So you just got a dog! You have already decided that you love him and want him to live with you forever.
From your point of view, it may make sense to slather him with affection, coo sweet nothings to him, ask him if he’s hungry/thirsty or wants to go play outside, give him treats and toys, let him do what he likes, go wherever he wants, lounge on your sofa and snuggle in bed together.
From his perspective, he’s only met you once and dogs tend to see all of these gifts of freedom and affection as extreme weakness – in people who cannot be trusted or respected as leaders. Since that is the case, they need to take on the role as leader, by telling you what to do – perhaps by barking at you demandingly, physically leaning or stepping on you, pushing or pulling you around, or even by biting you for not obeying them.
Putting your new dog in the position of being in charge isn’t doing them any favours either; it is stressful for them! Dogs who are stressed may show this by chewing themselves, scratching incessantly, whining, barking, destroying your stuff, going to the washroom in the house and a whole range of other things no one likes.
Giving your dog important jobs to do is giving them a purpose. It makes them feel valuable, useful and satisfied. It takes away the stress of not knowing what to do with themselves. Without something to do, they’ll have to make up their own jobs, which tend to be things we don’t like… such as chasing the cat, barking all day at the window, unpotting your houseplants… you get the picture. You can help your dog to be awesome right from the start!
Begin your relationship as though you are a very savvy and fair employer, with your dog in the role of a smart, keen new employee you’ve just hired.
Your new employee has only met you once in an interview, and now that they have arrived at their new workplace (your home), your job is to set the tone for how things work and to show the new guy the ropes. So you start off by showing him where the washroom is, where his “desk” is (his Place cot), show him where the lunch room is (his water bowl in his crate), show him how to politely enter and exit important thresholds (doorway manners – giving you a respectful moment and waiting to be invited in/out of cars, crate, front/back doors, gates). You demonstrate clearly where he is allowed and (with a leash) guide him to do what he should be doing, so he’s not feeling lost and at loose ends in a new place with no friends around. You take him for a structured walk, at a heel with him following your lead. You do a few minutes of recall (“come”) with a longline or leash, rewarding your dog with their regular meals. Then you give him time to process all of this in a quiet safe place – his crate.
Imagine if it was you who was on your first day at a job and it was you who had only met your new boss once at an interview. So you show up all excited for your first day, ready to work and impress them with your awesomeness, but instead they say that you can take a 4 hour lunch or show up late and get paid anyway, or your new boss reaches out to play with your hair and starts talking to you like you’re a baby! You would probably feel that you could get away with ANYTHING here! Clearly this job is a joke and you can make up your own rules. You may even call the Human Resources department or get a restraining order because your new boss is molesting you at work. Seriously, you barely met this person – how inappropriate! Imagine they threw you a party on your first day and expected you to slow dance with a bunch of strangers. That would be super weird, right?!
Now that you’ve looked at things from your new dog’s perspective, you see why you must restrain yourself from too much talking (especially soft cooing or high pitched questions) touching/patting, or doling out huge rewards (free roaming, access to furniture, treats, food, toys) to your dog for doing absolutely nothing special.
Reserve all of these extremely valuable things to reward your dog for doing their very best work. This will teach your dog to look to you for all good things and motivate them to earn your trust and respect, then eventually deserve your love and affection.
You’d likewise refrain from throwing them a party or introducing them to all of your friends or extended family at once, because it would be overwhelming for your new dog to be touched and stared at by a bunch of strangers. Instead focus on building trust with the core group slowly and calmly.
If you ignore this advice, be prepared for problems because your dog doesn’t trust you or respect your authority. Why would a dog listen to someone who is soft, weak, and pays them for not even showing up for work? Whether you like the idea of being an authority figure or not, the fact is, in order to keep your dog safe out in the human world, you need them to listen to you in order to be a good guardian and protect them. Dogs don’t understand traffic lights, how to use money to buy food, why they need to go to the vet, or the groomers, how to turn on water taps, or how to unlock doors. Your job is to be their protector and trusted advisor. You become that trusted and respected role model by laying out the structure for how to behave and reward your dog for doing their work in appropriate measures.
Have fun building a great relationship with your dog through work (obedience and respect training). Ensure that everyone who lives with the dog also does the same, so he learns to listen to everyone and builds a healthy relationship with your entire household.