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Who’s the Boss?

I first wrote this story when my dog Chico and my Dad were still alive.  They’ve passed now but I’ve decided for simplicity’s sake to not change the present tense narrative.


A question came up recently during my training sessions regarding dogs, rules and the confusion that arises in a household where people cannot remain consistent with those rules.  In one case, there are active children who all try to command the dog at once, making understanding difficult for the dog.  In another, a person of poor health is unable to be in charge and the dog takes advantage.

In both households, there is one person who is in charge and/or taking care.  Where the dog is concerned, this person is the boss.  This person will be responsible for the formal training of the dog and will be responsible for looking out for the dog’s welfare.

Common sense will have to prevail.  It is wonderful that the children want to be involved; that they practice the commands.  It’s important that the dog learns to answer to children.  It will be up to “the boss” to ensure that the children take turns; that they remain calm and do the commands properly.

In the other household it will be necessary for proper boundaries to be in place.  If the dog is to share a room and the dog is unable to control its behavior, the dog needs to be contained to an area of the room, not have full run, until the dog understands the rules.  Training will need to take place in that room so that the dog can learn the invisible boundaries, the abstracts required by humans.  “Yes, you may approach me to say hello as I lie on the couch but you’re not allowed to jump on me, pull on my clothing or behave in any manner other than with calm and respect.”

When I first adopted Chico he came with seven years of learned behaviors.  In his old household he had always been allowed on the furniture, he had always been allowed to growl at and intimidate people, he had been taught to dominate everything.  It took me two years to really get that turned around.  He still has the occasional failure and I have to accept that this may be so forever; I will always have to be watchful for signs of inappropriate behavior.  I accepted responsibility for Chico when I adopted him; that responsibility is for life.

For the most part, Chico is a star and frequently fills me with pride.  As time has gone on, the better he understands what is expected of him, the more I can introduce nuances, “cheats” to the rules that apply only in specific situations.  For instance, my father isn’t as mobile as he once was.  He loves Chico and wants to pat him and snuggle but is unable to get down to Chico’s level.  Chico has learned that in Dad’s house, the rules are bent.  Chico is allowed to jump up onto my father’s lap while Dad sits in his favorite chair.  “Chico, up, up!” says Dad.  Chico is to be still and accepting; he sits quietly while Dad strokes Chico’s fur and scratches his ears.  Chico loves this and drinks it in.  When Dad has had enough, Chico jumps down and returns to the bed I provide for him whenever we visit someone.  That is the consistent rule. 

“On your bed, Chico.”

Unless something specific is happening that involves Chico he knows that he is to be on his bed, whether we are home or away.  I could be cooking, cleaning or watching TV.  I could be at a friend’s birthday dinner party.  No matter.  “On your bed.”

“Good on your bed, Chico, good boy.”

Note: In Chico’s final years, all aggression was gone, he was exemplary in his behavior and showed a particular kindness to those in need.  Bless you, Chico.

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