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

What Makes A Dog Happy?

I sometimes say that we should refer to dog training as “parenting the dog” because good parents usually make good dog trainers. Dogs, like children, are happiest when they understand the rules and boundaries that are set for them by those people who are responsible for their safety and welfare. Dogs do not like ambiguity. Even the most creative breeds still want to know the limits in which they can have their fun. They also want to know that they can count on their leaders to set the guidelines for behavior by providing prompt and fair feedback about their conduct. Without this information the dog feels helpless and out of control of his own destiny. Dogs that do not recognize who is in charge and the expected modes of behavior can become terribly distressed. Dogs will display a variety of behaviors when they are confused about their role in the pack and the rules of the house. Most of these behaviors are considered “bad” by their humans. When a dog is displaying many “bad” behaviors it can be a symptom of a “sick” household; one where the leader is missing or misaligned with his charges’ needs, or one where the leader is not taking seriously his responsibility for the dog’s needs, wellbeing and security. A dog in this sort of environment is not happy. A happy dog is one that can count on his owner to be responsible for both setting the rules and providing the feedback about his behavior. A happy dog feels confident in his leader’s strength. A happy dog knows that he is in charge of his own destiny because he knows the rules and the ramifications of breaking the rules. A happy dog believes that his leader is fair in her method of providing both negative and positive reinforcement regarding his behavior. So, to make a dog happy, we must provide meaningful, fair, consistent, appropriately timed, appropriately measured feedback to our dogs about their behavior. To make a dog happy we need to interact with him. We need to demand things of him; simple tasks like to sit on command, or more complex tasks like to herd sheep for us, or search out a missing person. We must remember that we are our dog’s center, his sun, his everything. He has been genetically designed to be our subordinate, not our slave, not our toy, but our loyal subject and he takes this role very seriously (he cannot do otherwise, for he has been programmed to need us to this level). When we do not recognize this; when we do not realize how highly he regards us, how much he demands of us, how much he expects us to be strong, willing, gifted and capable (for this defines the word Leader), we do not do him justice. Leaders are not cruel, but they are not feeble, either. They may be tender and caring, but they are not uncertain in their convictions. They are good communicators, both timely and with the right amount of intensity for the message. Leaders adapt their communication style to their audience, having assessed their charges well before a time of crisis or intervention. Real leaders do not have any trouble securing followers. If your dog does not look up to you, both literally and figuratively, then you need to hone your leadership style to meet his needs. We are the more intelligent of the species. It is our job to learn how to communicate with our canine companions who truly had no choice in selecting the home in which they now reside. Only then will our dogs be truly happy. © 2005 Tammie Rogers - all rights reserved. For permission to reprint email Tammie.