Got a dog you can’t control? It’s likely your problem is that you don’t understand its true nature. We asked animal behaviour consultant John Faul to throw us a few bones on how to be the leader your dog deserves.
If an animal walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, you’re not likely to treat it as a budgie, right? That’s my rule of thumb,’ says John. ‘We’ve got a wolf in dog’s clothing in our living room. If you give him a chance to express that “wolfdom”, he will. You might say, ‘But I can take a bone from my dog and he won’t do a thing.’ Of course you can, because he’s well fed. Keep the dog hungry for a day or two, then try to take his food. He’ll stand rigid, telling you, ‘Come any closer to this food and I’ll fight you to the death. I need it to survive.’
The point is this: if you’re going to live with an animal, you need to understand it. We’re dealing with the wolf, a pack animal, one that knows what privilege, right of access and control he (and you) exercises within the group. Most of the problems of interspecies dominance in our homes arise because we apply human traits of democracy, fair play and equality. They’ve got nothing to do with animal traits, and we’re not even sure they work for us. So here’s how to lead your pack.
The four-second rule
If I asked you if you’d like some mustardflavoured ice cream, you don’t have to taste it to know that you wouldn’t like it. In humans, the prefrontal cortex enables us to make projections like this. Animals don’t have that. If you want to change the behaviour of an animal, you have to do it within four seconds of the act for it to understand that its action brought about the reaction it did. You have to engage its sense of self-preservation within that short time frame for it to realise that it’s not a good idea to do that again. Or if you want the dog to repeat a positive behaviour, the reward must come immediately.
I’m an identical triplet, and I grew up in a large Irish family. When we came out, my mother had two breasts and one pair of hands, and there were four other children, and more kids after us. My old man said: ‘John, first; Andrew, second; Martin, last. You’ll do everything in that order.’ Growing up, we understood it’s not about you; it’s about how you fit in with one another. If you have several dogs, you need to feed and greet them according to their rank, from top dog down.
You go first
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