I’m not into reality TV. But, like driving past a bad car wreck, sometimes you can’t help yourself and you look. Last night, Kevin and I were channel surfing and stopped briefly on a reality TV show that was about these two grown-up (and I use that term loosely) boys and their dog, Meaty, a young, good-natured English bulldog. The boys were suffering through the angst and fear of Meaty nearly dying after choking on a bone. I guess it was the veterinarian in Kevin that made him unable to resist watching for a moment. In the end Meaty was fine and the guys were ecstatic at his recovery and return home from the animal hospital.
After watching about 8 minutes of the next episode, however, I couldn’t take it anymore and had to go find something more productive to do. Apparently, the boys had forgotten to teach Meaty not to use the bathroom in their reality TV house, and he was leaving little brown packages for them everywhere. They decided to call in a dog psychic to fix Meaty’s “little problem”. The dog psychic took one look at Meaty and told the boys that Meaty was upset because he didn’t have a mother figure in his life and that’s why he was pooping all over the house. That’s when I left.
Now, the way I see it, Meaty is a dog with a people problem, not the other way around. The boys were teaching him to ride a skateboard (right next to their in-ground pool), but it never occurred to them that they should teach him some basic house manners. The dog psychic (and I use that term loosely, as well) was almost right, but it wasn’t that Meaty needed a mother figure in his life. Meaty simply needed an established leader in his “pack”. There wasn’t one. All he had at this point were siblings who were fun to play and skateboard with. Dogs don’t think it is necessary to defer to siblings, as in “you’re not the boss of me”. Come to think of it, neither do human children.
The best behaved dogs live in households where a clear hierarchy exits. A canine pack in the wild always has Alpha members, clearly established leaders who demand, and receive, respect and deference from the other members of the pack. Alpha members literally lead the pack. They eat the choicest parts of any kill, they mate first, sleep in the best spots, and control and allow grooming. So, it is unwise to let them race ahead of you on walks, feed them from your dining table, rest on your alpha spaces, or humanize them too much. Dogs communicate primarily with body language, and they definitely watch ours. Once they assume Alpha status in their own minds, they have no motivation to abide by our rules. In fact, in dog world, it is their responsibility as a pack leader to control us.
But, getting back to the original issue . what do you do if your dog is leaving piles of poop all over your house? Establishing yourself as leader is key in basic dog training. Ideally, you’ll have done this when the dog is a pup, and there are many gentle methods for doing this. Simply being in charge of their food, a very valuable resource, puts you in a position of higher authority in the dog’s mind. So, put the dog on a feeding schedule, and do not leave it for him to eat at his discretion. Repetition and consistent, scheduled trips outside to a designated toilet area are also required to fix this problem. Also, don’t set them up to fail by allowing them unrestricted access to your house. A well supervised dog doesn’t have opportunity to do destructive things to a household. Therefore, close-tether training and kenneling are valuable and effective techniques for basic training and behavior modification.
Meaty wasn’t upset because he didn’t have a mother figure. Meaty simply didn’t have anyone overseeing basic training and house rules on a consistent basis, and unfortunately, a lot of dogs don’t. Meaty’s owners viewed him as their little buddy, not the four-legged child that he is. Dogs definitely need playmates, but more importantly, they need kind, predictable and consistent authority figures in their world. When they don’t have one, you’re gonna get a lot of “little brown” packages on the floor.