Tuesday, May 1, 2007
Human: "I'm the boss around here!"
Dog: "No, I am!"
In the dog world, challenges constantly test and prove who is the fittest, strongest, smartest and most determined individual.
"Yippeeeee! I'm the boss around here!"
Again and again, dogs prove amongst themselves who has earned the right to be more dominant. Ultimately, they can challenge their way up the pack ladder and earn the right to be pack leader.
Dog: "Yep! I'm sure winning today!"
Your dog takes these challenges very seriously and keeps score of how many wins it has against each pack member.
Dog: "I'm stepping through the door first. I'm telling you...I'm gonna do it..."
You may be surprised by some of these challenges...and how petty they seem...but don't be fooled.If you don't win these challenges every day for the rest of your dog's life, your dog will start to climb up the pack ladder again and make a fresh grab for the leadership title.
So what are these leadership challenges?
I'll be going through some real favourites used again and again in the dog world, starting next post. You can always tell if your dog is challenging you - if you sense that it is trying to control whatever the situation is, any which way it can.
"Let me see now...this is my favourite challenge...oh no, this one is....oh, no, THIS one is a little beauty of a challenge...let me see, THIS one is fantastic...."
And believe me - you have to admire the ingenuity of some dogs in the way that they do manage to grab control of situations! Every dog has its own personal repertoire of favourite challenges. No doubt some will sound very familiar to you....
Human: "Hey! You stupid idiot of a dog!!!"
Dog: "Hee-hee. I win that challenge without fail every single morning."
Warning!While we are sliding our dog to the bottom of the pack ladder, you may notice your dog acting in a new way. It may start looking quiet and "glum", going off to lie down by itself, lying with its back to everyone, and seeming somehow "sad". Some dogs even give a loud, drawn-out sigh!
"Oh no! What have we done to you, dear, sweet little Buffy? We've destroyed your merry little spirit! Whaaaaaaaaagh!!!!!"
Now don't go and un-do all your hard work! IN THE DOG WORLD THIS IS NOT SULKING!
"Oh my goodness! What have I done? Speak to me, Spotty! Speak to me, pleeeeeeease!"
Although it does resemble human sulking, this is not the dog version. Rather, it is simple, clear dog language that all dogs use and understand. It means: "OK, I'm being polite now. I'm exaggerating how submissive I can be so you can really understand."
This behaviour is actually a great sign that you are on the right track and your dog is successfully sliding down the ladder. Your dog will look happier and more relaxed once it's sure it doesn't need to exaggerate its body language quite so much.
This should take a few weeks, though it's sometimes less, sometimes more, depending on the individual dog.
Because dogs are very social and naturally form packs - even with humans - ignoring our dog is a very powerful tool we have at our disposal.
Ignoring our dog is a much more effective method than physically punishing our dog down to the bottom rung of the pack ladder.
So make up your mind to be firm about this very essential "ignoring period". Don't give your dog attention until it's giving you the polite, calm, well-behaved, undemanding behaviour that we're after.
You don't have to be mean and nasty about sliding our dog down to the bottom of the pack ladder. It's simply a matter of adopting a temporary attitude that is impersonal, distant and firm.
Giving your dog a whole lot LESS attention during this transition period will help lessen its confusion.
For many people, just ignoring their dog for a period of time will be the hardest part of winning back the leadership. Some people find it gut-wrenchingly difficult.
We'll still be walking, grooming and feeding our dog, but we won't be playing with it during this transition period. We won't be giving it nearly as many pats, treats and attention. We'll also be interacting and talking to our dog much less.
While we're winning back all those lost challenges, it'll make the transition period much less confusing if our dog isn't getting any mixed messages from the human members of the pack.
By ignoring our dog during this slide to the bottom of the pack ladder, we're not saying: "We hate you."
Instead, we're saying in clear, simple dog language: "You are no longer the leader of our pack."
As the pushy, challenging behaviour lessens dramatically, we can resume interacting with our dog again - but from now on - only on our terms! Never again is our dog going to rule the household! Its days as leader are over!
"Hey, this life at the bottom of the pack ladder ain't so bad after all..."
If you would like to buy my book, you can buy it on-line at:
It's called "The Dog Man"by Martin McKenna.
(It was written in my pre-dreadlock days and has become an Australian bestseller.)