This post is dedicated to the 5 Golden Rules of dog training, a dog training principle from Doggie Dan.
They're vital in learning how to effectively train your dog into the ideal pet you want them to be!
The 5 golden rules
Who controls the food?
Who will take care of any danger?
When you're away from your dog, who is the pack leader?
Who dictates the terms (i.e do you listen to your dog, or does your dog listen to you?)
Who walks who?
To access the health and relationship with your dogs, these are the 5 key points you have to ask yourself.
That said, none of the golden rules matter if you DON'T BEHAVE LIKE THE PACK LEADER. That's the most important, paramount of the information. (which also will dictate who controls the food!)
First off, food control. This is one of the most important aspect of training your dog - especially so if they are shelter or rescue dogs.
Food control, in a nutshell, is simple food aggression in dogs.
Some trainers prefer calling them food possessive dogs, but it's just different words - it means the exact same thing.
To put it into perspective, dogs with food aggression can be classified into 3 different categories:
Generally, mild dog food aggression is simply a dog growling at you when you approach its food. There may also be some teeth baring.
In this case, food aggressive dogs can lunge as you approach it, while displaying the above behaviors.
The worst case, at this stage, the dog will simply attack you, and will bite. They will draw blood, because they see you as a threat.
Food aggression in dogs is a very common issue among all dog owners, and rightly so - rescued dogs learn from a young age that food is always scarce and they will fight for every little scrap of food.
That's just how it is in the wild.
Also understand that some dogs that were never in the wild may also display such symptoms, due to them being the runt of the litter, or got bullied by other dogs.
What can we do about it?
But what is important is to ensure that your dog understands (slowly) that his new life with you is not one of fighting for survival - its one of love, discipline and a LOT of belly rubs.
This is why dog training classes, online or not, are essential for your dog to help snap them out of their previous aggressive stance.
We as dog owners need to learn how to train a dog out of food aggression.
This is even more so since now a lot more of us now work from home, and access to online dog training classes are easier than ever.
There are thankfully several things we can do right now that can near instantly help with dog food aggression:
If the reason that your dog is aggressive with food is simply due to the fact that it doesn't know when its next meal is coming, you simply need to make sure you feed your dog at the same time everyday.
Dogs generally have good internal clocks, which makes routine and consistency easy for them.
For example, they will know when to wake up, what time they'll walk, eliminate and eat.
Simply put - a regular feeding time will set their mind at ease about when their next meal will come.
Just being consistent alone can help in breaking food aggression in dogs quite easily, especially for street/ rescue dogs.
Make them work for their food
Before preparing your dog's food, make it sit still and stay where it is, just outside the area you feed them.
I.e. If you prepare their food in the kitchen, make them stay in the living room.
After that, once they're staying in the room you want them to, set their food bowl down and stand close to them as you release them from the 'stay' command.
Once they begin eating, you can move away.
This forces your dog to not be too excited, and standing near their food while they eat also reassures them that your presence does not mean their food will be stolen from them.
Another great tip is to always feed your dog after walks, and never before.
This reason is twofold:
First, they'll be a little tired, and so will also listen to your commands better without lunging for food.
Second, eating before walks can cause health conditions, similar to how we shouldn't eat a meal before we exercise.
The Pack Leader eats first
As much as you love your dog, always remember - you're the dominant leader, and that is the natural pecking order of things.
In the wild, when a pack brings down prey, the alpha ALWAYS gets to eat first, followed by the rest of the pack.
The same principle applies here.
So, never feed your dog before or while you're eating. Humans eat first.
Then when you’re done, the dogs eat.
Own the bowl
Sometimes when you approach the dog's food bowl, they'll growl and show their teeth.
This is actually what the dog wants - for you to back away from the bowl, and it's 'prize'.
This will make a food aggressive dog's issues worse - because when you back away, the dog 'owns' the bowl, and it's reward is the food.
So to help with that issue, there are a few things you can do:
- Hand feeding the dog.
Hand feeding the dog 'scents' the food with your smell, which will let the dog know that you're not there to 'steal' its food.
After hand feeding, you can also place the remainder of the food in your hand into their food bowl.
Do this a few times and by then, the dog should be a little more comfortable with your hands around its food bowl.
- Tossing treats to the dog.
While the dog is eating their normal meal, toss a few of their favorite treats into their food bowl. This will help associate people around their food bowl as a good thing.
While fixing food aggression in dogs, also make sure to not approach the dog near the food bowl aggressively, especially toward dogs with moderate to severe food aggression.
This will very likely cause you to get bitten hard.
