The Differences Between Being a Dog Owner, and a Dog Master
What is a dog?
Yes, we all know they're the furry animals that bark and kill grass. What else is a dog? A dog is a retired wolf. He is retired from pack life, but remembers how it works. He is retired from hunting, but he remembers how it works. He is a retired from the constant power struggles that comes with living in a pack, but he remembers how it works.
The nature of the dog
The wolf background is there. The mental capacity, and emotional capacity of a dog is there. What you do with those traits determines how well your dog responds. Before you get a dog, the thing you should remind yourself of is: Know Thy Self.
A dog will always expect there to be respect and leadership. Either you respect each other, and you lead the dog, or you will respect your dog, and he will lead you.
The mentality of a dog
Dogs can be very clever when it comes time to sit on the couch while you're out of the room, or get into the garbage. Do not confuse clever or determination with raw intelligence. The average dog is about as mentally developed as the average three or four year old child.
I am certain that somebody is thinking about a son or niece who was taking college courses at the age of seven, but again, consider average. Potty training, recognition of words and phrases, and problem solving skills are on par with your average young child. Pair this with the nature of a wolf background, and you have yourself the dog.
Who is walking who?
To understand the dog, is to understand the wolf. In a pack environment, many good things come to those who lead. Mating rights and prime meal selection are nothing to sneeze at, especially in the woods! Much like people, some dogs are natural born followers. Most, however, have a tendency to watch for an opportunity to lead the pack.
When a dog lives with a person who does not lead, the dog will usually attempt to lead. Again, as it is true in society, some dogs are capable and born to lead, and others are not. You all know that manager who has trouble with their own authority, or a friend who acts more awkwardly assertive around other people. Dogs will tend to do the same.
If you are scared of being alone all of the time, the natural born following dogs will become fearful with you. They're not sure what it is that you're afraid of, so they'll become fearful of everything. One thing is for certain though, they're not fearful of you. That being said, the only thing they will be in charge of, is you.
If you go for a walk, and the dog is your master, he will be out in front. If you are your dogs master, he will walk beside you, watching for which direction you want to go.
The funny tips and tricks
I was walking my dog one afternoon, and a brave (foolish) squirrel walked right in front of us. Ordinarily, squirrel would be on Malcolm's lunch menu. When Malcolm is on the leash however, he is no longer driving the bus. The squirrel was quite surprised at how close it had wandered towards such a large set of teeth, and tore up the tree.
A woman was sitting in her driveway, and said that she was very impressed that he behaved himself so well. I wasn't surprised. When the dog is on the leash, I am driving the bus. When Malcolm is off leash, and I am not present, he is to fend for himself within the guidelines of his rules (garbage, beds, and the couch are off limits). While Malcolm is on leash, I am his master. I protect him from other dogs. I walk where I want to walk, and how fast or slow I want to walk it. I don't look down to see where the dog is, because I am pretty sure it is somewhere near the end of the leash.
I stopped and talked with the woman for a few minutes. She told me that she was training her dog, and they told her to walk as if there were a plate full of dishes on her head while she walked her dog in order to get him to behave.
The idea that a dog, so perceptive of facial cues is going to be fooled by you pretending to have a pile of dishes on your head is pretty funny. I think there is a better chance she was fooled about the dishes than the dog. Based on her report of how things were going, that is correct.
Know thy self
Quite possibly the three most important words in the human language, and most definitely with regard to most relationships.
If you are honestly capable of being assertive (not mean, not aggressive, not angry, and most definitely not assaulting) you can easily become the master of a dog. That is good for you, because the dog will be a much easier companion to live with. It is great for the dog, because the pack leader generally absorbs more stress, and lives shorter lives than followers. Whether or not that's true for humans I guess would be up for discussion, but if you watch "mean" or "controlling" dogs, they don't age very well. Same is true for wolves.
If you are the type that wants a dog for a friend, but acknowledge you're not a leader, realize you're going to have a dog that (unless it's a natural born follower) pull on your leash, sleep where it wants, begs, and eats what it wants.
There is nothing wrong with either one. There is something wrong with having a dog that begs, or sits on the couch and being mistaken that it's a character flaw of the dog. Most behaviors experienced by dog owners are a direct result of their interactions.
Have a dog that jumps on people? Stop saying goodbye to your dog, and stop encouraging him to freak out when you walk in the door. Don't acknowledge your dog for ten minutes (even if he is still in the jumping phase) across the span of a month, and eventually, your coming and going will go unnoticed. This can help with separation anxiety, pouting potty, and even plain old barking.
Get over your own fears, and the dog will soon follow.
Remember to serve the dogs needs
Dogs were meant to be in the wild. Food didn't just happen upon them at a drive through, they ran around looking for it. Dogs were meant to walk miles and miles a day, every single day. When we coop them up in the house, all of that exercise equals one thing: boredom. Bored with the couch, bored with the house, bored with the yard, and bored of pretty much everything else.
Take your dog for walks. Take your dog to the park and play frisbee. Take your dog to the park and throw a ball for forty minutes. Get your dog some toys, but interact with your dog and those toys.
Dogs are not people
Give your dog dog food. Strictly dog food. The two times Malcolm has been in the garbage were the two times he was giving human food (that I know of :). Expect your dog to do as he is told. Don't ask him, tell him. Train your dog.
Teaching your dog discipline and tricks is not for a sideshow, it builds your dogs self esteem. When you teach him something, and he repeats it, tell him what a good dog he is. Mean it when you tell him that. Encourage him to do things without being told through excessive praise, during training, and forever after.
If your dog is adopted and has anxieties, work around those anxieties. If they are fearful of the door, have a trick they do right before they walk through it. It can be as simple as "sit" before they walk in or out of a door. When they sit, just tell them what a good puppy they are, and that pitch in your voice, and smile you give them smooths over the door anxiety.