By Sean O’Shea
What’s the number one question we get from owners? When can we pet him? When can we love on him? When can he be on the couch? When can he have total freedom? Okay, that’s several questions, but you get the idea, right? 😉
When people get dogs they don’t get them thinking they’ll have to temper their affection. They don’t think couch privilege might not be on the menu. They don’t think they’ll have to restrict their dog’s ability to roam the house. But, if things have gone sideways with their dog’s behavior and their relationship with their dog, changing or adjusting these things might just be what’s needed to help sort that behavior and relationship stuff out.
What many owners don’t understand is that these seemingly benign privileges and interactions can create strong feelings and perceptions in our dogs – feelings and perceptions about us, their owners. Feelings of permissiveness, softness, neediness – feeling like we might just be ripe for the taking advantage of. With certain dogs, these interactions and privileges we share can unintentionally convey that listening, respecting, and prioritizing us, isn’t something they need to worry about. And this can cause lots of problems.
You may see horrible behavior on walks, territorial stuff around the house or yard, possessiveness, guarding, neurotic barking, fighting amongst household dogs, fear and nervousness, or even human aggression.
But here’s the thing, these privileges and interactions, on their own, aren’t the sole cause of the problems – actually, they can be almost totally benign. So then what’s the problem? The problems arise when these privileges and interactions occur IN THE ABSENCE of their counterbalance – the training, leadership, rules, authority, and accountability. It’s when the conversation is completely lopsided that things get funky. Owners don’t realize they’re having a one-sided, dysfunctional conversation with their dogs that is leading things astray. They don’t realize they’re giving all the privileges and freedom and love, without asking for anything in return. And when things are given excessively, freely, with no boundaries, and no demands for corresponding good behavior, things can get ugly, fast. Respect goes out the window, and dogs get stressed, anxious, nervous, opportunistic, and freaked out!
So trainers, looking to shore things up, even things out, and re-balance the human-to-dog conversation, ask owners to remove or reduce certain privileges and interactions. The goal is to shift the way your dog feels about you and your household back to a more healthy space, and thus, get your dog himself to shift back to a more healthy space. And usually, when things are just beginning, when you’re just starting to work on resetting your dog and your relationship, we want to create as much leverage as possible; to create the strongest perceptions we can. So we go hard on the changes. Perhaps zero affection. Perhaps zero roaming. Perhaps zero furniture access. But that’s only half of the equation. It’s not just about what we remove – it’s also about what we add (that leadership, rules, accountability stuff!) that really makes things click. It’s striking that balance between asking and giving that creates the magic.
But what about those inevitable questions at the top of this post? When can owners loosen up? When can the affection creep back in? When can the dog have more freedom and access? How do owners know how much is too much? Honesty, it depends on the dog, and it depends on you. It depends on how bad things have been, how out of balance you both are, and perhaps most importantly, what you’re capable of sharing in regards to the other side of the conversation. The leadership conversation. And this is where our 10/10 Principle comes in. 🙂
Here’s what we share with our owners to help them wrap their heads around the formula for keeping their dogs and relationship in balance, especially as they’re working through problem behaviors, training and relationship transitioning. We use a number system to make it easy and clear. On our scale, if you’re a 2 in the leadership/rules department, you better be a 2 in affection/freedom department. If you’re a 6 in the leadership/rules department, then you can be a 6 in the affection/freedom department. See how it works? It’s just about balancing the conversation so your dog stays…balanced. Your job is to make sure your numbers line up as best you can. If you’re an 8 in affection and freedom, and a 2 in discipline, you’re gonna have issues!
The truth is, most owners struggle with the discipline side of things. They struggle with the rules, the enforcement, and structure, so keeping an eye on the corresponding freedoms is essential. If you use this scale – honestly! – it can help you better navigate all those tough questions above. It can also help you tweak what’s out of whack and allow for an easy check-in with what’s really going on relationship-wise.
So the answer to all those tough questions is on you. What are you able to change within yourself? What space of leadership are you able to step into? How believable can you be as an authority figure? What leadership, rules, and accountability level can you honestly embody? (And this number can always change and improve if you’re working on it!) It’s a great formula to help owners see super clearly what their responsibility is, and the hard work they have to do in order to have the fun stuff they desire with their dog.
Remember, the numbers don’t lie. Ask yourself seriously what level of discipline, rules, structure, and leadership you’re able to embody, and then adjust you and your dog’s lifestyle accordingly. The more leadership you can embody, the more latitude you get. The less leadership on tap, the less latitude you get. If you’re honest with yourself, you can create a lifestyle that works and keeps everyone happy and balanced.
P.S. My personal dogs are allowed on the bed, on the couch, get loads of freedom, and plenty of affection. I’d say they’re just about in the 9-10 range. But at the same time, if something silly goes down, if there’s a serious transgression or mistake, you better believe that they know that the ole number 10 of discipline isn’t far behind. And it’s that willingness to be the authority figure, to share with my dogs what I know they need from me – to do the hard stuff rather than just the easy stuff – that allows us to maintain a happy, respectful, and fun-filled life together. You know, all that stuff that owners want. 🙂
Our groundbreaking, game-changing dog training book The Good Dog Way: Love Them By Leading Them is now available for order! Click HERE to order your copy!
CLICK THE PICTURE BELOW TO WATCH THE BOOK TEASER!