Let Your Dog Be a Dog

So many times I hear the phrase “he thinks he’s a person” when someone is talking about his or her dog. This statement makes me cringe every time.

Your dog, no matter what breed he is or how he has been raised, does not think he’s a person. Your dog doesn’t even think he’s a dog. He doesn’t think about it, period.
Unlike humans, dogs don’t sit around pondering their existence. They don’t spend any time trying to “find themselves” or go off in search of their true purpose in life.

Dogs just�are.

Your dog’s instincts are what guide him through life. The way he acts or reacts in certain situations can be guided in part by what particular breed he is or the environment he is raised in, but the underlying factor is instinct. The Bull Mastiff or the Toy Poodle will both bark when a stranger comes to the door. They are signaling a warning; both to the stranger and to the dog’s family. Although in a serious confrontation with a potential danger to the family the Mastiff is certainly going to fare better, that doesn’t stop the Toy Poodle from barking the same threats. It’s instinct. It’s who they are.

Dogs are pack animals. They feel safest and most at peace when they are living within a pack and know their rightful place in that pack. That doesn’t mean a dog has to live only with other dogs. They are perfectly willing to accept their human family as their pack, which is one reason humans and dogs have found a way to get along and benefit each other for so long. Human’s acceptance of dogs in their lives may have started this unique relationship, but it’s dog’s acceptance of humans that has made the relationship succeed.
Though they accept humans, they still innately live by the “pack” rule. They look for an Alpha, or leader of the pack, and from there they can discover the hierarchy of the family and in what place in that family they fit. Finding their place makes them feel secure.

Observe a litter of puppies and you’ll start to see the different personalities arise. One puppy will seem like the leader, or even the bully. Another puppy may seem to be the one who is picked on more by the others, and who seems to submit more often. The leader puppy is most likely a born alpha, or leader. Not only will you notice it within the litter, you will also notice it when you see the puppy interact with humans. It is more aggressive and seems surer of itself in any given situation. The more submissive puppy will seem more timid around humans, and may seem more eager to please and more receptive to positive attention.

Either type of puppy can grow up to be a happy and healthy member of your family. The key is to know what tendencies they have to start out with, and work within that frame of reference. Your alpha puppy is going to need to learn right away that they will not be leader, and that you will. This does not have to involve swatting or yelling�that would just confuse your alpha puppy and most likely cause a constant battle for supremacy.
You need to look at your puppy from a pack mentality, and figure out the best way to establish your role as leader. Do it in a language that he will understand, and roles should take no time at all to establish.

I had a dog once that I rescued from the Animal Shelter when he was four months old. Shortly after bringing him home, I noticed in him a distinct alpha behavior. He showed no fear or timidity with the older dog we already had, and he was aggressive in play. After giving him a few days to adapt to his new family and surroundings, I began the process of showing him his place in the pack. When his play became too aggressive, and he wouldn’t back down even when I wanted him to stop, I would gently but firmly roll him on his back, lightly grab his neck, and stare into his eyes until he looked away. For a dog, looking away when being stared at is a sign of submission. (Please never try this with someone else’s dog. You are not a member of their pack and they will see it as an act of aggression and could possibly attack.) As soon as my puppy averted his eyes from mine, I would let him up. I had to repeat this exercise a few times as he needed it, but eventually it was no longer needed. He understood the signals that have been used by his ancestors for ages, and he came to accept his place. After that, he was much easier to get along with, and it helped his training immensely. He did not become “resentful”, as some might have feared. Resentment is a human emotion that dogs do not have to contend with. He simply accepted his place and felt secure in his role within the family. Neither did it make him become timid. He was not a timid animal and never would be, and we could still count on him to help protect any member of his family if need be.

If you are raising a more submissive puppy, your role as alpha is already established. Be gentle with your puppy in play, reward him often with praise, and include him in as many family activities as possible. Your submissive puppy will come to know that his role in the family is important, and this will avoid any confusion on his part as he grows.

Whatever personality trait your dog exhibits, including him in family activities is always important. Remember, pack animals are happiest when they are with their pack. Please don’t get a dog if he’s going to spend his life chained to a tree in the backyard, or continually kenneled. Doing this is sentencing your dog to a life of misery and loneliness. If you simply can’t include your dog in most of your activities, then please consider having more than one dog, and give them plenty of room to run and play.

Having a dog can be a wonderful experience. Knowing your dog for what he is and accommodating him accordingly will make for a happy and healthy relationship for all.

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