The Beginning of Understanding
“Old dogs, like old shoes, are comfortable. They might be a bit out of shape and a little worn around the edges, but they fit well.”
A little while ago we noticed that our two dogs were developing some bad habits. We tried all the usual things like getting them to respond to verbal commands, sit, stay, roll over; you know the kind of things I mean, but it did not seem to help. The youngest of our two dogs was by far the best at following verbal commands but had the worst bad habits. He would lunge at people as they walked past and it got to the point where we were concerned about people’s safety.
It was his good fortune to be born small, cute, white and fluffy and as a result people cut him a lot of slack.
We wanted our dogs to be happy and fulfilled and we wanted to be able to take them anywhere without worrying about their behaviour, so we dived into the study of dog psychology. We had done the dog training thing, now we wanted to know how dogs react and why.
We learned some amazing things along the way and our dogs are now balanced and happy, and so are we.
Rather than let everything we have learned go to waste I decided to share some of it with you in a series of articles.
So, where should I start?
Probably the most important early lesson that we learned was that dogs mirror their owners emotional state, which means that if our dog has problems there is probably something in us that needs attention.
Most people (and this included us to a degree) see their dogs as small four legged humans and this is where the problems start.
Dogs are animals first then dog then breed then their name and it is important to remember the order of things.
Dogs are pack animals (so are humans) and the survival of the pack is your dog’s top priority. Every pack needs a calm assertive leader and without it the pack will not survive.
Obviously the humans in your house should be seen as the pack leaders (there can be more than one) but in our house our dogs had slowly realised that we were not showing calm assertive leadership and for the sake of the pack they stepped up into that role even though they were not emotionally suited to do so.
So how did we take back the leadership roles?
We did it by learning that our dogs are not small humans and they have needs that HAVE to be met.
In the wild, dogs wake up stretch and follow their pack leader on a search for food and water that can take up most of the day.
So what does this mean for us as responsible dog owners?
It means that we must walk our dogs EVERY day, twice a day if possible for at least thirty minutes.
Walking your dog is so important that I will devote the entire next article to explaining what we learned about the ‘power of the walk’.
In the coming months I will share what we learned about the correct way for a dog to greet strangers, feeding rituals to enhance your position as pack leader, the difference between a correction and punishment, why we should never give affection when our dog is doing something that we disagree with, and many other fascinating things as well.
Terry Barca is the author of “SCHOOME: An Adventure in Home Schooling”