Is your dog stressed?

Dog are seriously underrated animals – especially by people who treat them like dogs.  I give my canine friends the same respect I give people, so, instead of acting like a dog, they behave more like you would expect a civilized person to behave.  If my dog is lying in my path, I don’t kick him and order him to move; I politely ask him to excuse me, please, and he graciously complies.  Then I tell him “thank you” and go on my way.

If you want to know how to deal effectively with your dog to prevent his being unduly stressed, just get acquainted with the general principles of Psychoharmonics™ that apply to people, apply them when you’re interacting with your dog, and you’ll do fine.  As with people, your dog also wants to feel like a 10.  So, with your cooperation toward that end, your happy dog will be eager to please you, and you’ll feel much more affectionate toward your dog.  We (including dogs) love people who make us feel like a 10 and we hate people who make us feel like a zero.

Bonnie, my three-year-old Blue Heeler, enjoys sleeping in my recliner.  Anytime I’m not in it, she’s there.  Even though she gets it a bit dirty and fills it full of hairs that I have to clean out before I can sit down, I don’t fuss at her about it.  If I need the chair, I politely ask her to move and she graciously obliges me, taking long stretches as she dismounts, of course.  Sometimes if I’m in the mud room for just a short visit, I don’t disturb her.  I just take a seat on the steps.  I know that having that privilege, that is, having the use of the alpha leader’s “bed,” is very important to her feeling of self worth, so I don’t begrudge her that bit of stroking.

Keep in mind that dogs, like people, are pack animals.  They want to be part of a healthy pack and follow a strong alpha leader.  If you don’t provide that leadership, then you can expect him, her, or it to attempt to take over that role.  In my earlier days, a mature lady in my office was talking about her darling dachshund and mentioned that she could not “get close to him when he’s eating” because he would bite her.  As I told her, not too diplomatically I’m afraid, she obviously had not assumed the alpha leader role in that household.  The result was she was not happy and neither was her mutt.

When training one of my earlier dear friends, Dallas, a beautiful and sensitive German Shepherd, I could put a piece of chicken in his mouth, turn it loose, then take hold of it again and tell him to release it and – he always did just that.  No fuss, no fight, no hard feelings.  I wouldn’t do that very often, of course, because I didn’t want him to feel like a zero with no rights or privileges.  He just needed to be reminded once in a while that I was the great hunter who brought home the catch of the day, that I had earned my position of alpha leader, and that I was confident I could defeat him if he ever challenged me.  That was real confidence – not fake.  Dogs can tell when you’re faking it.

Dogs also can sense it if you’re afraid of them.  I respect dogs, especially if they are defending their own turf, but I’m not afraid of them.  A few years ago I was jogging down a street a few blocks from my home when I sensed that something was following me.  I turned around and saw two full-grown chows coming at me on a dead run about a hundred yards away.  Instinctively, I whirled around with a full-blown Genetic mindset and started running straight at them, fully intending to kick their butts into next week.  Both dogs put on brakes, slid about ten feet on the sandy concrete, and took off for home as fast as they could go.  They wanted nothing to do with this crazy man who dared to challenge them.  If I had continued running away from them as they would expect their “prey” to do, of course, then I shudder to think what the consequences might have been, especially for my bare legs.  If these had been trained attack dogs on a mission, of course, my aggressive defense might not have worked out quite as well.  Attack dogs are trained to expect resistance and to overcome it.  If you tangle with a large attack dog, the choice usually is kill or be killed.

Now, once you establish yourself as alpha leader with your dog, it’s your job to figure out his value system and help him in his efforts to feel like a 10 most of the time.  He’s calculating his self-worth all the time, just as you are doing with your own. There will be periods during his training, of course, when you, as the 10 person in his life, will have to correct him.  For a little while, he might feel like a zero.  Don’t let him stay there very long.  As with a child, you firmly correct bad behavior, then you pick up and move on, letting him know that you still love him and regard him as a 10.

Don’t expect your dog to achieve impossible goals.  Although your dog has all the emotions that you have, including love, hate, fear, shame, joy, etc, and has a great deal of cognitive ability, he still has some very strong non-human hard-wired programming, and he doesn’t have your opposing thumbs.  Unless he’s been neutered very early, he has a strong mating instinct that he can’t just forget about because you want him to behave like a monk.  He’s also hard-wired to be territorial and to defend his turf.  That’s why most dogs are good “watch dogs,” and some are even suitable to be trained as “guard dogs.”  Watch dogs, of course, just make you aware of an intruder.  Guard dogs tell the intruder to move on or face dire consequences.

No matter how big or small a dog is, he needs companionship, entertainment, exercise, and a territory he can call his own to be physically, mentally, and spiritually healthy.  If you lock a dog up by himself in an apartment all day, don’t expect him to just lie quietly on the floor, ignoring his urge to pee and poop until you return.  You also can expect him to entertain himself by ripping up the furniture and chewing on the door facings.  To top it off, he might exercise himself by romping from one room to the other, jumping on beds and chairs, etc.  And, of course, he will find a good place on your favorite rug to do his business.  In that case, you’re the one who deserves to be punished, not your dog.  Unless you at least can provide your mutt of any size or breed with a dog house in a securely fenced yard where he can stake out his own turf and have a little interaction with the world while you’re away all day, then don’t have a dog.  Get a parakeet or a goldfish.  An even better choice would be a pet rock.  As with human prisoners, keeping a dog in solitary confinement is cruel (but not so unusual) punishment.  Unjustly punished people and dogs alike are not happy and, quite often, they’re not much fun to be around.

