To any pet owner, their beloved furry kid isn’t just a mere pet, but another addition to their family. It’s, thus, natural to want to smother one’s dog in love and attention. However, there will come a time whereby the love and care given to your furkid becomes a tad too much. This desire to treat it like a family member and by extension, as a human being, is a considerable mistake that can overturn the owner-pet dynamic and will eventually harm your pet dog.
Unlike that of a human society, our canine companions navigate through a pack hierarchy where the leader is there to keep things in order whilst the followers need the leader to guide them. In the owner-pet dynamic, you are expected to be the pack leader. To give your pet dog constant affection without rules and limits will tempt the dog to give in to its instinct to take over as the pack leader.
It’s easy to share your affection with your dog, and the warmth that you receive can be seen as reciprocation – even when it means entirely different in the dog world. Learn how your love can be misinterpreted as something entirely different by your dog and discover where you truly stand in the relationship.
Too Much Attention
When you have an adorable pet dog, you’d want to smother it in kisses, hugs and pets. Whilst this translates as acts of affection and love, it can mean entirely different in a dog’s perspective. In fact, your pet dog may see these actions stemming from the desire to please. This immediately puts you in a subservient position and as a result, will encourage your dog to display alpha dog tendencies.
Space is part and parcel of the pack hierarchy. Boundaries are set and only those who are above can intrude into the space established by those in the lower ranks. So if your dog is always leaning on you, using its nose to signal for you to start petting, or constantly licking your face – these may not be signs of affection. Your dog is displaying dominant behaviours, and unless you establish limit and rules, it will continue to think that it’s the alpha leader and you’re the follower.
Too Many Comforting Touches
On a similar tangent, touches can mean very different things. Apart from being acts of affection, they can also mean to be comforting. This is mostly accepted in the human context, but for a dog, such touches are seen as affirmation and will intensify the dog’s current state of mind. It signals the dog that whatever they’re doing or feeling at the present moment, whether it’s positive or negative, that they should continue doing or feeling as such.
Without rules and boundaries, these touches can easily be seen as reinforcement and your dog is bound to repeat the mistakes that they’ve just done. If your dog has a traumatic experience, instead of letting it navigate through the situation all on its own, you’d be letting it fester in its traumatic bubble. Dogs generally don’t view comfort the way we do; they are always looking for a strong, stable being to feed from.
Too Much Freedom
Some pet owners let their pets have freedom around the house. Whilst it may seem like a good thing, certain acts can lead to behavioural problems in the near future. For instance, the simple act of leaving a bowl full of dog food may seem convenient for the owners as the dog can have access to food whenever it’s hungry. But that act is also symbolic: the fact that the food will signal to the dog that the area is it’s turf. Should somebody it doesn’t particularly like intrude into its space, the dog may just be aggressive and lash out.
The First Few Steps
The owner-pet dynamic isn’t just important in regulating a dog’s behaviour, but also its mental health. Humans often give the dog mixed leadership signals – that is purely based on ignorance and miscommunication. This will throw the dog off balance and confuse its psyche, effectively leading to several psychological and behavioural problems. An unclear owner-pet dynamic is also the number one cause for separation anxiety in dogs. If your dog sees you as a follower and you leave that post, it can be mentally stressful and will take out its frustration on your house, itself or others. When left with strangers for some time, for instance, when you engage in basic grooming for dogs, they will have a greater tendency to assert their dominance as a form of self-preservation. It will be unhealthy for both the dog and the people around it.
Start by establishing rules and boundaries. The most straightforward approach is to have your pet learn basic manners such as sit, stay and lie down. Setting commands will automatically put you in an authoritative position.
Another ritual that should always be in practise is to take your dog for a walk. Not only does this allow your dog to engage in a form of exercise, but giving them a walk also will enable it to release its mental stress. However, do take note that your dog shouldn’t walk in front of you, but must always be either beside you or behind you. Instinct will tell your dog that only leaders walk in the front, and giving it the freedom to sniff its surrounding or relief wherever it pleases will further undermine your role as a pet owner.
As humans, we naturally have no clue as to the thought process of an animal, even if that animal has been a pet for quite some time. Whilst we have successfully domesticated dogs, we aren’t able to de-animalize an animal and remove its instincts altogether. Instead, as responsible owners, we will need to adapt and learn how to navigate through the relationship. If you’re not quite sure how to, contact a reputable and ethical dog trainer and they’ll give you the ropes!