you communicate exactly who the pack leader is? Do you understand that dogs are constantly evaluating who is in charge of the space surrounding them, both indoors and outdoors? This easy-to-read ebook will guide you in how to help your dog understand and accept human leadership. It includes simple exercises to do indoors, and explains, step by step, how to communicate leadership when walking your dog.
The important principles in this particular ebook will help all dogs, including those who respond in aggression, and fearful dogs who need to trust in strong leadership in order to feel safe. Dog training needs to be about bonding, and relationship...a blend of both love and leadership. Sometimes our dogs do not respond well to us simply because we have not understood the importance of bonding, perhaps we even started "training before we build a strong bond with our dog. We offer an affordable little ebook entitled The Bond Between Us Begins with Understanding which explains bonding versus training in a very easy to understand manner.
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(c) 2010-2011, Melanie Schlaginhaufen, all rights reserved. May not be reprinted or reproduced in any fashion without written permission of the author.