From the experiences and perspectives of reputable canine obedience instructors, animal behaviourists and veterinary ethologists one of the most difficult messages to communicate to dog owners as a basic rule of human-canine interaction is to do nothing!
The inherent inability for people to learn to do nothing is a clear indication that most humans do not have the slightest clue how to communicate effectively with pet dogs. Doing nothing, in basic terms, is ignoring undesirable or inappropriate behaviour. This attitude is what the pack leader instinctually metes out to members that are out of line within the group system – it is the basis of wolf and dog pack calming signals. Doing nothing is ensuring that you do not respond to patterns of behaviour that you do not want from your pet dog in the short-term or long-term. Doing nothing creates an aloofness and respect which every dog owner should apply in order to avoid behaviour problems and for the sake of emotional and mental stability within the pet.
The vast majority of dog owners are under the false impression that they have to react to every one of their pets’ whims and fancies, for fear that they may be regarded by others or have the self-conscious guilt trip of not being caring enough. There is a category of people who thoroughly enjoy to the conditioned abuse received from being dominated by their pets – many are aware, many admit to it but they continue to being submissively vigilant.
The practical applications where a dog owner should do nothing are when visiting a house and meeting someone else’s dog, coming home to their own pets, when teaching their new impressionable pup during its sensitive socialization period and when departing from home and leaving the dogs behind. What does it mean to the dog owner when one implies “doing nothing”?! It simply means not going over to the dog to comfort it, not talking to it, not picking it up if it is a small breed, not gazing into its eyes giving “instructions” and allowing the dog to work out things for itself. One is not being denied conveying affection by patting, cuddling or talking to your pet – you can give all this, at the appropriate time which is when the dog is calm, behaving properly and is not demanding. All one is asked is to ignore bad behaviour and reward good behaviour.
Any unacceptable behaviour such as excessive excitability, jumping up, barking, demanding attention, whining etc. must be dealt with in a manner whereby these bad manners are not reinforced by the dog owner by shouting, gesticulating, pushing, shoving, hitting and so on. All these typical human reactions of high anxiety merely enhance the pet’s neurosis and aggravate the dog’s behaviour. As an example one can relate to the dog going out of control when it detects a certain trigger such as the owner taking out the leash and collar with the intention of going for a walk. Ideally one should fetch the equipment, place the items on a table, wait for the dogs to calm, by doing nothing, and only then do you attach the accessories. The dogs will eventually learn to be calm before they go out walking instead of jumping and yapping with excitement.
There are many dogs that are fearful of certain situations. As examples these may be strange people walking past the house, domestic services, vehicles, other dogs and appliances. If the dog sprints along the fence, barking at passers-by and being a complete nuisance one can approach the problem by putting the dog on lead, stand with the dog at the gate and do nothing. This allows most of the fears to continue in front of the dog without allowing it to run away. Under this calm restraint the dog cannot avoid experiencing the street activities and must confront the inevitable. As the owner you can chat to other people calmly during the process without taking notice of the dog. All you are doing is holding the leash, displaying relaxed body language and doing nothing to the dog. You are not looking at it. You are not patting it. You are not talking to it. You are doing nothing! Let the dog develop its own impressions and tolerance towards the environmental activities and potentially fear-inducing stimuli. You need to be patient and calm! When the dog detects your relaxed body language it will, in turn, acquire the sense that you are showing no concerns, so all the trigger mechanisms must be safe. The dog is in constant focus on the owner for reassurance. Human behaviour is highly influential to the dog. You must allow the dog to work things out for itself! If you were to pat it, speak words of comfort while staring at it you will be conveying to the dog that it is rewarding for being neurotic.
During puppy socialization and obedience training one of the applications in teaching people how to behave with their puppies is to exhibit calm, collected behaviour when giving a treat or issuing a command.
People talk too much to their dogs. People touch, pat and hug their dogs too much. People react too much to their dogs. People feel the need to be constantly attentive to all their dog’s needs which are totally the incorrect way of becoming a role model and pack leader. By running around in circles trying to constantly please a dog is tantamount to being subservient to an animal. This is when the relationship goes belly-up. When the dog is made to feel its importance as pack leader, while the human “owner” is submissive in every which way, there will be a creation of multiple behaviour disorders. I have often seen a one-and-a-half kilogram Chihuahua being in total control over a one-hundred-and-twenty kilogram body builder. Size is irrelevant! Mental strength, attitude and being over-privileged are the reasons that most dogs dominate their owners. People do too much to dig a hole for themselves. People work hard at messing up their dog’s life!
When people are sitting, watching television or entertaining guests and the dog walks in and demands attention, people immediately put their hands out, scratch the dog on the head, pout their mouths to look cute, gaze into the dog’s eyes and tell it how cute it is. These uninformed people are allowing the dog to make decisions by offering its attention-seeking cues and being rewarded immediately for being a brat! When this type of spoiled pet approaches and pesters for attention, do nothing! You must never do anything on the dog’s terms. You only do things on your terms! Most people are so insecure that they compensate for this inherent problem by killing their pet with love. This constant loving fulfils human needs but not the dog’s needs!
A calm, relaxed dog in your presence is a reward in itself, from the dog’s perspective. In this situation they feel secure and confident about the people around them. This gives the dog a balance to its life. Even well-trained dogs can be blithering idiots socially. If one’s dogs are pestering visitors and being a social nuisance it is a direct correlation of the owner’s ineffectiveness as a dog-owning pack leader. The dog’s behaviour is a reflection of what transpires within the home.
Badly behaved dogs have untrained owners who constantly reinforce their bad behaviour by always doing something to reward the animal.
Why do people who own pet dogs find that they cannot spend time with them doing nothing?! Is it so difficult to be placid? Chill with the Chow, be cool with the Poodle or passive with the Mastiff is all that is required to take a step towards pack leadership and pet security. All that is proposed is that more dog owners should be composed!