Building Trust Starts With You
You know what they say – it takes two to tango. And when it comes to training your dog, it takes every member of the household to get on board. Why should your dog do all the work? In their eyes, YOU’RE the leader, and you’ll set the tone for all training and interaction.
We’re going to put you to the test by making sure you’re prepared for the leadership role. Success of any dog training starts and ends with YOU, so let’s get you prepared for that responsibility. In this module, you’ll learn the right approach to working with your dog, and how your behavior, mood, energy, and voice can be used to positively influence your dog’s training.
This module will cover the following topics:
1.1. Dominance vs. Leadership
1.2. What Your Dog Needs from You
1.3. Take the Lead! Your Role as an Owner
1.4. The Power of Energy
1.5. Using Your Voice Effectively
1.1.Becoming a Leader
Before we dive right into our leadership training, it’s important to make a very clear distinction between leadership and dominance. For many years, dog experts believed dominance to be the driving force behind all dog behavior – that dogs were challenging their owners’ leadership status by acting out. They also viewed dog aggression and fighting among other dogs as a way to attain alpha status – to be the dominant member of the pack. But as experts continue to study dog behavior and psychology, they’re learning that dogs don’t respond to dominance, they respond to leadership and rules. Let’s look at this closely to point out the difference.
Dominance vs. Leadership
The idea that dogs fight with their owners for dominance is a common misconception, and it’s why many people think their dog is acting out – the dog is challenging their owner’s alpha status in the household. But let’s look at what is actually happening when bad behavior occurs.
The dog climbs up on to furniture he isn’t allowed to sit on. You attempt to remove him. He growls, you back off.
What happened here is the dog’s bad behavior (growling) was rewarded because he got what he wanted (to stay on the furniture). At this point, let’s make it clear you shouldn’t challenge or punish a dog that’s growling or aggressive…that’s a whole different argument, and we’ll cover that in later modules.
In other words, if by acting a certain way the dog gets what he wants, then of course he’s going to repreat this behavior, because it will get results! Also, if there is a lack of ground rules and the dog can get away with bad behavior, then just like a naughty child, he will try to do so. For example, if a dog is used to barging first through doors because he’s never been taught not to, then he will. This is nothing more complex than plain old bad manners.
Dominance Theory in Dog Training
Dominance Theory assumes that because dogs themselves engage in dominance tactics, an owner must assert their status as an alpa. In other words, they must declare themselves to be the the leader by putting the dog in a submissive role. This is done by punishing bad behavior, i.e. pulling on a choke collar to ilicit pain, or forcing your dog into a submissive position.
From the outside, it would appear to be an effective training technique, as the dog will respond almost immediately. But it’s important to note that in these situations, the dog is responding out of fear and anxiety – not respect. It’s also not a sustainable training technique, as the dog may not associate punishment with their bad behavior. So your dog isn’t learning anything, it’s just becoming confused as to why they are being punished.
In the long-term, this can have a negative impact on your dog’s mental health and emotional well-being, and lead to more serious problems in the future. As you will learn in later modules, a lot of bad dog behaviors can be attributed to anxiety and insecurity, including:
- Destructive Behavior
- House Soiling
- Not Eating
Leadership in dog training is about setting rules, and rewarding your dog when they follow these rules. In this case, you’re using positive reinforcement to encourage good behavior, as opposed to punishing bad behavior. You’re not competing with the dog for alpha status, you understand that the dog WANTS you to lead, and you respond by taking on the leader role.
It’s really quite simple; dogs love leadership. As you will learn in the next module, their psychology is tuned to serving and pleasing a leader, and even independent breeds appreciate this heirarchy. Experts have found that this is a more successful training technique for many reasons:
|Unlike some dominance techniques, there’s no cruelty or punishment involved|
|There’s a much better learning curve – dogs understand when they have followed the rules, and repeat good behaviors|
|Though dogs are different than humans, they establish trust in the same way. It cannot be commanded, it must be earned. When you lead by example, set clear rules and fair expectations, minimize conflicts, and allow the dog to be a dog, you earn their trust. When you bully a dog into submission, you’ll get resistence.|
|When a dog knows he is learning, pleasing, and following the rules, he will feel confident and secure, and he won’t feel the need to act out.|
|It’s not just about training, it’s an approach to your overall dog-owner relationship. When you become the leader your dog needs, you will have earned his love and respect, and enjoy a rich and rewarding bond|
1.2 What Your Dog Needs from YOU
A dog finds securitywith a strong leader (That’s you!)
