Achieving good dog behavior not only involves training your dog, but understanding how dogs think about their world and using that to practice leadership with your dog.
The Pack drive in dogs defines activities dogs do with a pack or family, as we relate to our dogs. Pack drive activities include eating together, sleeping together, playing together, grooming each other and walking/exploring together. All activities dogs like to do with other pack or family members. Using these valuable instincts to provide strong leadership to your dog can go a long way in preventing issues like growling when you get into their space, near their food bowl or touching their backside.
We know dogs historically were meat eaters and worked hard at finding food. Because of this, they developed guarding instincts to protect their food. Our family dogs have expanded the list to not only include food, but other things that relate to their pack drive activities such as beds or sofas, toy and chew bones and yes, your love and affection.
Taking advantage of your dog’s opportunistic nature by developing a cooperative partnership (performing sits and downs for the things he wants) can go a long way in preventing behavior problems as mentioned above.
Here’s a list of each activity and how you can work leadership around them:
Eating together – control the food by offering your dog his food immediately after you have had your meal and require your dog to sit and down in front of his bowl before he gets to eat
Sleeping together – control your space (bed, couches, chairs) by requiring your dog to do a sit before getting up on your space. Put the action of getting up on a command word such as “UP”
Playing together - control all toys – tennis balls, tug toys, squeaky toys. Take them up each night before going to bed and pick just a few toys for your dog to play with during the day. Require your dog to earn these toys by giving you a sit and a down before being allowed to play with the toys for the day.
Grooming each other – require your dog to earn his physical petting and praise (since petting is a simplified form of licking or grooming as interpreted by your dog)
Walking and exploring together – structure this pack activity by controlling the first and last third of the walk requiring your dog to stay by your side during these times. The middle 1/3rd of the walk is your dog’s free time to enjoy peeing, pooping and of course sniffing and exploring with his nose. Remember to sit your dog before each third of the walk and require your dog to wait to be released before enjoying his free, relaxed time of the walk.
The next time you notice your dog growling inappropriately, think leadership and put this plan into action. It is never too later to start. Be as comfortable with the trainer of your dog as your are the teacher of your children. And remember: “Opportunity Barks”