The Colin's Pack Guide to a Happy Life with Your Dog Pt. 2
by Colin West
(Santa Monica, CA United States)
Stay Calm and Assertive
This is the second of two sections of the guide, and addresses discipline and socialization/affection. See the first section of Calm-Assertive Energy and the Importance of Exercise
STEP 3) Discipline:
Have clear rules, boundaries, and limitations for your dog.
Discipline is not just rules, boundaries and limitations, it is anything that involves structure. There is no way for an animal to exist without discipline, whether it be the discipline to get up and go to work, to hunt, or to migrate. If your dog has disciplined activities to match his energy level, he will be a much more balanced and content dog. Following rules, boundaries, and routines is essential to the survival of animals in a pack, and it will come very naturally to your dog to follow these rules once you have made them clear. Your job as pack leader is to protect, direct, and set the rules. It is your job to make clear what behavior is expected, and what is not allowed.
No touch, no talk, no eye contact: An important rule when guests meet your dog or when you come home is: no touch, no talk, no eye contact. By immediately paying attention to your dog, it will put you in a follower position. By going about your business while your dog sniffs you, you let him know you have the situation under control and the world doesn't revolve around him. Breaking down for your dog is not a favor, but it is just a passing of responsibility to your dog, and will confuse him as to who is in charge. Don’t worry, there is a time and place for affection, just not right when you come home!
“I do not wish to treat friendships daintily, but with roughest courage. When they are real, they are not glass threads or frostwork, but the solidest thing we know.” - Emerson (Not that friendships are the same as your relationship with your dog, but the same point; real love doesn't always have to be soft.)
At home: It is important that your dog knows who controls the house. You should be able to walk where you want, sit where you want, sleep where you want, all without being disturbed. You should also be able to take away any toy, bone, or space from your dog without any challenge. You should be able to do anything you want, however long you want to in your own home. This clear hierarchy will allow your dog to relax, and know that he shouldn’t attempt to claim areas of your home or possessions because they’re already taken. This ownership of your home should extend to all people living in your home and to guests. That’s why it’s important that all people follow the same rules, especially no touch, no talk, no eye contact when entering; when humans act like the pack leaders, your dog will feel comfortable and surrender. If you ever need to disagree with your dog’s behavior, your main tool will be your calm and assertive energy, and a touch if needed. Remember, you own your house, and you should be able to be free and do what you want, it will actually make your dog feel safe.
Feeding: In nature, dogs only eat after they have worked hard to make a kill. Similarly, when we feed a dog after they have been exercised fulfills their basic instinct to work for food. It allows them to feel that they earned it. Therefore it is important to set up a feeding ritual with your dog. I recommend only feeding your dog after their most intensive exercise of the day. Don’t leave the food down all day for your dog; this will take all of the reward and fulfillment out of the food. While preparing the food, have your dog wait outside of your personal space. Once you are finished, go to where you will feed your dog, have them sit or lie down, look you in the eyes, and then give it to them. Pack leaders control the food. Having your dogs sit, and look you in the eyes before they receive their food reminds them that you control the food, and it also helps keep them from being fixated on the food. By setting up a regular feeding routine, your dog will get the fulfillment every day of working and then eating, and this help improve his state of mind. Just like petting, food is affection, and should be given when your dog is calm and submissive to nurture that state of mind.
STEP 4) Socialization and Affection:
Dogs are social animals and need interactions with other dogs to truly live a fulfilled life.
Neighborhood Dogs, or Owning Multiple Dogs: Group walks, or owning more than one dog are great ways to fulfill your dog’s instincts to socialize. Any time your dog get’s to travel with another dog(s) as a pack it will be fulfilling to him. Going on a hike or to the beach with your dog(s) and a friend’s dog are great ways to fulfill their need to socialize. Just remember to have you and your friend be seen clearly by all dogs as the pack leader so that the dogs don’t feel the need to compete for that position.
