Let it Be

Show of hands -- how many of you consider your dogs to be your children? Do you call them your "fur babies" and include them in family events? Maybe celebrate their birthdays, talk to them constantly, feed them scraps from the table?

Well, if you're doing these things, you're acting like a lot of dog owners. The problem is, if you are, then you're doing all of the wrong things for your dogs. As I like to say, in Mexico, dogs are skinny but happy. In other places, they are fat and neurotic.

Considering your dogs to be your children and humanizing them is actually the worst thing you can ever do for them.

This is probably one of the most difficult concepts for people to grasp when I try to teach them how to be Pack Leaders. And I can understand that. We have bred dogs to be cute and cuddly, and it's completely natural for humans to want to love and coddle cute things.

This is completely natural for humans, but absolutely unnatural for dogs. To prove it, all you have to do is go to a dog park and look at which dogs other dogs gravitate toward, want to play with and give respect to.

Hint: It's not the ones we would necessarily describe as cute.

No. It's the dogs that are calm and assertive. They may be big or small. They may be "cute" or "ugly." They may even be handicapped in some way, but that doesn't matter to the other dogs. All they see is energy, and the dogs that project calm, assertive energy are the leaders. That's how it works in the dog world.

The reason it works is because most dogs need a leader. That's how they're designed. Dogs are social animals that live in packs and follow strong leaders, and most dogs do not want to be in charge. In fact, the quickest way to confuse a dog and make it act out badly is to try to force it into a leadership role that it doesn't want.

And this is exactly what we do when we treat our dogs like little humans, fail to show them leadership, and give them nothing but affection, affection, and affection.

From the human point of view, we're just being humane. From our dogs' point of view, we are not.

Imagine that, as a child, you wanted to be a sculptor, and you were actually pretty good at molding clay into statues. It's what you love to do, and you have talent... and your parents put you on the hockey team instead.

You're not into sports, you can't skate, and you're terrible at hockey, but your parents are there at every game, cheering you on and telling you how good you are. And you hate every second of it.

That is what it's like for a dog when we don't let them be a dog, and no amount of praise or treats or affection is going to make your dog any better at not being a dog. This will, however, make your dog neurotic and confused.

The best thing we can do for our canine companions is to honor their instincts by being calm, assertive Pack Leaders, establishing rules, boundaries and limitations, and giving them exercise, discipline, and affection -- in that order.

Stay calm, and let your dogs be dogs.