You’ve been to Canine Kindy and passed Puppy Preschool, but your darling little fur child always seems to embarrass you at the most inopportune times: you tell you dog to sit at the lights and people giggle as he stares off into space totally ignoring you. What the hell is going wrong?!
Well as the owner of an adorable new little pooch myself (hey Banjo!), I took it upon myself to read Martin McKenna’s book ‘What’s Your Dog Telling You?’ and realized what I was doing wrong was, well, almost everything.
McKenna has a pretty epic claim to fame as a dog expert. He was living on the streets as a teenager when he was adopted by a pack of dogs. They became his main companions and by observing them, he came to learn what he calls dog language. And surprise surprise, it’s completely different to our own.
The main difference, he tells us, is that hierarchy is everything to pups. And just like in the Trump v Hillary battle, all day erryday it’s all about the quest to be top dog. If you think that doesn’t apply to your household, think again. I was gobsmacked when I realized that 90% of the things my 8-week-old fluffball was doing were mini ‘dog challenges’ to test my leadership. They start young, I tell you.
Here’s 5 things you probably didn’t know you were doing, oh-so-wrongly in the world of dog ownership and how to fix them pronto! And remember, if you aren’t sure who is top dog in your household, well, it’s probably not you.
#1 It’s sweet that your dog rests his paw on your hand when you lie on the couch together, right?
Wrong! This is your dog subtly taking your personal space AKA dominating you! And if your dog dominates you, well, he’s top dog. Which means he doesn’t have to do anything you say, you minion. Could that be why he doesn’t sit or respond to you unless he feels like it? And barks at you demanding food? Most likely.
Martin McKenna says the easy way to remedy these dog challenges is to make sure you stay higher than your dog (i.e. you’re on the couch and the dog is on the floor). You can also pop your chin up and away from your dog when they try to assert their dominance: this is a signal to show they’re not the most important being here, and to get back in their place.
#2 Don’t you just love scratching under your dog’s chin, chest and belly when you see them?
Your pooch bloody loves this amiright? Unfortunately, McKenna says petting your four-legged friend in these spots is the equivalent of holding up a white flag in terms of the top dog battle, can you believe it?! Scratching under your dog’s chin or chest tells them that they are super important: they always thought you were their servant and know they know it! Not so fast Fido. McKenna says you need to take back control by swapping the submissive chin scratch for a massage behind the ears or a pat on the back. This tells your pet: I’m affectionate, but I’m also still the boss.
#3 Isn’t it the cutest when you pick up your pooch and she licks your face?
I hate to burst this bubble because it just seems so adorable, but alas, we’ve misinterpreted doggie language again. According to Martin McKenna a pup licking your face is actually an indication your dog is extremely uncomfortable. She’s saying please let me down! Why the discomfort? Well, holding your dog is a signal of fighting in the dog world and your dog doesn’t want to fight you! Dogs express affection by grooming each other and by lying calmly beside each other, so put Toby down and find other ways to have fun together.
#4 When you’re angry at your misbehaving dog do you call them to come to you so you can discipline them?
According to Martin McKenna, what makes sense to us in the human world actually confuses the hell out of your pup and it’s none so apparent than in this situation. In the dog world when another dog is angry at you get the hell outta there and lay low until the coast has cleared. If you’re calling Fido over to come and face the music, he’s pretty damn confused about why you want to see him and probably won’t do it. McKenna says the best way to indicate your displeasure at a misbehaving pup is to ignore them (again, put your head and chin up and face away from your dog) and to send them away saying ‘get out, go!’ This is what a top dog would do in a pack, and you’re the top dog.
#5 You think your darling dog and you are equals so you don’t need to discipline them
McKenna says to throw out our human notions of equality already. They just do not apply in the dog world. Contrary to our own notions, dogs actually feel peaceful and can relax when they have a clear leader and a clear hierarchy. Just think of that hardnosed boss in your office—everyone is in perfect order when she’s around and it’s total chaos when she’s not.
So even if you think being a disciplinarian is being mean, you kinda have to appear in charge and in control, so that your beloved can just relax and do what you say. The long and the short of it is that well-trained dog is a happy dog, while a confused dog can be a danger to themselves and to others, especially if they bite, run away and scoff anything.
So before you let your dog do anything in the name of love—sleep on your bed, eat your food, bark at you—remember you’re not equal and your pooch wants you to take charge, so step up already!
Image credit: Godfather Style