#1 Cause of Dog Behavior Issues: TOO MUCH FREEDOM!

by Camilla Gray-Nelson

When dealing with dogs, we must THINK like a dog.  With dog behavior issues, it’s not what we do that matters, but how the dog PERCEIVES what we do.  When we give our dog too much freedom – the freedom to patrol the entire yard or property while we are gone, the freedom to hike off leash without voice control, the freedom to roam about the house and explore with no restrictions, the freedom to sniff, pull, and investigate at will on our walks…we are sending a potentially dangerous  message!

In a dog’s world, freedom is relative, and associated with power. What you are allowed or not allowed to do is directly related to your position in the pack hierarchy.  The dog at the bottom of the social hierarchy has relatively little freedom. He cannot possess anything, as all resources are controlled by the Top Dog. He cannot eat when he feels like it, as the more dominant dogs eat their fill first, leaving him the crumbs, if any. He can’t even take a mate, as breeding rights are the exclusive property of the Top Dog. But he follows direction, is obedient to others, and happily accepts his place in the group.

The Top Dog, on the other hand, has unlimited freedom. When you are at the top, there is no one above you to say, “I don’t allow that.” If no one is controlling his behavior then he is, by definition, the One in Charge. His freedom is evidence of his rank. As Top Dog, everything belongs to him and nothing is denied him. He is free to go where he wants, do what he wants and have what he wants. Does your dog go where he wants, do what he wants, and have what he wants? Think about it. We assume we’re expressing love by allowing such unrestricted freedoms, but we may be instead, creating a monster.

When we give our dog unrestricted freedom, from his perspective, we are telling him that he is in charge and that he need not listen to anyone. Since he makes the rules – he need not follow them. When we ask that dog to do something for us, or stop doing something else, we will be ignored or worse – perhaps disciplined with a bite. Have you ever been ignored by your dog? Has your dog ever growled at you? Now you know why s/he’s exhibiting these dog behavior issues.

Control your dog. Limit his freedoms. Even if there is no practical reason to do so, do it anyway – because you can. For a happy, safe relationship with a dog, YOU must be perceived as his superior and the one that makes the rules. It doesn’t require yelling; it simply requires control and limiting of freedom.

  1. Instead of turning your dog out on the entire property or yard when you leave, build a nice dog run, and use it.
  2. When you walk your dog, do not let him roam ahead, sniff at will, and own the sidewalk. Limit his acceptable space to that beside or behind you.  If you need help with pulling, consult with a good trainer.  (I know one!)
  3. At home with your dog, do not allow him to leave the room you are in. (He can’t chew up your daughter’s sheepskin boots if he can’t sneak off to her closet). Something as simple as this sends a powerful message to the dog about who is really in charge in the household.

Limit your dog’s freedom and maximize your own control, and it will fundamentally change your relationship with your dog. Love him, but control him.

Wouldn’t having a dog that listens and obeys be a great way to start the New Year?  You CAN do it!

Diva

About Camilla Gray-Nelson

When I started training dogs professionally, it was women who sought out my help. Responsibility for the family dog typically falls to them, after all. Their homes were in chaos; they were yelling at their dogs – and their kids – and couldn’t control either one. The life skills of personal power that I learned as a child (and assumed everyone else had, too), turned out to be rare among my clients. Since that time, it has been my personal goal to share Nature’s message of quiet power with women (and men) everywhere to help them become more effective not only with their dogs, but in their greater lives as well.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

@0301Beth January 4, 2013 at 4:20 pm

Reading this article gave me hope! I am a fairly new dog owner and through circumstance have a 1.5 year old yellow lab (83#) and an 8 month labradoodle (64# and growing). They are loving and fairly calm in the house but when I come home after work–it’s a different story, and I know I need training!! Last night they knocked my legs out from under me and down went my 53 year old body! I was glad it was dark outside. They are starting to run into me more and more and I’m fairly certain Im not the top dog. My goal is to be and I need all the help I can get! Thank you.

Camilla January 4, 2013 at 7:00 pm

Hey, Beth:

Never fear. To get you started on your new path of control, you can either read EVERY post on this blog…or pick up a copy of my book, LIPSTICK AND THE LEASH: Dog Training a Woman’s Way. Instead of focusing on “training’, it guides the reader through the real missing link: Leadership! Any dog can be trained in commands, but being obedient and the dog deferring their will to yours is not about commands; it’s about Leadership. Who leads and who follows? Who has the power of rank and leverage in the relationship? (Hint: cookies aren’t leverage and they do not convey status.)

Consider some of my specialized tools to reign in freedom and get more control over your dogs. For starters, I would recommend my training can kit, Puppy Training in a Can, available on my http://www.dogtalkstore.com online store. The kit of three training cans comes with a complete User’s Guide and directions for controlling jumping, barking, digging, stealing food and more!

Good luck and stay in touch!

-Diva

Russell April 16, 2013 at 9:17 am

do you ever let them have freedom? or do you work your way up from there?

Camilla Gray-Nelson April 16, 2013 at 10:40 am

Yes! Your dog will gradually “earn” increasing amounts of freedom, as he shows that he can handle it responsibly and without it going to his head. You will know when he has been given too much too soon, as his behavior and obedience will start to decline. Just rein him in for a while and try again later. Sometimes one step back makes for two steps forward!

-Diva

Michelle September 12, 2013 at 9:39 am

Hello I have a ten week old rottweiler and I bring her to work everyday and I do keep and eye on her all day, she stays in my office, but when I walk out into the warehouse I let her run around and sometimes when it’s time to go back to work she doesn’t want to come because she knows that she will be in the office for a while. My question is do I keep her leashed up even when I go out to the warehouse? I also have a grassy area where she does her potty training and he almost has that down, but sometimes potty time is play time for her. I don’t leash her up when she goes potty, should I leash her up? Thank you

Jecica May 17, 2014 at 6:01 pm

This article is every well said. It makes perfect sense.

Camilla Gray-Nelson September 26, 2014 at 7:46 am

Hi, Michelle,

Thanks for your question re: free running vs. leash time for your new puppy. The effort and control that you put in now with your puppy will pay off in dividends later.

As your girl grows and matures, each week she will experiment with new ways to test her own limits and boundaries. You must be ready for this, and keeping a leash on her– especially when you take her to bigger, more open spaces — will gradually convince your pup that you are, indeed, the Queen. A regular leash for walks to the warehouse, and a long line for potty breaks should do it, especially if your outdoor potty area is not fenced in.

Of course, your goal is to be able to take your dog into the warehouse and outside for potty without a leash, but in order to do that, she will need to be reliable at the recall. One of the easiest ways I’ve found to get a reliable recall is by using the Come command each time you feed your dog. Distance is not important; just that they start associating “Come” with a favorite thing, like breakfast or dinner…or snacks!

Good luck with your beautiful girl, and keep me posted.

Diva

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