A lot of dog owners and trainers are proponents of the dominance theory - that you must be the Alpha in your home, and the dog must be submissive. Walk through the door after you do, obey your every command, never growl or and never disagree with you. They think that being a good leader of the pack is being big, strong, and more aggressive than your submissive dog… that your dog won’t respect you if you don’t take charge.
In reality, it’s almost the opposite. Sure, you need rules, but a dog who isn’t obeying the rules isn’t being “stubborn” or defiant. Most of the time, they’re confused, anxious or stressed, distracted, or just don’t get it. Instead of a correction, or a leash jerk, they need an explanation of what you want, and a reinforcer to confirm that. They are so much like kids. The average dog has the emotional IQ of a 4-year-old.
Shape your dog’s life by learning how to speak a little dog.
Feral dog packs don’t choose the strongest, toughest dog to be their leader. Studies have demonstrated that the leader of a pack of feral dogs is the most social dog in the group - the one with the most friends. Dogs also watch people, and how they react with other humans, and will choose to become friends with the most social humans. Their leader will be the kind, social human.
When I’m called to someone’s house to take care of a dog issue, I don’t punish the “bad” behavior that the owner doesn’t like. I try to find out what is causing the behavior, and then change the dog’s emotional response to that stimulus. I try to see the issue from the dog’s perspective. I ask the owner, “What would you rather the dog do in this situation?” Sometimes a dog just needs confidence or reassurance, stress relief, or simply something else to chew on.
We can make a game out of having the dog look at something stressful, and then (instead of barking or lunging), look back at the owner for reassurance and a reinforcer. Then seeing something stressful (like another dog) becomes a game. Dogs love games. Hearing a knock on the door, and then running over to lie down on a mat to get a treat becomes a game. And guess what… dogs love games.
Being excited when you are working with your dog, singing to your dog, and dancing with your dog is so rewarding and fun for your dog. Dogs love to have fun. They can be creative, thinking, active learners when given a chance.
Dogs are like kids.