Today I want to talk about dogs that take advantage of their owners. This has been on my mind because I’m working with an owner who has cancer and is physically weakened as a result. In a possible correlation, he’s seen behavior problems and boundary-pushing popping up in his dog.
I’ve seen this phenomenon occur many different ways. I hate dog parks, partly because I’ve noticed this happening there: one dog is clearly weaker or more timid than the others, and that’s the dog that gets picked on. But I’ve also noticed this in other dog groups as well. Once, when I was working for another trainer, he had a pack of ten Rottweilers and one mutt. If all of them were in the backyard, the mutt would be ganged up on. Even though that dog was a similar size, he was a white dog in a yard with ten big Rottweilers. The one who’s perceived to be different and weaker will be picked on.
I’m constantly shocked by trainers who say that there is no such thing as leadership or dominance, even though I understand why they’re saying so. Many trainers simply want to emphasize that owners don’t need to be a strong “alpha,” with which I agree. But there is no doubt in my mind that all dogs live within a hierarchical order. A good owner sets that order responsibly. The notion that you ought to be a loving “buddy” to your dog, rather than a leader, is absolutely crazy. Your dog needs to see you in a leadership role and look to you for permission!
I see the dysfunction that occurs in extreme cases, like in the examples above, but I also see these problems in regular households where the owner has not set up proper structure for their dog. Don’t make that mistake. Your dog can’t tell whether you’re weak because you’re sick or because you will not establish leadership, and will act out the same way whether or not that perceived “weakness” is your fault. I love dogs, but they can be a lot like people: they pick on the weakling.
Be a strong leader for your dog. Not a domineer, but a person who sets expectations and holds the dog to them.
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