I so often hear people refer to their dogs as their “fur babies” or “four legged kids”…these sayings usually make us dog trainers cringe. When I hear these terms of endearment for dogs (because, hey that’s what they are right? Dogs!), what I am really hearing is someone who has humanized their dog. Someone who could never possibly say no to this cute, furry, creature. Someone who could never hold a dog acountable for their own actions. Now, this may not be true for all people who use the term “fur baby”, and I hate to paint everyone with the same brush. However, 9 times out of 10 that is what you get.
So where am I going with this? And why on earth would I not be OK with the term “fur baby” but want people to treat their dogs more like their kids? Well let’s look at the average day of a 10 year old kid (which would translate to a dog who is about one year to one and half years old). Said kid gets up at 7am to get ready for school, he has breakfast, brushes his teeth, gets dressed, makes his bed, packs his bag, and this is all before 8am. Then he heads off to catch the bus, has a full day of learning and socializing with his peers before catching the bus to come home. Then he gets home, unpacks his lunch bag, completes his homework, has dinner, helps with the dishes, cleans his room, and then possibly some free time before getting ready for bed. Now this is just a 10 year old kid…as he gets older his schedule gets busier, his responsibilities increase, he is held accountable for his actions. See where I am going with this yet?
Now lets look at the average day of a one year old dog…Get up, human lets him outside, human feeds him, human lets him drag them around the block, sniffing every slice of grass he can, human goes to work and either leaves the dog free to get into whatever trouble they can find or hopefully crates him. Rinse and repeat for the evening (and this dog is lucky if he gets two walks a day even if they aren’t structured like we would hope). Somewhere inbetween all of this, the human is likely giving way too much love and affection rather than leadership and structure.
So what would happen if we started to ask our dogs for a little more? I often tell clients to think of it this way…Life is not always a party, so lets stop letting our dogs think it is. It is OK to ask your dog to be held accountable for their actions. It is OK to ask your dog to be calm while you are eating dinner. It is OK to not allow your dog to jump all over people when they come to your house. We don’t let our kids run around doing whatever they please, so why would we let our dogs? At this point the wheels might be turning, and you are thinking “OK she’s on to something here…but HOW do I do this?”. It really can be quite simple. ┬áHere are a few things you can change today that will make a huge difference in yours and your dogs life:
1) Follow the Nothing In Life Is Free theory – meaning everything your dog wants he must do something for (ie. Before a meal he must sit and wait politely, when he wants to be pet he must sit quietly beside you not pushing his head under your hand, he must be invited up on to the furniture if he has earned the right to being on it and he is not allowed to be a jerk if asked to get off etc.)
2) Two structured walks EVERY day. This means walking nicely beside you, not dragging you around the block.
3) Teaching him to ┬ástay still and relax. I use “place” for this, where I teach a dog to go lay down on their bed when I need them out of the way. Perfect for cooking, eating, having guests over, or just when you need them out of the way. The “place” command will literally transform your dogs life!
4) Waiting before going through thresholds. Not allowing him to bolt out the door by asking him to sit and wait even if the door is opened.
Those are just 4 things you can do to get started. So let’s all try to treat our dogs more like our human kids and less like our “fur babies”!