Now don’t mistake strong leadership for being a bully. A gentle, quietly spoken person can command as much, if not more, attention from a dog than someone who shouts– after all, dogs have excellent hearing so there really is no need to shout.
In a dog’s world leadership is all about guidance, love, and security, and it doesn’t bear saying too many times that it’s a sense of security born out of consistency. Your leadership is about setting a daily routine, about letting the dog know what the rules are, telling him he did well when he did what you wanted and letting him know when and where he went wrong.
To do this, you have to know the rules yourself and stick to them. You also need to decide on a set of command cues and abide by them. Do you spot a theme here? Consistency!
How Dogs Want to be Led
As the leader in the relationship, here is what your dog expects from you:
Because dogs like to follow, they prefer for you to make the decisions. Some dogs, when put in the decision-making position, become anxious – like when you let your dog lead on walks and decide which route to take. Dogs can sense hesitation and doubt, and when it’s coming from their perceived leader, it makes them question your leadership, and can lead to insecurity. You need to be decisive.
Dogs want to obey, but first they have to understand where the boundaries lie and what you want him to do. If one day it’s OK to jump on the sofa, and then next day it’s not – you guessed it – those feelings of confusion, tension, and frustration come bubbling through. By knowing what’s acceptable and what’s not, the dog can relax into the business at hand – pleasing you by doing what you want.
When your dog is in social situations with other dogs and humans, they expect you to manage these scenarios and ensure their safety. If you’re on leash and passing another dog who is growling or behaving aggressively towards your dog, it’s your job to intervene. Your dog will always try to protect you, and this is where a lot of their stress and anxiety stems from. When you can show them that you can protect them, they will feel secure in your leadership.
What They Need From Their Home Life
Dogs are creatures of habit. When they are established in their home life, and have a routine to follow, they feel confident about their place in the world. This is important, because when changes or disruptions occur, such as a new baby, new dog, or family move, the dog will be better equipped to adapt to these changes. A dog without a routine can feel stressed out by the unpredictable nature of their home life, and if any changes did take place, the added stress may cause them to act out. In this case, it’s not that the dog can’t adjust to the situation, it’s the fact that they are lacking stability in a broader sense.
In addition to following routine and receiving consistent feedback, the dog needs to know that a certain action (jumping on the sofa) is always met with the same response (being told to get off.) You may love to be wildly impulsive, but remember it will stress your dog out if it shakes up his world too much.
When training a dog it helps to know they are largely glass ‘half-full’ creatures, rather than half-empty. In practical terms this means if they are behaving badly it’s not good telling them to stop, and leaving it at that, you need to give them an alternative behavior to do in order to channel their energy.
For example, if your dog runs to greet visitors and jumps up at them, telling the dog to stop is only half the job. The dog will learn much more quickly if you offer then an alternative action to channel that excitement. For example, you could train the dog to go and fetch their favorite toy and present it to the guest, rather than jumping up their legs.
Give a Little to Get A Lot!
Remember how dogs are basically like children? Build their trust with your actions, which should be fair at all times and appropriate to what’s going on. If your dog makes a bad decision, perhaps you’re teaching “down stay” and the dog keeps getting up, you will build their trust by reacting appropriately. In this case, a simple “Uh oh” said in a disapproving tone of voice as the dog gets up, is sufficient to guide them as to where they went wrong. This builds their confidence and trust in you as a teacher and leader.
Everyone needs to let their hair down from time to time, and in the same way all dogs need to play. It is a healthy thing for all dogs to play and exercise. Again, if you expect a child to concentrate for long periods of time they start to become disruptive, so will a dog’s concentration wander and he’ll seem disobedient. In all probability he’s not, he just needs to get out there and play.
Don’t forget the best way to stop your dog behaving badly is to give him ample chance to express himself. If your dog loves to dig, then give him a sandbox to dig in. If he loves to chase things, then make sure to spend lots of time on games of chase. By giving those natural behaviors an outlet, your dog won’t be so likely to get in to mischief.
