PART 1 ...HOW DOGS SEE THE WORLD
So you’ve got yourself a new puppy?
Oh that’s great news. So I guess we need new toys, a warm fluffy bed, bowls, leads and all the other bits that go with having a new doggy addition….ok check.
Now what? Ok well we need a vet visit soon. Check he is physically healthy, vaccination and to discuss with our vet or vet nurse about what physical changes will be coming as our puppy matures and grows up. So that’s his physical concerns out the way…check.
Have we thought about his mental education?...
Ummm, what do you mean?
In my time as a dog behaviourist and veterinary nurse, this is where so often it all falls down. We don’t realise that the cute little fur ball we just brought home is a mental clean slate waiting to absorb the information around it as it grows up in its first 12mths. And how we go about imprinting that slate, will set our puppy up to either be a well-mannered family member OR mum and dad yelling in frustration “we need to get rid of that dog”
Some of us want to shower this little thing with cuddles and love. “How can you say no to that gorgeous little face right!”
Some of us come in super dominant and over bearing. “Gotta show him who’s boss right!”
Well no, neither is good idea.
Having said that, many new puppy owners are aware they need to do some sort of ‘training’ with their dog. But I would often hear “Oh I don’t need help by going to puppy classes or the like, I’ll do it myself”.
What these people don’t realise is that there is more to dog education than just sit, stay and drop. Or sadly, the idea of what some people believe is ‘training’ their dog can be quite damaging, and cause a whole other set of behavioural problems for this new furkid.
So, let's look at this a little deeper.
How does my dog perceive the world?
Domestic and wild dogs are born instinctively to look towards members in their family for guidance. Whether that be their furry family, or us humans (some of us have more fur than others :)). Dogs simply see us as strange looking dogs.
As they grow and mature, they begin with play, and rough and tumble with those around them. They start to learn from this play who in their family, (or pack if you like) is bigger, better, faster, stronger. In their mind, they need to know who to look up to, because ultimately being a dog is about survival.
Your dog has a deep- seated need that to feel secure, he needs to know someone in this family will lead them to safety should anything go pear shaped. He also believes that a leader needs to be the biggest, best, fastest and strongest member of the family. Otherwise how is that person fit to do their job as family spokesperson.
Everything we do in those first years teaches our dog, ‘am I running this show, or are you? Cos someone's gotta’
But what we think we are doing, and how our dog perceives our actions, may be two completely different things.
Do all dogs want to lead the pack?
Actually no. In fact, very few dogs really want that leadership role. Majority don’t have the personality or attitude to look after those around them. Because being a pack leader means continually fighting for control. Always ready to take on anything and anyone and direct the family to safety. They would need to be on duty 24/7.
Some of us might think that running the country would be great. Being in control.
But ultimately, if you were popped into that role because no one else was doing it, but you really didn’t have the attitude, ruthlessness or dominance to stand up to the pressure, then you may just fall apart in a heap of stress and anxiety.
And this is what we do to our dogs by not creating a structured environment and someone they can look up to.
Some dogs are so under equipped to handle such a role of pressure and responsibility of leading a family, that walking past the cat has them in quivering state. Yet by not leading our pack ourselves, we force the poor furball into a position of stress.
All dogs have different personalities and varying levels of submission and dominance. It is simply a spectrum.
How well-mannered our dogs are will depend on their individual personalities and how we respond to their behaviours.
At the end of the day, the underlying question that your dog is asking you is;
'For my welfare, I believe someone in this family needs to be in control. Is it going to be you? Or are you going to force me to do it?’
Is being boisterous the same as being dominant?
Definitely not. There are many large dogs that don’t understand their strength. Without singling out any particular breed (as all breeds have the same spectrum), a good example is the Bull Arab. Huge, goofy, playful power machines.
This does not equal to having the mental ability of leading a pack. These larges dogs do however use their strength and behaviour to bend their environment in their favour.
Many children want to have their own way all the time, but that doesn’t mean they want or could manage the pressures of running the house and handling the finances.
The key factor to consider here is, ARE YOU A LEADER OR A BOSS?
A BOSS will be aggressive, yell and dominate by intimidation. A LEADER is a calm influence and leads by example.
When faced with a true leader, a dog is happy to go that extra mile. He knows your all on the same team and respect your direction
But when confronted by a Boss, he will do the bare minimum he needs to do just to avoid the conflict. And we know how stressful that would be.
So be a leader....not a boss
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Next part in the series;
How dogs learn and what do good strong leaders do?