Are dogs our adversaries? It’s a popular fad

I have 166 books about dog training in my personal library. I have read another 100 or so books on top of the professional dog training magazines and newsletters that I get each month.

I also have been lucky enough to attend seminars given by Victoria Stillwell, Ian Dunbar, Cesar Millan and Patricia McConnell, among many other nationally renowned trainers.

One thing I have noticed over the last 12 years is that dog training, like so many other things in life, has its fads.

One prominent fad, starting around 2005, is to view your dog as an adversary. The trainers who advocate this view don’t usually say this in plain English, but they speak clearly enough through the training philosophies they support. Minor behavior problems are characterized as attempts by your dog to take over your relationship or become the boss and should be stopped at all costs.

Of course, nobody wants their dog to take over the world, but is that really what is going on?

Unless taught otherwise, dogs pull on leash and rush through doors ahead of us. How else does a dog get to his favorite pee bush or catch up to the cute border collie down the block? Those behaviors get them to the exciting stuff quicker.

The problem starts when we try to process dog behaviors through our understanding of what we know best: human behavior. People who constantly “pull” against your best efforts often are engaged in a power struggle.

But, to paraphrase singer Cindi Lauper, “Dogs just want to have fun.” Luckily, good training can turn a door-dashing, leash-pulling dog into a polite family member in short order.

Another common misconception is that dogs pee or poop in the house to spite their owners for leaving them alone or ignoring them. That might be true if a dog had the same opinion of his bodily functions as a human does. Let me be frank: We, as humans, see releasing gas, peeing and pooping as nasty things. Thinking like a human would bring you to the conclusion that there was a message in those bodily functions.

But, to a dog, relieving himself makes no statement at all; it’s just the call of nature. The probability is that your dog is stressed by your absence or hasn’t gotten the full picture about what house training is (despite your insistence that he has).

The subject for this column was suggested to me by a friend who witnessed my dog Kylie tugging on her leather leash. As we were walking, a passer-by commented that he couldn’t tell who was in charge, the human or the dog. I stopped, told Kylie to “give” and she immediately spit the leash out.

Kylie is a mild-mannered girl that came to me as a fearful, timid dog in need of confidence-building. She tugs the leash because she still bursts with the energy of a 6-month-old puppy even though she is a mature dog of 9. To think that Kylie would try to dominate me by tugging on her leash is ridiculous and would serve only to create an adversarial relationship between us. I enjoy her outbursts of energy, her joy in tugging the leash. I also know that if I tell her to give, she will respond immediately. If I was worried about who was in charge, that simple act would tell me all I need to know.

Julie Winkelman is a certified pet dog trainer and a certified dog trainer. Reach her at www.alphacanineacademy.com.

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