1.3 Take the Lead! Your Role as an Owner
As we mentioned, a dog thrives under good leadership, and there are several ways to demonstrate yours.
1) Decide on the ground rules
Whether you’re bringing a new dog home, or providing a refresher to an existing dog, it’s important to establish ALL the rules. Is your dog allowed on the furniture? Is there a specific place he will be sleeping? Involve every member of the household, and make sure they’re all on board with what is and isn’t allowed.
2) Be Consistent
One of the biggest snags in any training is when rules are not consistently enforced. Your dog will not learn if your response is not the same every time – remember, your dog wants you to be predictble! As the leader in the relationship, it’s up to you to apply consistency to all rules and training.
3) Exercize Patience
Dogs ARE smart, but that doesn’t mean they think and learn like we do. Just as if you were tutoring a small child in Algebra, show your dog patience when he doesn’t seem to get it. Remember that he was not sent here to test you, he wants to love and please you. He may just need a little time to get the hang of things.
4) Lead by Example
In the human world, leaders demonstrate desired behaviors in their own action and demeanor. This is because humans like to emulate behaviors they find to be impressive and successful, and because we need our leaders to prove that they are worth following. Dogs are the same way! If you want your dog to be calm, you must display that energy in your own behaviors. If you want your dog to perform a certain action, show them how it’s done.
5) Use Clear Communication
I’m sure you’ve seen this in your human to human interaction, where instructions weren’t clearly explained and understanding was lost. Well, it’s even trickier with human to dog communication – a lot can be lost in translation. When communicating with your dog for training purposes, it’s best to establish clear commands, reprimands, and words of praise, and use repitition to get your point across. And of course, be consistent in how you use them. Dogs don’t speak human, but they can learn short words and remember that, for example, “good boy” means you’re pleased with them, and “rest now!” means they have to stop and lie down.
When Conflict Arises
Sometimes things do go wrong, but often this is because we haven’t communicated clearly with the dog. The most common causes of conflict include:
- The dog doesn’t understand what we want them to do: In other words, we have failed to make our instructions clear.
- Inconsistent rules: We kept moving the goalposts, and the dog had no hope of working out what’s allowed and what isn’t allowed.
- Unpredictable outcomes: The dog wants a simple life. He wants action X to lead to outcome Y. If you give the command “Down” and you expect him to lie down, but another time you say “Drop”, he’s going to get confused…which leads to anxiety and frustration.
So before we move onto the next modules and learn how to apply training, first get your act in order. Decide on your command cues and decide on the house rules – and stick to them. All the training in the world isn’t going to work unless you are clear and consistent in what you are asking the dog to do.
1.4 The Power of Energy
There are many theories claiming that dog’s have heightened senses and awareness – from dog’s being able to sense cancer and other illnesses (which science has proved!) to dog’s sensing ghosts and supernatural spirits (the verdect is still out on this one). The ways in which they use this energy are still up for debate, but one thing is certain – dogs are deeply sensitive creatures.
So how does this affect training? Well, consider your interactions with an individual who is riled up. You enter the interaction with a neutral mood, but because they are using a raised voice, demonstrate aggressive body language, and show signs of anxiety and stress, you may find yourself responding in kind. Your own levels of stress may excalate to the point where even if you have nothing to be upset about, you can’t help but mimic their behavior.
With dogs, their senses are so acute, that they can pick up on your emotions based on your energy. When you are happy, you radiate a different energy than when you are angry, sad, frustrated, etc., and this is one of the ways in which your dog communicates with you. Your dog will use your behavioral cues to determine your state of mind.
How Dogs Perceive Energy
Energy is an important component of training in two ways:
- A dog’s behavior is influenced by our energy
- Dogs learn based on our reactions
You can stabilize your dog’s mood
Dogs feed off your energy. When you are happy and positive, they feel secure that they have pleased you. When you display anxiety and nervous behavior, they feel insecure. The best energy to have around your dog is a calm and assertive manner, so that they feel confident in your leadership, and can put their trust in you. Remember, a calm dog is a happy dog.
