Owner Control Versus Self-Control

Ben, a magnificent Northern Inuit age 15 monthsThis is Ben, a magnificent Northern Inuit age 15 months. He lives with another Inuit and two elderly black Labradors.

Ben is a typical adolescent and he is pushing boundaries. Like a teenager, he sometimes resists being told what to do – especially by the lady. There is some conflict in the way the dogs are ‘brought up’. The male owner is a strict disciplinarian and his rules are obeyed. The lady is softer.

It was a treat to be in the house with such well-mannered dogs. They are very well trained where commands are concerned, I would say possibly somewhat over-regulated. They have to jump through what I consider are unnecessary hoops before they get their food, for instance. A dog given too many commands doesn’t have a chance to work out for himself what he should be doing. There may be too much reliance upon the owners controlling the dogs,  and not the dogs controlling themselves.

A difficulty with this is that the dog learns to respect the firm disciplinarian at the expense of the weaker person, so when she the tries to control the adolescent Ben he revolts. And then what can she do?

I was called out because Ben had freaked out a training class with the lady. He was obviously severely stressed already by various things happening in the class and decided that he wasn’t going to do what she wanted. He jumped at her quite aggressively and grabbed her arms, bruising her. She was devastated and in tears. The trainer resorted to putting a choke chain on him. The reason for his going to class in the first place was to socialise him with other dogs, but being told ‘Leave It’  harshly whenever he went to sniff another dog will not have been helping him to learn natural, calm ways of encountering other dogs.

I suggested they abandon the class altogether. It is simply too stressful and counterproductive, and is damaging Ben’s relationship with the lady. He knows all the commands he could ever need. I don’t say this of all classes but they need to be chosen carefully, and any advocating choke chains (pain) I would run a mile from.

The gentleman could quite happily carry on with the dogs as he is, but not the lady, so they will both need to do things a bit differently so that the dogs don’t get mixed messages. They need the chance to learn self-control.

Ben can learn to approach other dogs without fear or aggression if given time and support to work it out for himself, rather than being shouted at – ‘No’ and ‘Leave It’, forced into situations for which he’s not ready, or distracted with treats which teaches him nothing. Rewarding him with treats for being calm when looking at another dog is a different matter.

Training is one thing; in many ways Leadership is another. To behave like a ‘dog’ leader doesn’t require commands. Dogs don’t talk, after all.

Five weeks after my visit, this email: “Last night there were no dogs around so I let him off for a while. Then out of the woods comes a White Labrador and Ben races over to him. Oh god I think here we go especially when i realised it was a male showing dominance but no they greeted each other nicely, no growling, no noise, no squaring up……..They played!!!! They played really nicely… Ben didnt even react when the lab tried to hump his head. I can’t tell you what joy that gave me. I know we’ve got a long way to go but it was wonderful to see him let down his guard and be a young dog for a while. I recognise that it will probably take months to get Ben to the point I want him to be at; I would like to be able to walk down the road and pass a dog on the other side without incident – that will be a major milestone for me. It’ll be a while yet but we feel we’re on the right path”.
We’re both using the whistle and cheese which works brilliantly. Yesterday I couldn’t see him, looking round I realised it was because he was walking with his nose right at the back of my knee – that made me happy. I’m certainly more confident and I’m discovering more about Ben’s triggers.
I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog.