A major mistake most dog parents make is to offer affection to their dog from the beginning. Then, later they may get around to exercising their pet at some point. Or they may take their new dog for a walk, or even just turn them out into a yard expecting them to exercise themselves. Or they might throw the ball for a quick game of fetch for a little while. And at some point the dog will finally do something wrong, dangerous or destructive so they will make some attempt at discipline (which is usually ignored by their pup).
This “let’s be friends” approach makes sense from a human perspective. We usually approach others wanting to be liked and we try to be friendly, right? Like we would with another human that we just met, we often try to show ourselves friendly and non-threatening to our dogs. So our attention and intention becomes much more about wanting our dog to like us than being focused on setting clear boundaries for how we want our relationship to go.
This may work, at least on the surface, for human relationships but it just doesn’t work for dogs. It simply goes against natural canine world dogma! There are 3 cardinal dogmatic rules. For a happy, healthy, well-behaved dog, you should always adhere to these rules: discipline, exercise and then affection as a reward, offered in that order. If you get this order mixed up, then your dog will disagree with you when you try to assert yourself as your dog’s pack leader. That simply won’t make sense to them. Your dog will think, “You weren’t behaving like an authority figure leader before, what gives you the right to tell me what to do now?”
Discipline when done correctly tells your dog who the leader is so they can relax and follow your guidance. This is a relief to your dog. They need to know that they aren’t in charge or in control of the world which is way bigger and more confusing and stressful than they are equipped to deal with. They need to know what the rules are, where they ﬁt into their pack, and what their job or role is, and what’s not their job. When they are being rewarded for doing their job, they feel safe, secure and content in achieving their purpose. They have the satisfaction of knowing that they truly belong here and are doing what they are supposed to be doing. That boosts their conﬁdence and supports your role as a good, trustworthy leader.
A good dog pack leader is someone they can look up to and feel safe with. When you communicate with your dog in a way that they can understand and follow through, then you have established a great foundation for respect, connection and pleasure. Life becomes much more fun for both of you. And you are now speaking a common language that you and your dog both understand. That opens up a whole new wonderful world you can both enjoy.
Some people have trouble with the concept of discipline because to them it means tyrannical, bullying and domineering behavior. Discipline can even become an terrible experience of authoritative abuse of power. These folks may have experienced being abused. They then refuse to do what to them feels like abuse of an animal. But that’s not what a good dog pack leader’s role is. And that’s not at all what I mean when I say offer discipline as your dog’s pack leader.
Your job is to start the relationship in the way you want it to go, from a calm, centered, conﬁdent place of clarity. Begin every relationship from this place of self esteem. That means that you should never just put up with disrespect. After all, it’s your job to teach others how to treat you. Others cannot know what is important to you until you tell them. Nor will they know what you need or want from them without you expressing it. And finally, it’s very hard to trust someone who isn’t clear in their expectations or opinions from the start of the relationship. A person like that seems to be hiding something, and their behavior becomes passive aggressive, unpredictable or even manipulative.
Acting without clarity, assertive confidence, or taking the proper time to establish good boundaries is a classic setup for relationship failure, miscommunications and hurt feelings. As time goes on, you may need the affection, but your dog needs discipline and exercise to feel safe and stable. Good discipline or guidance goes hand in hand with appropriate controlled exercise. The two together can help discharge their energy so they can think clearly and focus. Then, and only then, should your dog be offered affection for a job well done. Be careful what behavior you actually are rewarding. Dogs will naturally work to get more rewards so they will be happy to give you more of the behavior that they just got ‘paid’ for.
Your job from the beginning is to set and enforce clear boundaries. Establish the pack rules (i.e., house rules) and territorial limitations, ownership, pack status and hierarchy. Create clarity about what they can do or not do, what’s appropriate behavior, what’s allowed and what you agree with or don’t agree with. Offer the roles (jobs) you want your dog to play for the family pack. Without these things being clear right up front and then re-enforced in the right ways over time, you simply won’t get to enjoy the fun of a healthy working relationship with your dog.
Please don’t inadvertently teach your dog to disrespect you and your wishes. That’s just sad for both you and your dog. It also creates a feeling of instability for your dog, which worries them to no end. In this case, they will feel the need to assert themselves as your leader. Every healthy working pack must have a good leader. Survival of the family group depends on it.
Author: Val Heart is a leading animal communication expert, speaker, bestselling author & master healer. Val is often called The Real Life Dr Doolittle™ and Animal Communicator to the Stars. Author of the bestselling book Don’t Screw Up Your Dog!, she is also the Founder of The HEART System™ for solving problems with pet and the Heart Catalyst for underperforming show horses to achieve their true potential. Learn how to talk to animals yourself! Get your free Quickstart to Animal Talk Course.
Don’t Screw Up Your Dog!