This doesn’t just apply to training, this applies to all of your interactions with your dog, and how you behave even when you think your dog isn’t watching. As soon as you walk through the door, they will have their doggy radars on, and will be evaluating your energy and mood. This doesn’t mean you have to be happy 24/7, but just be aware that you will be influencing your dog’s behavior with your energy level. Always take a minute to collect yourself and put on your calm, assertive leader hat before you start interacting with your dog, and especially before you do any training or discipline.
You can help your dog learn and communicate
Your dog will learn how to behave based on how you respond to their actions. If he performs an action and sees a “happy” energy, he will know he’s done well. But it’s important to note that displaying anger when the dog does something wrong, is not the right way to go. Dog’s don’t just recognize energy, they internalize it. When they see their leader displaying frantic or uneven energy (which is usually how anger is perceived by dogs), they lose their confidence in your leadership, and that’s where a lot of anxiety and insecurity stems from.
How to change your energy
Look, no one can be calm and confident all of the time, and it’s not practical to assume that you won’t ever lose your temper or be nervous around your dog. And the best tip we can give you in managing your own energy is this: fake it ‘til you make it.
You don’t have to actually be calm, you just have to convince your dog that you are. The thing is, your dog will know you are putting on a show, but it will still help them to feel secure. They can recognize that their leader is doing their best, and that will give them confidence. And by putting on an act, you will find that after a few minutes your energy has stablized. It’s hard to stay angry when you’re using a pleasant voice and positive body language.
1.5 Using Your Voice Effectively
You don’t have to speak the same language to communicate with another human being – you can rely on vocal cues and body language to get your point across. The same is true for when you communicate with your dog. Dogs don’t process our human language in the same way as we do, so it’s not about them learning meaning. Instead, dogs memorize sounds, and they look for energy level and behavior to determine your meaning.
In training, dogs learn by association. They won’t ever truly understand the word “sit”, but they will memorize that sound and remember that when you say it and they sit, they are rewarded. When they hear a word, they associate it with their behavior, your response, and the overall experience. This is why many dogs become terrified when they hear certain words like “vet”, “bath”, or “bad” – because they had a negative experience in these situations, and the words have a negative connotation. You may notice your dog perk up and get excited when they hear the word “walk”, and it’s the same principle.
Playing with Volume to Make an Impact
Your voice is a powerful tool. To your dog, the sounds you make won’t have much meaning, but they will definitely recognize your tone. Disappointment, pride, caution – your dog will pick up on the emotion behind the words. When it comes to training, the way you say words is more important than the words themselves.
When you always yell at your dog, do they perceive that as yelling? Or just normal communication? If you are always at one level, your dog will have trouble perceiving your emotion, and 10 minutes of yelling will lose its effect. Your normal voice should be at a medium volume, so that if you have to get their attention, they can perceive the change in volume. Also, similar to humans, your dog will concentrate harder if you are speaker softly. If you want their attention, lower your volume and make them listen.
Perfecting your Pitch
A high pitch usually expresses happiness and good cheer. When you dog associates this pitch with your happy energy and behavior, they will perk up and feel happy too. In training, when you offer words of praise in a higher pitched “happy” voice, this will make your dog feel like he’s succeeded in making you happy. Praise can be an effective reward, and a great motivator for your dog to perform during training.
A lower pitch should be used when comforting your dog, or trying to calm his energy. The dog will respond to a soothing voice instead of a loud booming one.
When it comes to pitch, women may have a hard time lowering their pitch, and men may have difficulty in raising theirs. Practice makes perfect, so just be concsious that you may have to exaggerate your pitch to get the desired effect.
Getting Your Point Across
You should never yell at your dog, instead you should use a lower volume and lower pitch when disciplining or correcting behavior. It’s about getting your dog’s attention and keeping it. Yelling is erratic and confusing, whereas a soft, firm voice commands attention. You will see that when your dog hears this tone, he will focus on you and stop what he’s doing.
If you need your dog to stop or respond immediately, use a high pitched and short command in full volume. If used sparingly, this tone of voice will alert the dog that something is wrong. If used too often, it will lose its effectiveness, and your dog won’t know how to differentiate between this and your other vocal commands.
Because many words sound the same, and your dog is just hearing “blah blah blah”, make sure that you are clear when giving them a command. Exaggerate your pronounciation so they can clearly distinguish the command from other sounds. Pretend as if you’re speaking to someone who doesn’t speak English – make the consonants extra crisp and keep vowels shorter.