by Tina Stuck, Owner of Paws Up 4 You

Dogs need to be dogs. Sounds silly, right? They are dogs after all – what else can they be? Let me explain.

We all love dogs. We take them into our homes, feed them, give them love and attention. We work on potty training, teach them to sit, take them on walks, and even teach them some tricks. Most of us even have two or more dogs. So, they should be well socialized and happy, right? Unfortunately, this is most often not the case.

See, what happens most of the time is that, yes, our dogs are happy at home with the family and their house siblings, but when someone comes to the door they start barking and get defensive. If another dog or human comes into your yard, they do the same. On car rides they bark and get defensive towards other driving by.

Ever wonder where those behaviors are coming from? They are coming from the fact that we humanize our dogs. They think that our homes are their homes, we are their humans, and our vehicles are their vehicles. This causes them to become mentally unbalanced. Starting to see a pattern yet?

So how do we prevent or correct this?

We need to become and stay positive pack leaders. Letting our dogs know that we have EVERY situation under control. It is our responsibility as pet owners to protect them, not the other way around. Trust me, if the situation ever arises that we do need them to protect us, they will instinctively know what to do and will rise to the occasion. Until then, literally tell your dog, “Settle, I’ve got it”. Your tone and body language will let them know that they have nothing to react to.

Never tell your dog, “It’s okay”. This will be conveyed as “I need to be worried, growl, bark, or be afraid”. Solidify your focus. By keeping your dog’s attention on you and giving them a job to do, you will redirect any negative or unwanted behavior.

There are simple household rules that you can set up which will help to reinforce the fact that your dog(s) are not the pack leader in your home. Rules such as “No dogs in the kitchen while cooking or eating” are great. However, letting them break this rule from time to time can undo the effort you have made. When the doorbell rings, thank your dog for letting you know. Then have them sit in a designated spot until you have answered the door. Try to remember that when people come to your home, they are there to see you. Chances are that they did not come to your home just to see your pups.

There are many things that your pup just does not need you for. For example, the water bowl needs to always be available so your dog doesn’t have to work for that (which means that they don’t need you). They can technically go to the bathroom wherever they want to. They go potty outside or on the piddle pad because they choose to do that for you. Their job for going potty outside would be to communicate that they have to go. What we want to do is to set up as many things as possible that they do need us for. For instance, meals – having your dog sit and wait while you prepare their meal, an then having them wait until you have signaled to them that it is okay to eat is a great way to establish positive leadership. So is having them sit politely at the door until you release them to go in or out of the door.

Take your canine pal to many different places, exposing them to as many smells and sounds as you can. This will help to build their self-confidence. It also helps to make living in a human world much less scary. Having your dog(s) focus on you when different situations occur that may be scary to them will build their trust in you. When they realize that the big scary monster (life) didn’t eat them, and that it was you that kept them safe from harm, guess what you just did?

You raised a confident dog that is able to be, well, a DOG!