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Training your dog is not about doing something to him. The relationship cannot be based solely on 'dominance' or 'submission' although on some level these are certainly aspects of the relationship. More so, educating your dog is about establishing mutual trust, respect and understanding.
Your dog doesn't consciously think about whether you're in charge or he's in charge. How we interact tells him who is the decision maker in the relationship. He doesn't wake up and think about trying to "take over". But he will do things to test his position in your family's social structure. He knows your routines, and we are creatures of habit, so he will often anticipate the next thing we're likely to do. Does that mean that he's trying to direct the action?
Let me give you an example. Let's say your dog loves to swim and you have a pool in your back yard. If you pick up a swimsuit, he assumes that he's going swimming. He may go to the front door. If your pool is in the back why does he go to the front door? Because many people train their dogs to pee before he can go in the pool. You get your swimsuit and he anticipates the next action. Is this a test of leadership? No, not really, but it does tell him something about your relationship. It tells him that you are consistent.
When you're consistent, your dog will feel safer and more secure. You need to have rules. Because he is already at the front door does that mean he's calling the shots? Before going through the front door, he should be required to sit and wait to be invited out. So even though he was already at the door, who is really in control? You should also make sure he has to sit and wait to be invited back inside. If it's pre-swim pee time, he should run to his pee spot, quickly pee and run back to the door and sit. Are you in control or is he? Neither of you should think about it in those terms. It's been established that you have rules and you should be consistent. Your dog should know what the rules are and he follows the established pattern.
Let's take the routine one step further. After coming in from peeing, your dog should be taught to again sit so you can take off his collar. You may not want him to swim with his collar on. So he should come in and sit. There should be no contest, no battle of wills. If he forgets and rushes towards the back door, you should just stand and wait. Once he remembers what he is supposed to do, he should come back and sit. Neither of you is consciously thinking about who is the one in charge. Your actions determine the relationship.
Your dog should trust that you will be consistent. In turn, once he is properly trained, you should be able to trust that he's going to follow the rules. However, we all make mistakes. You are a human and he's a dog, so neither of you is perfect. If you forget, which does happen, or you let your dog get away with things, he's likely to push the envelope a bit more because you're not being consistent. Your dog may become antsy or unsettled. If you are consistent and follow the rules you and your dog have established, you dog will be calmer, more relaxed and happy.
You should let your dog know when he makes a mistake. When he does, get him refocused, guide him toward proper behavior, then praise to reinforce a good habit. Your dog may let you know when you make a mistake, often by showing confusion. You and your dog should be able to trust each other to do the right things. Each time you are unfailing, the trust grows stronger.
As the trust grows so will the strength of your bond. You should both be secure in your relationship. You should each know your roles without thinking about them. Because you know, respect and trust each other, you should also quickly forgive each other's mistakes.
Trust develops over time. As your dog is being trained, you will have to work harder at the relationship because there is a learning curve. You will have to understand your dog's needs and provide for them so he can learn how to fit into your family. Will it be easy? Not always, but it will be fun if you are patient and stick with the process.
Just like with people, your dog's brain needs to stay active. You should constantly be trying to come up with new things to teach him. It's an ongoing process. When you are successful, you should celebrate together.
If your relationship with your dog is not what you want it to be, contact your local trainer. A dog is never too old to learn, so we can help you get the relationship back on track very quickly. At Bark Busters, our goal is to teach your dog to love and respect you, not fear you, control you, or create chaos in your home.