Is your dog the boss? It’s a heavy burden for most dogs, including yours. “Why is that,” you ask. Because, it usually always causes frustration which certainly leads to anxiety and stress.
Let’s get the dog’s take on this as we look at life with Sarah, who has a little female terrier mix named Jessie. Jessie is a rescue pup about 3 years of age.
Here’s how their story unfolded, leading to the behavior problems Sarah caused with Jessie.
Sarah took some much needed vacation when she finally made the decision to get a new puppy. She wanted to make sure Jessie knew she loved her. The first 10 days they were inseparable. This began to set expectations in Jessie’s mind of Sarah always being there, as Jessie began to figure out her new life with Sarah.
Sarah spent all of her time with Jessie, doing what she thought would make Jessie feel wanted, loved and at home. She went to great lengths to find the perfect food for Jessie.
Sarah tried many different foods and finally, after many, many taste tests, found a good food. But Jessie never ate breakfast, so Sarah only fed Jessie an evening meal.
Jessie uses her doggie communication skills (mainly barking) to wake Sarah every morning to start the day – whether its time to get up or not.
Jessie also lets Sarah know when to open doors and go for a walk, or potty in the back yard. Jessie loves to fetch so she brings her ball to Sarah and drops it in her lap to throw. Sarah then throws the ball.
And of course there was lots of hanging out together on the couch where Jessie would frequently give Sarah a nudge for petting and Sarah always complied with constant doting.
From Jessie’s perspective, she was letting Sarah know what she should do and how Sarah should behave as Jessie began to assume her position as boss or the leader. But, Sarah saw her dog as very smart and thinks all of these dog behaviors are very endearing.
Many dogs like Jessie who have assumed a leadership role, instinctively feel they should be able to do certain things like: get their own food, bark and scare the home invaders away and keep the pack together.
Let’s now take a look at how these few things that Sarah set into place in the beginning have affected Jessie’s behavior.
Getting her own food: Eating the equivalent of a full day’s ration stretches Jessie’s stomach. And since food only stays in a dog’s stomach for about 7 hours, this leaves Jessie with an empty stomach all day long.
Once Jessie’s stomach is empty, it creates a feeling of restlessness as hunger tension develops. This tension hypes up Jessie’s senses as she becomes anxious about her next meal.
Barking and scaring the home invaders away: When visitors come over, Jessie’s habit, or job, is to run to the door and bark at the front door and doorbell to scare the invaders away.
When the visitor comes in its all Sarah can do to prevent Jessie from jumping on her friend. It finally came down to putting Jessie in the back yard so that Sarah could visit with her friends. Now, Jessie has taken to barking in the back yard as a way to relieve her tension and stress.
Keeping the pack together: The first 10 days of Jessie’s new life with Sarah changed drastically the first Monday Sarah had to return to work.
You can imagine how Jessie felt when Sarah left for work that day. In Jessie’s mind Sarah was going to be there all day every day for her. This was a big game-changer for Jessie.
The anxiety and stress was so strong that Jessie tried relieving the tension by chewing on the cabinets in the kitchen where she was gated for the day. Evenings and weekend outings with friends weren’t much better for Jessie who again was alone.
The burden of “being the boss” had now become a reality for Jessie as she began to feel anxious and stressed and no longer able to control these aspects of her life.
See how the stress, anxiety and frustration set in with Jessie as Sarah starts changing the rules of the game.
Devastation sets in for Sarah
Sarah is devastated by all of these behavioral problems surfacing with Jessie and decides to get Jessie some training. Sarah investigated boarding Jessie for a 2 week dog training program and looked into a group class to take afterwards.
While obedience training seems logical, the training alone didn’t address the root cause of the problem which was the frustration Jessie was feeling.
Sarah had done some early puppy training so Jessie knew how to sit and down. But once she did the “puppy training” she dropped her training routine and settled back into her comfortable life satisfying her own personal needs with Jessie.
What I recommended Sarah do with Jessie was some intense dog obedience drills 3 times daily for 2 minutes. This included the commands come, sit and down.
This slowly began to change the way Jessie felt about Sarah – a feeling of working for Sarah rather than Sarah following Jessie’s lead.
Many other things began to change as well. Jessie now has to earn everything she wants from Sarah by performing sits and downs. This was in addition to her 3 daily training regimens.
Sarah began putting Jessie on leash in the house when visitors came over. Jessie being allowed to stay inside eliminated the back yard barking. Sarah now has a great system in place for greeting friends and enjoying a hassle-free visit as well.
She started feeding Jessie twice a day and added some canned food and warm chicken broth to encourage Jessie to eat breakfast. Success! And of course Jessie has to do sits and downs for meals as well.
Sarah began to ignore Jessie’s pleas to rise every morning and now gets up after Jessie settles back down on her dog bed 2-3 minutes later. Ignore the pesky morning nudges, barks or whines and it eventually goes away. This required a bit of patience on Sarah’s part.
Requiring Jessie to earn every thing every day has allowed Sarah to essentially re-write Jessie’s job description. Jessie is feeling much less stressed as Sarah provides Jessie a new strong leader to follow. Sarah sees the benefits of setting ground rules for Jessie. Both are much happier and stress-free.