Boarding Facilities: If you are going to use a boarding or doggy day care facility, use one that provides dogs with structured exercise if possible. To put is simply; putting a lot of dogs with pent up energy in the same place with no structure or authority is asking for trouble. Boarding facilities are actually a place where dogs can pick up unwanted behaviors, and if a dog already has issues, boarding or dog day care will probably make them worse.
Dog parks: Dog parks can have the same problems that boarding facilities have: multiple dogs with pent up energy, no structured way to release it, and no clear authority figure. Many dogs are brought to the dog park as a substitute for a walk or run, which means the dog has pent-up energy to release there. With no clear activities, dogs may try to run in circles, play too rough, etc, which are things that most dogs consider unstable behavior. So, you will often have dogs that are playing and trying to release their pent-up energy, and you also have dogs that are trying to correct their excited, unstable behavior, which can result in dogs trying to dominate each other or a fight. I think dog parks would be a great place if all of the dogs went on a long walk together as a pack, and then got to play and socialize after at the dog park. But, that’s not usually the case. Keep in mind that for your dog to trust you, he expects you to be in control of the situations that you bring him into, and if you bring him around dogs that are dominant, rude, or unbalanced, and you don’t control the situation, then he will lose trust and respect for you. As the pack leader, you have to control the situation, and if you don’t, then you are putting that responsibly on him.
Dog Pack Hikes: Dog pack hikes are, in my opinion, the best way for a dog to socialize. The most natural way for dogs to connect is by traveling as a pack in nature; it releases any tension, and makes them feel as though they depend on each other for survival.
If you think about it, traveling as a pack through nature following a strong pack leader is just about an exact imitation of how dogs live in the wild. Dog pack hikes fulfill dogs on a very deep, instinctual level. Remember; dogs have instincts to be part of a pack and to travel because it is those very instincts that keep them alive in the wild, and if the instincts are denied, dogs can start to feel anxiety that they are not doing what they need to do in order to survive. After a pack hike, dogs will sleep in a way like no other, knowing that they’ve done what they needed to do that day in order to survive.
Affection: “So when can I pet him?” I will say this: all things that are worth something take time. If you just pet your dog all of the time, then your affection won’t mean anything. I believe that once you learn to fulfill your dog through exercise and discipline, you won’t feel the need to pet them as much, and in a way, the whole process of living together will become an affectionate act, with actual physical affection just being the cherry on top. That being said, the times when your dog is most open to affection are when he is happy and fulfilled. I’ve noticed that my dogs are the most playful and receptive after they have been exercised and eaten at the end of the day, or right when they wake up. It’s also natural for African wild dogs and wolves to play at these times. So these are the times that I usually share affection with them. The better you fulfill your dog, the more rewarding your affectionate time will be with him.
Keep in mind that, you will nurture whatever state of mind your dog is in at the time that you pet him, so I recommend only petting him when he is submissive and calm or playful. Also, don’t break yourself for your dog; it’s a pleasure for your dog to get to play with “the big dog,” (you), so stay in control while you pet your dog, he will enjoy it more. If he gets too excited, it should be you that keeps it balanced and puts an end to the play time. Keep in mind if you nurture a dysfunctional relationship at home, your dog will be more likely to take control on your walks and misbehave. Sometimes we like to pet our dogs to try and make up for something they’re missing in their lives, like exercise, discipline, or socialization, but there is no substitute for those things. Petting your dog excessively will actually lead to confusion and lack of respect, not fulfillment. So take your time, learn through trial and error when and how much physical affection to give your dog.
Conclusion: Hopefully this has shed some light on the psychology of your dog. For more information on dog psychology, I recommend watching “The Dog Whisperer with Cesar Millan” on Nat Geo Wild. I hope you enjoy the guide, and I hope you enjoy exploring the potential of your relationship with your dog!
For more information, visit Colin's Pack.
By Colin West