Many of us consider our dogs to be members of our family. In many ways, they are. We form a special bond with dogs that few other animals share. Some dog owners go so far as to interpret their dog's every action in human terms. Given this special status, as family member and companion, we naturally start to look at our furry friends through "people-colored" glasses. This is where problems begin.
Often dog owners forego training because they don't like the way they think the training makes their dog feel, or they feel guilty for setting rules and not letting their dog "be a dog." This humanizing of a dog's behavior leads to faulty judgments about what dogs understand, what they need, and what is best for the dog. Dogs simply do not think like people-something many owners do not understand or refuse to accept. Dogs are guided by their instinctive need for social structure, a "pack," and they expect leaders to act in a certain way.
Misunderstanding of pack structure is often the cause of behavior problems. Dogs instinctually crave leadership and are keenly attuned to the discipline associated with it. However, if dogs don't sense leadership from owners, their instinct compels them to try to take charge, which can lead to behavior issues such as barking, pulling on the leash, jumping or even worse behaviors.
Learning how to communicate leadership in a consistent way your dog understands is key. There is no reason for your dog to lead you on walks, cut you off on the stairs, run first through open doorways, jump on visitors, or bark every time the doorbell rings or a child walks by your house. Typically, these are things dog do when they think they are in charge.
Discipline and leadership are not enemies of fun. And in no way should training a dog inhibit his playfulness or spontaneity. But that doesn't mean there should be no rules for inappropriate behavior. In fact, providing your dog with consistent leadership and ground rules for behavior will make him feel more secure and relaxed and make for a more self-assured companion. Dogs must learn who is in charge in a way they understand. A balanced relationship built on a foundation of bond, trust and respect will help your dog enjoy being a stress-free canine member of your happy family.