However, with time, love and concern, as well as the tips above, you can learn how to stop food aggression in dogs, including puppies.
In fact, learning how to stop food aggression in a puppy is FAR EASIER - simply because they're younger and much more impressionable!
All in all, understand that resource guarding however is a natural thing among all animals.
Yes, even us humans!
But it's also our job and responsibility to train that out of our dogs, a little at a time.
We've all been in situations of real danger - crossing a street with oncoming cars, reckless cyclists nearly knocking us over, etc.
Dogs are also no different - they live in the same cities as us, and face the same dangers as us with one key difference: Dogs are protective over us.
However, while dog protection is great in some situations, for the untrained dog, it can become possessive and paranoid over any, and every sound.
This is very common in fearful dogs that have had a traumatic past, or had pups before, turning them into hyperactive protector dogs.
Dogs that were adopted off the streets in general are also very prone to this - because they're so attuned and alert to everything that everything will set off alarm bells.
There is also a pretty fine line between protective and being overprotective: let's explore the rationale below.
Why are some dogs overprotective of us?
Every dog that you'll ever own will eventually become a protective dog - it sees you as his pack, his family and will do everything it can to defend you.
However, for many dogs, this dog loyalty and protectiveness can descend into overprotectiveness and aggression - which can either be due to situations, or a learned trait.
P.S. We're not talking about naturally protective dog breeds - more on those types of breeds coming soon.
There are situations where a loyal dog will step up to take charge:
- When their owner is injured or unconscious
- When the owner is frail, or sick
- When the owner is pregnant
- When there are babies (dogs protect babies the most)
While the list is not exhaustive, these are the common situations where they turn into a protective dog, nearly instinctively.
The situations when a protective dog becomes overprotective:
- When dogs protect owners from non-threatening people
- When a dog that was not socialized well
- When a rescue dog is adopted and brought home.
In the above examples, it's simply a matter of training.
Let's use an example of a dog protecting us from strangers (non-threatening).
For most dogs, them becoming overprotective is a subtle process - generally their don’t realize it’s happening until the behavior becomes dangerous to others.
In general, many overprotective dogs are unwittingly rewarded for their behavior by their owners.
The rewards are not necessarily treats and praise; anything that gives your dog attention is a potential reward.
For example - when a mailman approaches your home and your dog comes in-between you and the mailman, growling,
The mailman then backs off - a victory for the protective dog.
Then, the owner doesn't do anything to correct it - nothing is said. In some cases, the owner even praises their dog for doing it!
From there on, it gets worse - a dog will gradually behave more aggressively to 'threats' by showing teeth, lunging, and eventually, full on attacking the perceived threat.
The dogs that protect their owners will eventually become overprotective and 'aggressive', and eventually be surrendered, or put down.
The above is just due to the owner not correcting the dog, alone.
Another possible factor (especially for rescue dogs) is that they're insecure, and anxious for their owner.
In both learned situations, it is important for you to let your dog know that you're the alpha, and that you'll handle the threat:
- Correcting your dog when they growl at non-threatening people
- Don't be nervous or project a nervous body language (dogs are EXCELLENT at reading body languages)
The bottom line?
Your dog needs to be socialized and learn that you're the alpha and that you'll deal with the problem, so it can relax.
Who's the Pack Leader?
If you've watched Cesar Milan, you'll know what being a pack leader is about - The alpha of the group who controls the behavior of the rest; the head honcho of the group.
To put it simply, a pack leader is simply being the top in the dog hierarchy.
Being the dog pack leader is simple - who does your dog listen to? Does your dog obey your commands, or will he just walk away?
Most importantly, are you leading your dog, or is it the other way round?
How to be a pack leader of your dog
- Calm and Confident
Simply put, don't be nervous or anxious all the time around your dog.
A dog can sense these sorts of things, and their confidence in you as leader of the pack will be lower if they sense you being anxious all the time.
In the wild, the alpha pack leader is usually the most assertive and confident, which is why they follow the alpha.
You'll have to be the same as their owner!
- Set boundaries
By boundaries, we mean of territory and possessions. This usually applies to furniture - some dogs will claim a particular spot as 'theirs'.
In this case, be calm and confident, and through clear body language, let your dog know that as a pack leader, you own the space it lives in.
The dog will then respect this authority, especially during dog training sessions.
- Timing things right
The most common use of timing is in feeding and eating.
The dog pack leader ALWAYS eats first, followed by the rest of the pack.
In timing feeding right, you can, and will establish yourself as pack leader very quickly.
- Work your pack
As the dog leader of the pack, you can work your pack - take them on a walk before feeding.
