Try as they may, our dogs simply cannot think like we do. We, however, have the ability to think like them. Every now and then it is imperative to do so, if for nothing more than to keep the peace at home.
Those small things, and a few others were easy to achieve, not because I am a great trainer, rather because I
listened, first to my wife, who noticed that Mr. Wilson was miserable whenever I wasn’t around, and then to The Dreadlock Dog Man from Australia, Martin McKenna.
Our first few days with our new dog were like The Canine Control Olympics. Every thing we did was a contest in Mr. Wilson’s mind. Feeding, barking, peeing, walking-every aspect of his new life was a test. He wanted to win, and do things his way, because that was the only way he knew. Through trial and error, some wins, some losses, he started the journey toward what I call Schnoodle Serenity. He could never have achieved his current relaxed, happy state of being without enduring The Olympics. He had to find out, without a shadow of doubt, exactly who was in charge.
At first, it appeared we had lost. One of the greatest feelings is to have another living, feeling and adorable being shower us with affection. Knowing that our new dog was using those tools to control us was a bitter pill to swallow. It is my, and most dog owners desire to be liked by our pets-and therein lies a fundamental problem. Dogs “like” us differently than we “like” them. What we perceive as a gesture of affection is to the dog a gesture of dominance. Jumping, barking inappropriately, stealing food et al are all simply means of survival to our dogs. Without proper leaders, our dogs revert to their instinct, which basically is a quest to lead. When they find a competent leader, then- and only then- do they decide to “like” us.
But the quest for harmony, love and fun with our dogs does not end there. Once leadership has been established it is up to us to maintain it. Our dogs will test us, re-test us, then test us again. It is a daily battle for them, and they need to know that the person in charge of their lives, happiness and comfort is capable and deserving of such trust.
After reading Martin’s book, The Boy who Talked to Dogs, I decided that somebody who lived rough with a pack of wild dogs as a boy most likely had a far greater understanding of dog behavior and communication than I did. Dogs have subtle ways of communicating that are difficult for humans to comprehend, without being shown. Martin did not read about these signs, he learned from the dogs themselves, and I’m glad he did.
Using our superior intelligence and reasoning capabilities while teaching our dogs the rules of life with us makes training simple. The dogs listen to people they trust. They accept us as their superior. It can be no other way. When we allow our dogs to rule, all under the guise of love and affection, their lives are full of uncertainty, stress, anxiety and destructive behaviors.
It may be difficult to think that our dogs are constantly trying to usurp our leadership. Thinking that they are constantly testing us puts a little damper on that awesome relationship we share with our dogs. But in the big picture, when you stop letting your dog control you by using our instinctual need for acceptance, his life becomes far better for it.
And so will ours. Dogs are good. It is up to us to make them great.