Can (over) Indulging my Dog Cause an Aggression or Behavior Problem?
If dog owners consistently act in a manner that from the ‘dogs point of view’ appears to show subservience, submission, fear or subordinance, then over time, the dog will begin to think that he is in fact superior to you.
Some of the social interactions that the majority of dogs will perceive as subservient or submissive are:
- Moving out of the dogs path
- Walking over or around a resting dog so that it is not disturbed
- Allowing the dog to lead the way on walks
- Allowing the dog to sit, lean or lie upon your body
- Allowing the dog to bite hands, arms, feet, ankles, face, in “play”
- Allowing the dog to pee/poop at will on walks
- Allowing the dog to sit on a sofa/chair at will
- Allowing the dog to sleep in a person’s bed uninvited
- Feeding the dog from the table
- Feeding the dog on demand
- Playing a game of the dog’s choosing on demand
- Terminating activities if the dog protests
- Moving backwards if the dog jumps on them
- Allowing the dog to steal and destroy personal items
- Displaying an inability to catch the dog when it is at liberty
Dogs don’t do democracy, you either serve or are served.
If you are Alpha, from a dog’s point of view, then you have (3) three rights and responsibilities:
- The right to get what you want, when you want it, from whoever has it.
- The right to prevent others from doing things that you don’t like.
- The responsibility to maintain peace and harmony, from the Alpha’s point of view, by keeping the “lower members” of the pack in line.
REMEMBER IF YOU TREAT YOUR DOG LIKE A PERSON, HE HAS THE RIGHT TO TREAT YOU LIKE A DOG.
Between social animals, rules are important since there is a real need for predictability in the behavior of others around us. It is surprising, hurtful and sometimes genuinely frightening when others don’t act or respond to us according to established “rules.” In dog to dog interactions – just like in our daily lives – certain basic rules are established and rarely, if ever, change although variations on the basic theme may occur. Conflict arises only when the shift in the rules is not equally agreeable to both parties. There is a need to be able to predict the consequences of our own behavior, which helps us to avoid confrontation or be successful – both are hard to do if basic rules keep changing. Imagine that each time you drove down the street, the powers-that-be had established new rules for driving!
There are some variations in “rules” and temporary rules that are purely dependent on a specific situation or a given dog’s mood or the perceived value of the resource in question. Dogs check with each other often to see what the rules of that moment are: “Will you play with me now?” “Now can I share your bone?” They check with their human companions in the same way and for the same reason – they want something and are testing various avenues of getting it. In the dog’s mind, it never hurts to try. In many little ways, we teach our dogs that we are not worthy of respect. When we indulgently allow them to act in inappropriate ways – even small ones – we often forget that we are providing our dogs with the proof that we are not good leaders. That is how they perceive lenience, inconsistency and indulgence.
They don’t think, “Ah, what a sweet owner I have. She must really love me.” No more than you think that a boss who lets you come in late, leave early and take 4 hour coffee breaks is a swell guy. You think he’s a wimpy jerk, and you don’t respect him, though you may like him a lot! The dog thinks, “Aha! Resources I value such as attention, food and toys are but a request away, and they’re free!” In the world of dogs, he who controls the resources is to be respected. From your dog’s point of view, if he can control the resources, he must be the boss. Quite often, dogs don’t mind, since in non-crisis situations, indulgence often results in extra treats or attention or playtime. Depending on the dog’s individual personality, poor leadership can be utterly harmless, creating at worst a pest who annoys all he meets. But it can become quite dangerous when the dog begins to change the rules and boundaries on more issues he considers important: people entering or leaving the house, being disturbed while resting, eating or sleeping, being handled or restrained, other animals in his territory, etc.
If the owner does not have the dog’s respect and has allowed the dog to exert leadership in small ways, there is NO way that dog will allow the owner to set the rules for more important issues. Consider this: You have a friend who is sweet and generous but incapable of deciding on what movie to see or even what flavor Jell-o to whip up for the picnic. She dithers and blathers but is completely unable to act decisively on even the simplest issues. One day, aliens attempt to take over your town. You and your friend attend the emergency neighborhood meeting held to decide how best to deal with the alien threat. Your lives are at stake – this threat must be handled correctly. There’s a call for nominations of people capable of acting in leadership roles. Do you nominate your friend? Of course not. You vote for someone who has proven leadership abilities. So do dogs. Owners who fail to set boundaries and provide clear leadership are often very surprised when in a “crisis” situation (which could be as simple as the mailman walking up the path or someone walking another dog) their dog completely disregards any commands and acts according to his perception of his role in the relationship. The dog may feel the need to include dramatic (and effective) gestures that are at best just frightening, and potentially quite dangerous.
Life is too short to hem and haw and not follow your heart, assuming following your heart doesn’t mean riding roughshod over other inhabitants of the planet. As a general rule, it’s not considered sporting to take candy from a baby. (It should be noted that dogs would probably ask the question, “Why not if they’ll give it to you?”). But there is an advantage to modifying impulses, and learning to ask nicely, and seeking compromise with others – you are welcome in more places, and often ultimately have greater freedom. In allowing a dog to set the boundaries in many areas, the owner inadvertently sets a far crueler boundary – one defined by his dog’s rude behavior.
Any journey consists of many small steps. This is also true of our relationships with our dogs. In sundry and even tedious ways, each interaction with our dogs tells them something about our leadership qualities. While we may flip in and out of different roles (employee, spouse, parent, dog owner), there is no “Off Duty” sign on our heads that indicate to the dog that our actions are off the record, not the actions of a leader of dogs, and should be paid no mind. The dog believes that just as he does, we say what we mean, and that there’s a valid communication and intent to all we do with and for them – 24 hours a day. When we forget that one of our major obligations to our dogs is to provide them with the leadership they need, we may found ourselves on the wrong side of a line in the sand – one drawn by the dog. Hey, the dog figures, if you can’t decide on a Jell-o flavor, you probably can’t be trusted with dealing with the mailman.
Please note: The information provided here is meant to supplement that provided by your veterinarian. Do not disregard veterinary advice or delay treatment as a result of information at this site. Nothing can replace a complete history and physical examination performed by your veterinarian. -Dr. Jeff