According to research from Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine, many of the pets brought to shelters are surrendered because of behavior problems that their owners believe to be permanent. Approximately 70 percent of these animals end up being “put to sleep,” making death from behavior problems the leading cause of pet mortality, ahead of trauma and disease. This means thousands of dogs are euthanized every year – the vast majority unnecessarily.
Many dog owners get a dog with the intention that he will be a member of the family, only to discover that the dog becomes the de facto head of the household. A dog’s instinctual behavior is to challenge the pack member above him and in turn be challenged by the dog below. Within the mixed human-dog social structure dogs behave the same.
This can lead to undesirable behaviors such as charging the door when the doorbell rings, barking, jumping, pulling on the leash and even biting – which are top reasons dogs are mistreated and euthanized.
With more than one of every three households owning a dog in the U.S., thousands of people are looking for help to solve their dog’s behavior problems. Understanding the keys to behavior in a social structure, and following a few simple guidelines, can help owners establish leadership and begin controlling a dog’s behavior:
- Because dogs crave strong leadership, if they don’t get it from their owners, they’ll try to take charge. That leads to bad behavior such as barking, jumping, aggression and pulling on the leash—each examples of the dog taking charge. The owner needs to win all challenges to demonstrate leadership.
- There are several ways to establish leadership. First, ignore all requests from the dog, such as nudges to be petted or played with. To do so, break eye contact. Then, when the dog has “given up,” call him back to you to be petted or to play. When he responds to you, versus you to him, he sees you as the leader. If he misbehaves, such as chewing on a child’s toy, refocus his behavior with a low-toned growly NO. As soon as the behavior stops, offer pleasant, high-toned praise. The dog will understand his mistake and respect you as the leader.
- In the wild, the leader always leads — literally. Establish your leadership by always leading your dog—up and down stairs, through doorways, and especially on walks. Remember, the leader always leads.
Most dog owners simply accept the disruptive or aggressive behavior of their dogs because they think it’s normal or don’t know how to change it. Learning about leadership and canine communication is fulfilling for most dog-lovers. Gaining a better understanding of the dog psyche strengthens the human-canine connection, and learning how to communicate effectively with your dog in a language he understands – voice tones and body language – is a critical step in establishing leadership and control, which can eliminate many behavioral issues. Through effective training, many dogs can be saved from being abandoned or unnecessarily euthanized.
Jeri Wagner is a canine behavioral therapist and master trainer. Jeri uses a natural training system leveraging the same communication methods – body language and voice control – that dogs follow as part of their instinctive pack mentality. Training takes place in the home where the problems generally occur. Jeri trains in western Montgomery county and northern Chester County. For more information, call 1-877-500 BARK (2275) or visit www.barkbusters.com.
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