How To Earn Your Dog's Respect
What Am I Doing Wrong?
American culture embraces individuality, taking control of our own destiny, and going after what makes us happy. Dogs aren't typically comfortable being in control or having everything they want whenever they want it. Many times, we mistakenly project our cultural values onto our dogs, thinking it must make them happier when the opposite is actually true.
Domestic breeds still possess strong instincts when it comes to a pack mentality. Dogs crave being contributing members of their family but have no way of telling us how they really feel. Many dog owners eventually find themselves with an out of control, hyper, crazy, anxious, aggressive, destructive canine. They try giving treats and toys and chews. They flood their dog with attention. They spoil and coddle. People want what is best for their dog, but we are most experienced with human needs and aren't very adept at thinking like a canine. We misinterpret our dogs' wants as needs over and over.
Dogs need structure. To be a part of our family in the role they desire, dogs need rules. This is not to say you will need to become a militaristic disciplinarian. Not in the least. However, you will need to learn two extremely important concepts before you and your dog will be living together in harmony: Consistency and self control.
Rules are meaningless if you don't stick to them. Dogs understand inconsistency perfectly. It translates directly into you surrendering all leadership and control. It's no wonder your dog is uncomfortable, unfulfilled, and stressed if you keep expecting him to behave according to rules you don't keep while insisting he's in charge. You're probably familiar with the saying "give an inch and he'll take a mile." It's as simple as that. If you cannot be consistent, it's instinct to take over for you. Decide whatever rules you want him to follow, but don't give up on them because they are inconvenient at the time, or because he gave you that puppy eye.
Control yourself, and your dog will respect you. He needs to earn the things he wants, not get them from you for free. Rewards have no value if he's getting them no matter how he acts and this makes training new behaviors impossible. The more self control you can develop the better. It's extremely important to control your dog's resources and rewards to keep a happy household. Your dog is a responsible member of the family. Believe it or not, he can and will follow consistent rules you set down, so don't treat him like a charity with handouts!
The following handouts should be avoided:
- Access to furniture.
- Leaving food out all day, or not having a set mealtime.
- Leaving toys out.
- A doggy door, or indiscriminate access to the yard.
- Chew toys left out.
- Petting your dog.
- Talking to or looking at your dog.
- Doing anything your dog "asks" for, whether it's by coming up to you, whining, licking you, etc.
This is a short list and can certainly include much more. Rewards are literally anything your dog wants. If he wants to go through the doorway with you, make him sit first and wait for you to release him. Walking through the door is his reward for letting you go first, or waiting for your command. If he comes over to you for attention, don't give it to him. Give him a command first, then he's earned the reward.
Learning to withhold rewards until your dog has earned them will allow his good behaviors to spill over into problem areas. For example, once he's discovered that sitting calmly can get him attention, you've set yourself up for an easier time teaching him to sit calmly while you put his leash on.
It is perfectly acceptable to give your dog these rewards, but ONLY for the behaviors you are looking for. Just don't do it when he's acting up, because he's being cute, or because he's pestering you for them! Show some self control! It will take effort on your part to change how you act towards your dog.
Correcting The Situation Now
You might think your dog is so set in his ways it would be pointless to change things up now. Well chin up! You'll do fine, and so will your dog. Habits are hard to break, and that's true for both of you. Don't be discouraged. Regaining control over your household and dog is simple, but like any life changing decision it requires commitment on your part. Do not be discouraged because you don't see a change right away in your dog. New rules and staying consistent will seem difficult at first but will soon become second nature to you.
Exercise: Physical AND Mental
New routines and working for what he wants is a lot of mental exercise for your dog. The more exercise the better. Dogs get stir crazy more easily than humans. They need to get out and move in order to remain calm in their home. Physical exercise is very important and can't be skipped, but the mental exercise your dog will receive with these changes is just as important. As he learns self control following rules in order to receive the rewards he wants, his mind will become fit and healthy. The more in-shape you're able to keep his mind, the happier you'll both be. And don't forget that in order to stay fit, you have to keep at it.