It doesn’t take hours of training and fancy halters to solve behavioural problems in dogs.
You just need to understand a few things, and you are off to the races.
A few years back, I was working with a dog who had extreme behavioural issues. His behaviour was not appropriate in a domestic situation. He was rescued off the streets where he had to fend for himself and where his behaviour would have been appropriate. When I saw how the dog interacted with my friend’s daughter, I told her that I feared something bad would happen. The child was too young, and both were inexperienced with animals who needed solid leadership.
In my friend’s case, the dog was threatening the kid, which both of them didn’t realize. I explained it to my friend and asked her if she wanted me to help. When the dog did it again, I pinned him down. Sounds more dramatic than it is. It mimics what higher-ranked dogs would do to establish dominance.
Okay, you don’t want to dominate your dog. You want to be friends. But how often will you invite a friend over who threatens you every time they are there? Dogs show their owners the finger, and the owner often doesn’t even know that they should be offended.
So back to me pinning the dog down. Most dogs submit within seconds. I used to have 40 huskies, and while they are headstrong, I could go on a run with 10 of them running loose with me. They had fun but never left my side. Only because they accepted me as their leader could I give them the freedom to run off-leash.
Some words have a bad rap. Leadership and power are just a few. These words have negative conjunctions because they have been abused. When you look up leadership, the thesaurus offers guidance and direction as answers. Which teenager couldn’t use more of that?
Power is interesting. In more than 50 percent of the sessions that I have done with dogs and horses, the animals requested the humans to step into their power. One owner told me that her horse would rather be with her son. When I asked her how her son was around the horse and if she felt that he was more in his power than she was, it became clear to her. Her son wasn’t more loved by the horse. The horse liked to be around him as he made him feel safe because he was more in his power. He knew he would have his back.
It is especially important for women to step into their power. Historically, we haven’t been allowed to stand in our power, in a straightforward way, for a long time. It is only 100 years since white women have had the right to vote in the United States and less than 100 years since non-white people were allowed to vote. This means there are people alive in this world who were born when American women weren’t allowed to vote.
Many countries are still officially repressing women, so, collectively, it doesn’t come naturally for women to stand tall, but your animals require you to do so. They are offering us a practical yet gentle way to practice standing in our power. With their kind guidance, we can grow. And if we stumble and fall, they will run to our side, lick our face, and make sure we are okay.
Coming back to my friend’s dog. I am trying to get the dog to submit by pinning him down, which usually works like a charm. Normally, the dog would lay still, and then the body would relax as to say, “Okay, I got it. I can relax as you are taking care of me. You are strong, and you will have my back. I am all yours.”
This wasn’t the case here. We basically had a rodeo on the kitchen floor, and I knew that if I let go of his collar or lost my position, I would be nothing but a chew toy for him. It was now 30 minutes into my adventure with no end in sight. I needed a plan B.
When I work with animals, it’s mainly instinctual. Clearly, I couldn’t let the dog go. I was committed, or it wouldn’t look good for me. In his eyes, I was the enemy. The street fight was on. No prisoners. I asked my friend if she had a dog crate. So we put it in front of the dog and opened the gate. I maneuvered the dog into the crate. I guess we all were happy that this was over. My friend just stood there with wide eyes. She didn’t recognize her dog, but now she knew that he was capable.
Even writing this years later, I had to exhale. That was a close call. I told my friend that she could work with the dog, but I would never leave him unattended with her child. She just shook her head and said that she wouldn’t want to risk it after what she just witnessed.
Since then, my approach changed dramatically. I work remotely and communicate with the animals and their humans to find a solution. It’s a bit like couple’s counselling.
Some dogs are just not meant for certain people or situations. A strong dog needs a stronger human. A leader.
As we are in control of food and movement, we are by default the leader of the pack. So you have to live up to that expectation. It’s basically a job description that you are contractually bound to. Your dog’s nervous system will relax and all is well in his world.
Step into your power! You can do that softly and gently. Then your dog can be your friend. You have to be a leader before you can be a friend to your dog. Otherwise, it’s like putting the boots on first and then the socks. It just doesn’t quite work.