Consistent Guidance for Dogs

Dogs and humans are social beings. As soon as a pack of dogs, or a group of people share a room, a social order begins to establish itself. Social order means that there are leaders and followers, a range of stronger and weaker individuals. In general, a social order creates stability. Fights occur when the social order becomes unclear, when the leadership becomes uncertain. That is why consistent guidance for dogs is so important.

In a family situation where there are multiple dogs, we have to make sure that we are the leaders over the dogs. I need to emphasize now that dogs feel happy and secure when the human shows leadership. A good leader is kind, but firm when necessary, and most of all extremely consistent. This means they consistently allow certain behaviour and consistently forbid other behaviours. A good leader knows what they expect from their followers and consistently gives clear guidance. 

The following sentence is one of the most important messages I want to leave with you:

Your dog will feel extremely comfortable when you show him clear daily rules, enforced with consistency so they always know what to expect from you.

Leadership with Kindness

Showing clear limitations never involves any physical dominance. There is no need to physically force a dog or to give unreasonable corrections. Being a strong, fair leader will result in a healthy happy relationship. Before you start educating or training your dog, be very clear with what you expect from them and what they can expect from you. 

For example: Will you allow them on the couch? 

If no, make sure you do not allow them on the couch at any given time. Soon they will learn not to attempt it. When your dog initially tries to jump onto the couch, gently lead them down along with a firm “NO”, that is all it takes. If, on the other hand, you allow your dog on the couch, you always have to allow them there. Changing your mind periodically will confuse your dog. That is what is meant by “consistent guidance”. You need to have clear expectations and always follow through. At the beginning it will take time and patience, but with consistency and effort, it will soon pay off. Be aware that if you allow a behaviour once, the dog will assume what worked once can be repeated.

Let’s go through some examples:

Jumping Up on People: 

Personally, I don’t believe in allowing any dog to jump up on people. Even though a puppy jumping up may look cute, later on in life, this habit can develop into disrespectful and even dominant behaviour. Even the smallest dog, alloted to jump on people with excitement, will never learn to stay calm when greeting people. Bigger breeds can knock over an adult, let alone a child or senior, possibly resulting in injury. Dogs jumping up are annoying to guests or yourself, especially on those formal occasions mixed with muddy paws… yuck! It would be wrong to blame the dog, especially if clear guidelines on what is appropriate have not been drawn; therefore, clarity on what you allow will create a better environment your dog and the people around them.

Most often it is easy to control this behaviour, especially with puppies. The simplest solution is to avoid paying attention to a dog that jumps up. 

Turn around and walk away. Don’t talk, touch, or even look at the dog. Any attention from you will reinforce the excited state of the dog. As soon as the dog stays down, give calm attention, praise, or a treat. The dog will quickly learn that greeting people only happens when all paws are on the ground. 

Be cautious not to use the command “down”, since this is the command to lie down. Be very consistent with all commands. Make sure that anyone who enters your dog’s space is not responding to jumping up, prancing or barking. A good routine is to make the dog sit before greeting people. Doing this repeatedly, your dog will gladly make the first choice to sit when greeting people.

An unhappy and useless solution would be to lock the dog away when people are coming. Isolating the dog from being with their pack could have a negative impact on his social behaviour.

Entering or Leaving Your House:

In the dog pack structure the leader always walks in front, the follower follows. We will cover this more when talking about the walk. I think it is a good habit to make sure you always go through the doorway in front and before your dog. You can easily establish guidance this way. You will also avoid the bad habit of the dog bursting out the door. It is a good training method to make your dog sit and wait in front of the open door. Again, consistency is of utmost importance. The same applies to coming home. You want to be the first entering the house. You will instantly establish yourself as the pack leader, and you will avoid the dog entering with dirty paws, or pushing past family members.

This exercise will create a well-mannered dog. I would like to emphasize here that this applies to small dogs as well. Small dogs often show very bad behaviour, because owners don’t think it’s necessary to educate a small dog.

Begging for food

To me our dogs have no business around the dinner table. If you consistently never feed your dog from the table, he will never start to beg; the large breeds wouldn’t lay their slobbery mouths on the table. Teach everybody in your household that giving your dog food from the table is off limits.

This has extra advantages:

  1. Often our food contains salt and spices which are not good for our dogs, neither are any types of sugars. 
  2. A dog should only get a treat when he shows proper behaviour. When you give him a treat, make him sit and patiently watch you, we will cover that more in depth in the chapter about feeding.
  3. Be consistent in how and when you treat your dog with food.

Being consistent is the main theme of my training techniques. I hope these three examples give you an idea about the importance of being a true and consistent leader for your dog.

Nudging for Attention

Dogs seek our attention and we love giving them attention back, but if a dog disrespectfully demands your attention, you must simply ignore it. Giving attention must be on your own terms. 

Disrespectful is considered: 

  • Pushing 
  • Mounting 
  • Nudging with the nose 
  • Excessive barking and jumping. 

Remember, though you may tolerate and get used to these behaviours, as soon as you have visitors this can become annoying and possibly aggressive. Sadly, the dogs will be blamed even though this is the owner’s responsibility.

Having clear rules is important. Your dog will feel comfortable with your expectations. Canines seek leadership and are more than willing to accept it. Teaching a dog appropriate behaviour is best done by ignoring the unwanted behaviour and praising or rewarding the wanted behaviour. Be patient with this and have fun!

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