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Your Dog Depends Upon You

“Knock, knock!”

“Buddy, there is someone at the door! Do you want to go see who it is? Oh, it’s our neighbor, Jane! She loves you so much!”

I open up the door, and I greet Jane with a big hug. Suddenly Buddy bounces up into Jane’s face and pushes off of her with his front paws, sending her reeling backwards. Jane laughs, and as she regains her composure, she bends over Buddy and says, “It’s OK, I love Buddy!” 

I stand there watching the circus, yelling for Buddy to, “get off!” and I think to myself, I need a dog trainer.

For more than 30 years, I have helped folks train their dogs. If this scenario, or one like it, seems familiar, I have good news for you. You don’t necessarily need a dog trainer.  You need to be your dog’s leader. A simple definition of a leader is someone who sets up others for success. If I do not want my dog to jump up on people, I think about how my actions may cause my dog to fail and what I can do to change that. In the scenario above, Buddy jumped up because of the actions and energy of the people around him. Buddy lacked a leader.

Leadership is not dominance. A leader does not berate and nag. Leaders inspire through clear directives and motivation. For instance, door greetings are one of the most exciting events in a dog’s life. As a leader, I could help Buddy by spending time motivating him to sit, then motivating him to sit in areas with distractions, and then putting the behavior to use when greeting people at the front door.

A good leader sets up followers for success. I know Buddy is excited when people come to the door. I could have opted not to include Buddy in the greeting. I could have been calm and not hyped him up before opening the door. I could have been Buddy’s spokesperson and asked Jane to not pet or speak to Buddy until he settled.  

A leader is also consistent in expectations. As a trainer, I don’t care if your dog jumps up on people. I only care if you don’t want your dog to jump up, or if your dog could hurt someone. We cannot expect our dogs to know when it is OK to jump up and when it is not. They do not read our minds or take note when we have nice clothes on. Decide what your rules are, and stick with it.

Leaders lead through example. In our society, we greet others by touching with a handshake, a hug, and sometimes even a kiss (or two kisses if you are French). Dogs greet in very much the same way. They run up to each other, nose to tail, lick, jump up, and sometimes body slam. Now, imagine Buddy’s confusion when he is included in the door greeting, watches the physical interaction, and then is yelled at for mimicking his people. As Buddy’s leader, I will be sensitive and understand how difficult it is for him to be calm at the door. I will take time for him, in that moment, to help him learn to interact with my guests in an acceptable way.  

Of course, this is only one scenario. Leadership applies to the overall relationship with your dog. Buddy is not a bad dog for jumping up. He’s not bad when he pulls on the leash or doesn’t come when called. Buddy just needs leadership.  

Be your dog’s leader. Give clear directives with the appropriate tools to motivate. Be consistent in your expectations and insure the environment is appropriate for your dog’s success. Do this because you love your dog.

Be your dog’s leader. Happy training.

 Bonnie Brown-Cali has professionally trained dogs since 1990 and is the owner of Dog Dynamics Inc., which offers group lessons, private instruction, and board and train services in the Bay Area. She is an evaluator for the American Kennel Club, a field representative for Paws With a Cause training service dogs for people with disabilities, and has trained and deployed dogs for conservation work for the University of Reno, Desert Research Institute, and Working Dogs for Conservation Foundation. To continue her education, she attends annual conferences, behavioral workshops, and training seminars in the United States and abroad. She achieved her French Ring I title with her Beauceron and is beginning her training with her Malinois. She and her family share their home in the East Bay hills with their pack of dogs and flock of chickens. To learn more, visit DogDynamics.org.  

Main article photo by: Halfpoint / iStock