Dog Training (Owner Training?) 101

We've always had dogs around ever since I was a kid, and even when our family was "between dogs" I adopted next door's Boxer dog as my own. Despite this, as a family we didn’t have a clue how to correctly train a dog – as long as it didn't mess on the floor, chew up our slippers and finally came on the fifth yell of its name we thought things were just fine.

Like many dog owners I didn't know the first thing about training a dog. Well, we think we do because the dog sits or offers us a paw when we have a treat in our hands but those are just party tricks.

Then I bought my very own dog when I got a place of my own. As she grew she changed from loveable pup into a liability. She wandered off, never came when called and turned into the Tasmanian Devil whenever anybody called around. The final straw came when she tore into the room and scrambled up to sit on the shoulders of a visitor who had come to assess me for a voluntary position. He was not a dog lover and I can still remember the look on his face now...

Trouble was, I had always treated dogs as furry friends, always giving in to those sad-looking eyes and never realizing that the dogs saw me in a totally different way. Dogs are pack animals and as such they are acutely aware of their position in the pack – and you and your family are its pack, even if there's just the two of you.

Grasp that little fact of dog psychology and you are well on your way to a happier dog. From now on you are going to make it plain to your dog that you are the Alpha male or leader of the pack and what you say goes. See that furniture? That's mine. You lie on the floor or in your dog basket. Don't feed the dog tidbits from the dinner table – in fact the dog should be in his basket while you eat, and he only gets fed after everybody else has finished.

But isn’t that just being mean and taking all the fun out of owning a dog?

The leader of the dog pack eats first. He sleeps in the best spot. The Alpha male takes no notice of subordinate dogs fussing around him when he returns from the hunt. When you consistently act as leader you are communicating to your dog in a language he understands.

When you come home, ignore your dog's frantic attempts at attention seeking until he calms down – then you praise him. It won't be long before your dog realizes he's gone down a few notches in the pack hierarchy and acts accordingly. You'll soon find that your dog greets you quietly and quickly settles down as he's worked out that is when he receives praise from you.

Still not convinced that training your dog makes him a happier dog? Look at it from the dog's point of view. He's living in a human world full of confusing things and behavior he can't understand. By not teaching your dog his place in your pack he will feel it's his place to take charge. But this leaves him feeling stressed, resulting in an unruly and confused dog constantly trying to make sense of an overwhelming world it cannot understand.

But when you assume command as leader of the pack, you take that responsibility off his shoulders. Just like a well-trained soldier, he will be happy knowing his place, his role in the pack and what's expected of him – and happy to defer to your leadership knowing you'll take care of the "big stuff".