The exercise will help burn the energy of the dog, especially high energy ones, which will help with getting them into a calm and submissive state.
You can also not give them affection or food until they're calm and in a submissive state, to further establish yourself as pack leader.
- Know your pack
Basically, know your dogs and everything about them - are they high energy dogs?
What do they like to do, or not?
This is about knowing what makes your dog happy, what makes them tick, and how best you can use that information to create a training plan or a feeding schedule, etc.
Who Listens to Whom?
The next 2 points stem out of the pack leader point. I'm sure you've seen Youtube videos of dogs willfully disobeying their human owners and doing all sorts of crazy things, like this :-
It's definitely funny to hear owners say 'my dog doesn't listen', but after a while it gets frustrating that your dog doesn't listen to your orders or obey you.
This can be dangerous in certain situations, especially when crossing roads with heavy traffic!
Why a dog doesn't listen
In most cases, its not a matter of purposely not listening - dogs that are new to you and your home do no know what words are.
Dogs rely on our body language to let them know what we want, until they learn words that they associate with what we want of them.
So, it's a matter of 'overshadowing' - when a prompt (the words we say) is missed, and they don't associate it with a command.
Of course, there's also an issue of using a verbal command too many times that the dog gets 'desensitized' to it - giving the effect of the dog not listening.
In any case, here's a list of things you CAN do to help:
- Drain their energy
When a dog is excited, no matter how well trained they are, will not listen to you at all.
In this case, it's always good to bring them out for a walk, or to exercise. This helps burn their excess energy.
When their energy levels are suitably drained, only then can you learn how to make a dog listen to you.
- Consistency is key
As with above in the Food Control section, consistency is key.
What is meant by that is that if you keep using a certain hand motion for your dog to eat, or a verbal cue to 'eat' (i.e. are you hungry?), they'll eventually come to cement those cues as what you want them to do.
Keep your commands and cues as consistent as possible!
- Calm and Confident
Being calm and confident as the pack leader will affect your dog's tendency to listen to you too!
No one wants to listen to a timid, nervous person on stage - everyone is attracted to the well spoken, confident person commanding attention.
The same is with your dog - this is how to make your dog listen.
- Back to basics
If you've ever been in a sport or dance, you'll understand that practice makes perfect.
You can never train your basics enough, it's the same as with training a dog listening to you.
Keep repeating the commands (verbal and physical) and training with your dog/pack - it'll eventually become second nature to you and your dog.
This will help with the problem of a dog not listening due to 'desensitization'.
Who Walks Who?
This also stems from the Pack leader question. When you're walking your dog on a leash, where's your dog? Is he in front of you. or by your side?
The position of your dog is very telling on the who is the pack leader in your own household.
Thankfully, walking a dog doesn't have to be difficult, and following the tips below will help in both training your dog, and reinstating your status as leader of the pack.
So, the real question is 'how to walk a dog properly?'
6 tips that can help in walking a dog:
- Walk in Front of Your Dog
Simply by walking in front of your dog, you establish your position as the leader of the pack.
- Using a proper length leash
By using a proper or a slight shorter leash, you gain a bit more control over your dog.
Use that leash and attach it to the top of the dog's neck for greater control - the dog will also be a little more receptive of it.
If the dog is still not responding to the leash (don't pull it too hard - you'll hurt the dog!), you may need to consider an e-collar.
An e-collar is also sometimes the best way to walk a dog that pulls - in that way, they'll learn to pull a little less when it's discouraged to.
Once the dog is used to it and you're seen as the leader, you can get a slightly longer leash to relax the control.
- Don't rush a dog walking session
The best way to walk your dog is simple - don't rush the session!
Dog walks typically take about 30 minutes to about an hour, depending on the breed (a chihuahua will of course need less!)
In this way, a dog can also get familiarized with the surroundings and sounds, and be able to smell the roses!
- Reward your dog during the walk
Remember that you want your dog to be calm and submissive - that is the best way to walk your dog.
Once it reaches that state, reward it by letting it relax and sniff around, or give a treat.
The time for the reward however, is up to you to decide.
- Keep leading the dog even after the walk
Remember, a pack leader is a leader all the time. When you get home, make sure you're first into the home, and make your dog wait before entry.
- Rewarding your dog after the walk
Remember the section in Food Control? A walk before its meal is making the dog 'work' for it's food.
So once you're done with the walk, reward your dog with food (treats, or its meal).
So in brief, here are the 5 golden rules of training your dog. Adhere to them and you'll have a smooth training session!
Of course, if you need professional help, don't be afraid to seek it out.
It'll only accelerate your learning and having an ideal dog at home!