Frustrated dog owners often call or email me when their dog has behavior problems and needs training.
Meet Kathy Armstrong and Jake
I often get phone calls from distressed owners who are having trouble with their dog. Let's listen in on a phone conversation between myself and a typical dog owner....let's call her Kathy Armstrong.
Kathy: "Michele, my dog Jake is being difficult! I can't make him do anything. He only listens to me when he's in the mood."
Me: "I see. Would you say Jake is behaving rudely?"
Kathy (surprised): "What do you mean? How can a dog be rude?"
Ah, how indeed! Let us count the ways!
Me: "Does Jake sass you back when you tell him to do something? Does he bark back at you?"
Kathy: "Well, yes, sometimes. If he doesn't want to do something."
Grumbling when annoyed
Me: "Does he ever grumble at you when you wake him up? Or when you try to move him off his favorite chair? Or when you reach toward his food bowl while he's eating? Or when you touch some "sensitive" part of his body, like his tail or stomach or paw?"
Kathy: "Yes, he does growl sometimes, but he's just telling me not to bother him."
Hanging onto objects
Me: "Does he brace his legs and refuse to let go when you try to take something away from him?"
Kathy: "Yes, if it's something he wants to keep for himself."
Me: "Does Jake persistently nudge or pester you for attention when you're trying to read the newspaper, or when you talk on the phone or visit with guests?"
Kathy: "Yes, when I'm not paying attention to him."
Me: "Does Jake sometimes steal food off your plate when you leave it unattended? Does he get into the trash?"
"Getting back at you"
Me: "When Jake doesn't get his own way or when he's upset with you, does he ever "act out" by chewing things up or peeing somewhere in the house?"
Kathy: "Why, yes.....I think he does it to get back at me."
Staying just out of your reach
Me: "When you reach your hand toward Jake, does he sometimes dart away from you, keeping just out of reach?"
Kathy: "Yes, he does....he doesn't want me to catch him if I'm going to put his leash on or give him a bath."
Running away from you
Me: "When you catch Jake doing something wrong, does he run from you? Does he lead you on a merry chase around the house or yard?"
Kathy:: "Uh-huh. So he can't be scolded. He doesn't always come when I call him, either, unless he knows I have a cookie."
"Telling off" strangers or other dogs
Me: "Does Jake decide who's welcome in your home and who isn't? Does he bark or grumble at visitors even after you've let them in? Does he pitch a fit when he sees another dog?"
Kathy: "Well, if he's excited... or if he doesn't like them..."
Jumping on people
Me: "Ah, and if he does like them, is he calm and polite? Or does he jump all over them?"
Kathy: "I'm beginning to see your point."
Me: "And you said he only obeys when he's in the mood.
Kathy (sighing): "You're right, Michele. Jake does do quite a few of those things. But are they really that bad?"
Why rude behaviors are bad
Me: "I'm afraid so. Those behaviors are rude and disrespectful. If a dog is allowed to do things that are rude and disrespectful, he starts believing that he is higher in the pecking order than YOU are."
Kathy (puzzled): "And the pecking order is...?"
Me: "It's like a ladder of hierarchy. Dogs are sociable animals who like to live with other sociable animals in a group or pack. This "pack instinct" is built into your dog's genes, and it's a good thing, too, because it's why dogs wedge themselves so tightly into our families.
When a dog joins your family, even if your family consists only of a single person – YOU – a pack is formed.
Oh, yes, in his mind it certainly is, and his instincts compel him to seek out its structure: Who is the leader, and who is the follower?
I'll give you a hint.....whoever is allowed to set the rules and make the decisions is the leader.
The other one is the follower.
If you don't establish YOURSELF as the leader, your dog will be compelled by his instincts to assume that role. And now you will see those "rude and disrespectful" behaviors. Your dog isn't really being rude or disrespectful. He is simply carrying out his role as Leader. Since you haven't assumed the role, HE has to do it."
Kathy (anxiously): "But I don't want to rule over or control my dog. I just want him to be my friend."
If your dog won't "let" you bathe him, the pecking order is wrong between the two of you.
If your dog won't "let" you clean his teeth or take something out of his mouth, the pecking order is wrong between the two of you.
Me: "Kathy, friends are equals. Jake is your dependent. He depends on you for his health, his safety, his very life. There are times when you need to do things with Jake that he doesn't understand and doesn't like.
For example, you might need to give medicine that tastes awful..... or take something dangerous out of his mouth..... or roll him onto his back so you can cut out a nasty mat or remove a tick from his belly.
Jake may be smart, but he doesn't understand that medicines will help him, that some things he puts in his mouth will poison him or choke him, that mats are bad for his skin and ticks carry disease. Without this knowledge, Jake doesn't know what's best for him.
For his own safety, your dog must always accept YOUR greater knowledge and judgment.
For your own peace of mind as your dog's guardian and caregiver, you must feel confident that you can restrain and handle him in any way you see fit, at any time you see fit.
If your dog won't "let" you groom him, the pecking order is wrong between the two of you.
If your dog won't even accept minor things such as clipping his toenails, or cleaning his teeth, or dropping a toy, or sitting quietly while you attach his leash.... if your dog barks back at you, or pesters you, or won't shut up when people come to the door, or dashes away from you, or won't come when he's called.... then he's certainly not going to accept some major things you might need to do with him to take proper care of him.
You simply cannot take proper care of your dog
if he doesn't acknowledge you as his leader."
Kathy: "But I'm worried that if I take charge all the time, he'll resent me."
Me:: "No, he'll RESPECT you.....and that is a wonderful thing! When your dog respects you, when he recognizes you as a capable leader worthy of respect, he will not only behave beautifully for you, but also he will feel happy and secure.....because it's a great load off his shoulders. Follower dogs are MUCH happier than dogs who are forced to be the boss in their family.
Let me explain why follower dogs feel so happy and secure
Follower dogs feel secure because they know someone else is in charge.
Your dog craves a leader who has everything under control. Then HE doesn't have to worry about trying to figure out our complicated world. Follower dogs can just relax and enjoy life while YOU handle all the decisions.
Follower dogs feel happy because everyone likes them.
Since follower dogs are so willing to listen to you and learn from you, it's easy to teach them the kinds of good behaviors that make them stand out in a crowd. People appreciate well-behaved follower dogs and are quick to pet them and compliment them. Dogs love this kind of attention.
Follower dogs feel secure because they've learned the consequences of everything they do.
Follower dogs have been taught which behaviors bring them praise, petting, and treats, and which behaviors bring scolding or corrections. This clear distinction helps them choose which behaviors to do, and which behaviors to avoid. Dogs love the security of knowing what to do and what not to do.
Follower dogs are happy because they've learned what our human sounds mean.
Like anyone who learns a foreign language, your dog feels confident and empowered when he understands what you're saying.
If you want your dog to be the follower......YOU must be the leader
Kathy: "Okay, I like the idea that Jake will feel happier and more secure when I teach him to be a follower dog. But why do I need to be a leader to teach him things? Won't he learn from me if I just love him? Don't dogs want to please the people they love?"
Me: "Surprisingly, no. Dogs only want to please people they respect. They only want to please leaders. If your dog is doing any of those behaviors we talked about earlier.....if he's not listening to you....then you've lost at least some of his respect, and you need to know what to do to get it back."
Kathy (resolutely): "I think I understand. Tell me what to do!"
Me: "Just follow the step-by-step Respect Training program in my dog training book, Teach Your Dog 100 English Words. You'll learn how to teach Jake to be a respectful follower dog and then he'll pay attention to you and do what you say. Exactly what you've been looking for!