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DarnFar Ranch LLC Professional Dog Training
Changing the actions, aptitudes and attitudes of dogs and their people

Competent Leadership

“How do I get my husband to tell the dog to stop jumping up on him?” “How do I get my dog to obey my four year old child?” “How do I get my teenagers to take the dog out on time?” “The dog jumps on my grandmother. Grandma is sort of hard of hearing, has some early signs of Alzheimer’s Disease and uses a walker. Grandma insists to leave cookies on a small plate on the coffee table. How do I get her to make the dog stop sealing her cookies?” “When my neighbors come over to visit, I tell them ‘don’t let him jump up on you like that’, but they just keep saying, ‘It’s OK, we don’t mind’. So how do I get them to understand it is not OK?” Client: “The dogs keeps getting out of the gate, how do I prevent this?” Tammie: “That’s probably a management issues, more than a training issue. Fix the latch if the dog has figured out how to open it”. Client: “The latch is fine so long as the kids close it right. The dog won’t get out then. But, the kids always leave the gate slightly ajar and the dog gets out then. So what do I do?”. Tammie: “I can train you how to teach your children to obey your authority, but it is going to cost you a lot more money than dog training advise!” Those are the sorts of conversations that I have on a daily basis with clients who seek our advice on dog training. Most of them have nothing to do with affecting the dog towards better behavior. Instead, it's usually a human psychology question. I can usually answer the question, but, I sure wish I was paid Dr. Phil's salary when I have to "Doctor Phil" a dog training client! It would be great if all of the people that your dog might encounter were really super dog handlers and presented an aura of authority and leadership over the dog. But, that’s just not the reality of the situation. The dog needs at least one, very competent leader in its life. That person must supervise the dog’s actions (pay attention), and be willing to reinforce the rules of conduct / standards for behavior to which the leader wants the dog to adhere. If every other person in the dog’s life is incompetent as a canine leader, that’s fine. It just means that the one competent leader has a bigger job since she cannot rely on others in her life to support the dog’s training and daily management. So, rallying the troops to interact properly with the dog is a great goal. I have just found it isn't typically the case in most dog owning households. I don’t really understand why most people have not yet figured out the fact that one human cannot control the actions of another. But, most people are quick to make excuses for their dog’s behavior by saying things like, “if only my husband would cooperate, the dog would be fine”, “my teenagers are simply not participating in the dog’s training and that is why the dog acts out”, “I can’t get my adult sister who visits every week to do what I tell her when it comes to the dog, and that is why the dog still barks at the door when she comes in” or "my three year old just doesn't seem to be able to communicate with the dog that he shouldn't leap on her". Come on people! Time for a wake up call. As the dog’s owner you are responsible for his behavior. Just deal with it. You can’t control your spouse on critically more important decisions, so don’t blame the dog’s behavior on his or her less than optimal cooperation in the dog’s training and management. If you didn’t raise your kids properly in the first six years, then you may not be able to expect them to respect your authority during their teenage years, and that includes doing right by the dog. Most kids under 9 or 10 are not competent dog trainers (although there are exceptions – I’ve known some 8 years old that handle the dog better than their parents). Teens are often less than competent at managing a dog’s behavior because they have lost interest in the dog or they have far more interest in other things. Teens can also be known for making less than sound decisions at times simply due to their life stage. If the parent’s can’t always control their teens’ actions, then asking the “Dog Trainer” how to rectify that is silly. Those folks who ask me how to get three and four year old children to control the dog are the most frightening to me! Believe it or not, I get that question all the time! It is completely unacceptable to blame a dog’s behavior on a four year old child’s inability to present an aura of authority over the dog. And, I find it deplorable to expect a three or four year old to impose its will on the dog, especially a dog with behavioral issues. While a dog must believe that all humans are higher ranking individuals in the “pack” or family structure, there are competent and incompetent people in a dog’s life with respect to their ability to take control of the dog’s behavior. You need to assess who can play a competent leadership role with the dog. Then, that small group of people needs to agree on the standards you plan to establish for the dog’s behavior and you all need reinforce those expectations. People who are not capable of reinforcing a dog’s behavior should not be given that sort of responsibility. They are simply not accountable for the dog. It is unfair to put any demands on those people when it comes to training or managing your dog, albeit, the dog’s belief in their higher rank must be established and maintained. That means, you must step in during interactions between a dog and those individuals. Most children should not be asked to be responsible for a dog’s behavior. Parents or other adults should supervise the interactions of dogs with children. Many times, seniors of advanced age should also not be asked to impose their will upon a dog, as they are not physically or mentally capable of the job. If the dog is swiping Grandma's cookies, a competent leader in the dog's life needs to supervise and teach the dog the expectations for his behavior i.e. food on the coffee table is off limits! Your neighbor’s are not responsible for your dog’s behavior. If your dog jumps on people, you, as the dog’s owner, must address the dog’s negative behavior. Don’t tell visitors, “Tammie the dog trainer said that when the dog starts to jump on you, you should say or do such-and-such”. Manage the dog’s behavior around your guests. He’s your dog! You need to be responsible for his behavior around your guests. "Incompetents" are not always just the very young, the very old, the infirm or guests. If your spouse is not a willing participant in your dog’s proper management or training, then you may need to take on all the responsibility for the dog’s behavior. You are not going to be able to "make" someone oversee your dog's behavior. If a physically fit, but less than dedicated-to-the-cause individual interacts with the dog on a daily basis, it is sometimes more prudent to simply take control of the dog rather than blame the dog’s behavior on your partner. I cannot believe how often I am asked to resolve issues that have nothing to do with educating dogs. Too often the questions highlight a complete lack of understanding about responsibility and authority that comes along with dog ownership. Worse, yet, are those questions which make me wonder about the safety of children, seniors or guests that are welcomed into a person’s home where nobody seems to have taken on the responsibility for the dog’s actions. You have to make a decision about when you are going to step in and change things. To affect a dog, you need to believe you have the right and the authority to impose your will upon another entity. A dog’s behavior is a direct reflection of its relationship with its human. Although, it’s splendid when multiple people in the dog’s life are competent leaders, a dog only really requires one competent leader to establish standards for its behavior and reinforce those standards on a daily basis. However, if that person is absent during times when the dog can misbehave, it’s not acceptable to blame the incompetent people in his life (as in children) for the dog’s unacceptable behavior. I have been known to recommend to people that the dog remain crated until the competent leader comes home from work, rather than to permit children the chance to allow the dog’s negative behaviors to escalate. Dogs do not come trained. And, even if they are professionally trained or rehabilitated, someone has to assume the competent leader role in the dog’s life. Incompetent folks (visitors, relatives, small children, unwilling adults, advanced age seniors) should not be expected to affect the dog’s behavior nor should they be blamed when the dog misbehaves. Management chores such as letting the dog outside, taking it on a walk, feeding can be assigned to any willing participants. But, if the dog presents with unacceptable behavior in the absence of competent leadership, it is simply not fair to ask others to address unruly, aggressive, anti-social behavior and it can actually result in serious, negative consequences if they are not equipped to do so. Usually, a decent dose of common sense is all that is required to recognize whether a situation is being appropriately addressed. But, then, again, sometimes that’s a commodity that is hard to come by! © 2005 Tammie Rogers - all rights reserved. For permission to reprint email Tammie.