Cheryl May's Basic Dog Behavior

Copyright by Cheryl May. May be reprinted without permission 1) if used in its entirety without editing; and 2) provided copyright notice remains in place.

How to Be the Leader Your Dog Needs

The leader controls all good things: praise, petting, food, the best sleeping spots, etc. Unless you have a problem dog, you don't have to do this stuff 100 percent of the time. If your dog does have a problem, you will want to control the interactions all the time so that your dog works for praise, petting and food, and is not allowed in your sleeping space.

1. Control petting
When your dog comes to you and nuzzles your hand, asking to be petted, ask her to sit or down, or "shake hands" -- anything so that you control the situation.

2. Teach yielding
When you wish to move from one place in your home to another, if the dog is in your way, don't walk around or step over. Shuffle your feet into your dog. You may say "move" if your dog is asleep. If your dog is awake, you need not say anything, just keep shuffling into your dog. Do not apologize for having the dog move. At the same time, do not hurt the dog in any way, simply move into her space.

3. Require a down-stay each day
Begin with a short stay - one minute even - and progress to 20 minutes. We call these TV downs because the dog is required to down and stay for the time it takes to watch a TV program.

4. Leaders eat first
Even if all you do is munch a carrot, the message is clear to the dog: the leader eats first.

5. Food is provided by the leader
If your dog has food available all the time, I encourage you to establish regular feeding times instead. If food is always available, the dog may take it for granted. Instead, prepare the dog's food (to be served after you have eaten) and ask the dog to sit and wait for you to place the food on the floor.

6. Leaders say what they mean ... once
Give each command in a confident, normal tone of voice. If the dog fails to comply, help the dog do whatever you asked by physically positioning her in a sit, or down, whatever you had requested. If your dog growls at you when you try to handle her physically, STOP, and ask the advice of an experienced trainer!

7. Good dogs permit their leaders to touch them without complaint
Because you never know what you might need to do to your dog in case of emergency, and because you must handle your dog for normal grooming, it is important to accustom her to physical handling everywhere on her body. Touch ears, face, feet, toes, tummy (tummy rubs are great for this), and tail. Again, if you have any trouble with this at all, do not force the issue, consult your instructor.

8. Leaders control the best spots to rest and sleep
Some dogs can sleep on the bed without developing a problem. But if your dog is "running for president," she should not be permitted on the bed. If you want her to sleep in your bedroom, place a dog crate in the room and each time she goes into the crate, toss a tasty treat inside to make it a pleasant experience. We are not our dog's adversaries, we are their leaders!

9. Leaders control the games
Rough games may work fine with some dogs, but they also often lead to out-of-control behavior, especially around children. It is very important for the owner to control the toys. When the game is over, the leader has the toy, even if you have to trade the toy for a tasty treat. And the leader should decide when to start and stop the game.

10. Leaders are fair
Dogs appreciate consistent leadership. It is easier for the dog to understand that she is never allowed on the couch than to understand that sometimes it is OK and sometimes not. Or if you allow the dog to take a piece of bread off the counter, it is unfair to punish her if she decides to take your steak. Be consistent in your expectations.

back to Cheryl May's Dogsports