We seem to be meeting quite a bit of dog parents who are concerned about their dogs being more in charge than the parents are. We get calls about our dog products and while in these conversations various topics come up. Most simply need to be reassured that they are not being totally controlled by their furry family member.
One way to remind yourself of who is in charge is to imagine that you are trapped in your house with your dog. You notice that the only thing available to eat is a can of beans. Who would open this can of beans? The fact is that whoever opens the can is actually the one in charge. (note: If you imagined that your dog would simply eat you instead of waiting for you to open the can, you may have bigger issues than what we are talking about here.)
When you think about the day to day with your dog, this same imaginary scenario is actually reality. Your dog is sort of always trapped in the house. Your dog can not leave unless you open the door. In fact, that is a lot of power and your dog knows it.
Unless your dog somehow escapes and runs away, your dog cannot eat, go outside, get medical help, get water nor many other things without you! In your dogs world, you are the giver and keeper of all things that are good to them. In other words, you rule.
The problem that some dog parents create when it comes to maintaining the power is not understanding the habits and behavioral issues they are bestowing on their dogs. Dog parents see those sweet little puppy faces and then become somewhat careless when it comes to the distribution of resources. Permissive dog parents open the door every single time their dog barks, permissive dog parents provide positive attention to unruly dogs, permissive dog parents hand out treats when there is no action to reward, and permissive dog parents fill a food or water bowl without their dogs present to witness who is doing this.
In human children, all of the above results in a form of entitlement. These types of children have yet to be given the chance to earn what they have, nor appreciate the people who give it to them. What would motivate a child to earn something through good behavior, if whining and pouting gets them what they want just as easily?
Examples of Ruling the Resources
A good dog parent is always very careful about how resources are distributed. For example, in order for your dog to get you (the ruler of your dogs world) to open the door, your dog would have to sit on command and patiently look up at you. In order to get a meal, your dog would have to display submissive behavior or earn it after a successful training session with sit, stay, come (or other commands that you are working on). In order to go for a walk, your dog would have to sit on command and patiently wait to have the leash attached to their collar, followed by politely walking out the door with you.
What does your dog start to think? Suddenly, you as the dog parent are in fact the person with all the resources and this makes you very, very important. In time, being obedient and polite is the only way to get the things your dog needs and wants. They will begin to realize that there is no reason for bad behavior, frivolous barking or whining, and the like, because these actions simply result in nothing. At first, they will begin to respond quickly to commands because they never know what fantastic treat they might miss out on! That is correct, treats are not given for every single proper command response. Why? Because as the ruler of their world, a proper command response is expected.
We have received return phone calls later where a dog parent told us, “I tried all of this, but it did not work.” We then explain that the problem is often not that the dog would not comply, but that the dog parent gave the dog the resource anyway. The dog parent gave in to that sweet little dog face and even felt bad for imposing these rules. We demonstrate that it can be hard at first but worth it in the end. In the beginning stages, there will be some missed walks (for not sitting at the door and waiting patiently), a delayed meal (dogs like structure so they know exactly when they are supposed to eat) or even missed opportunities for positive attention such as petting and playing. In summary, nothing will change until staying the same becomes more uncomfortable than changing.
Just to be very clear, there is never a need to make the consequences of your dog’s bad behavior painful by physically punishing them.
There is never a need to engage in physical power struggles. The act of simply withholding the resources and allowing your dog to make a choice is enough. This is more effective because dogs generally do what gets them the things they need and they also want to please you. All of this is how they became domesticated in the first place!
We assure you that your dog is not going to decide to not eat as if they are holding a grudge. Your dog also wants your positive attention as well, so they will not enjoy waiting very long for your attention. Dogs do not have a need for stubbornness; they know that it is not in their best interest. Dogs are very smart and are quick to learn the rules, as long as the rules are clear and above all, consistent.
In summary, establish your power by being a benevolent ruler who is happy to provide. Until they are fully trained, the things that you provide for your dog come with the condition that your dog earns them. As always, demonstrate kindness by occasionally offering training free rewards to instill even more loyalty.