If you treat your dog unjustly, he might give you the butt, which is his way of telling you that he now regards you as a zero.  I’m convinced that dogs have labels of some kind for all the important things in their environment.  Otherwise, they would not be able to accurately shift from one mindset to another.  “Person outside the fence” is greeted with a totally different mindset than would a “person invited by alpha leader to come inside the fence.”  When you abuse your dog, his label for you could change in a flash from “Wonderful Alpha Leader” to “Zero Piece of Doggie Doo.”  Once that happens, as with people, it’s not easy to get him to restore that same earlier label of worshipful esteem.

If you really want to stress out your dog and make him neurotic, just stake him out on a chain.  Your dog will feel about as kindly toward that kind of cruel, unnatural treatment as you would if it were done to you.  Most dogs that are cruelly tethered 24 hours per day turn out to very mean and untrustworthy.  When they do get loose, they can be extremely dangerous, especially to a defenseless child.  Many local governments have anti-tethering laws, which shows a great deal of enlightenment on their part.

Just as you cannot set goals for other people, neither can you set goals for your dog.  (You already know that about cats, don’t you?)  With proper training, you can encourage him to set goals for himself that make him a more desirable pet, such as peeing and pooping in the proper place, staying off furniture, chewing on selected items instead of on the good stuff, heeling, sitting, and ceasing barking on command, etc.  A dog that regards you as the 10+ alpha leader will be eager to please you once he figures out what you’re trying to tell him to do.  If you regularly talk to your dog in the same way that you talk to other members of your family, then he’ll soon figure out that those noises coming out of your mouth have meaning.  A bright dog with a clever owner can easily learn to respond to 100 or more words.  Commands limited to one or two words usually work best, but well socialized dogs can pick up on long sentences.  I suspect, however, that they usually pick out one main word that has meaning for them.  When I ask my rescued Blue Heelers, with a few words of affection added, if they want to go pee, I’m sure they pick up mainly on “pee” as they head for the back door with tails wagging.

Dogs, of course, are very skillful at communicating with you, too, if they’re encouraged to tell you what they want or need.  Some of my dogs’ favorite commands to me are, “Let me out to pee,” “Let me out to chase that squirrel,” “I want something to eat NOW,” “I’m in dire need of a good petting,” and so forth.  Once a dog learns your language, when you get the general idea that he wants something, you should be able to play 20 questions with him and find out what it is.  When you hit the right word, such as “food,” you can tell by his body language and maybe his vocalization that you have a winner.

Dogs, as with most people, are not very skillful at recognizing and canceling impossible goals.  When you leave your pooch alone, his goal is for you to return NOW.  Some dogs, even after months of such abuse, still cling to that impossible goal.  As a result, they get neurotic and go crazy when you do come home.  If you’re the only other member of their pack, they might cling to you like Velcro, which can be annoying after the first few minutes of it.  The best cure for that is a good fenced yard and a companion.  Two dogs nearly always will be happier than one dog, especially if they are raised together from puppyhood.  A dog can do things with another dog that he can’t do with you, such as romping like a bullet, play fighting, chasing a chipmunk, etc.

If you have a dog that has staked his claim on your property and you bring home a strange companion, normally you’ll have trouble in River City.  I’m always bringing home rescue dogs, so what I do in such circumstances is keep the two dogs separated by a cross fence for a few days, letting them sniff each other through the wire, and then gradually introduce them in the same enclosure with supervision.  Normally, after a few days, they become good buddies and live happily ever after.  If you have two aggressive-breed males, however, that could be a problem.  I’ve found that you usually do better with two females or a male and a female – all fixed, of course.

Keep in mind that not all dogs are created equal.  They have a wide variety of personalities and skills, depending upon their breed, their earlier programming, and their age.  If you want your dog to be happy and relatively stress-free, you need to figure out what makes your dog feel like a 10.  Some need to be cuddled for long periods, while others do fine with an occasional kind word and a pat on the head.  Most dogs, however, like to have their own space and a few special possessions they can call their own.  My dogs have indoor “huts” in the mud room where they can have their privacy, store their toys, and feel very safe while they’re sleeping.  As natural hunters, they enjoy having their large, partly-wooded back yard where they can menace the few poor critters that still don’t know better than to cross the fence.  They also enjoy having room to run at full speed and play-fight with each other.  With a couple of good meals and a few snacks each day, they seem to pretty much feel like they’ve died and gone to dog heaven.

So, that’s it.  In short, if you want your dog to be relatively stress-free, treat him the same way you treat people that you love.  The first step is to get to know what dogs in general need and then also get acquainted with your dog’s needs in particular.  With that done, if you then do your part toward helping him to feel like a 10 by his value system, your four-legged buddy will experience very little stress and, instead, be blessed with a great deal of joyful living.  And you will be a happy alpha leader of your pack.

The same principles apply for dealing with almost any pet, but especially for social animals ranging from chickens to horses.  As with humans, animals that live in groups will feel motivated to engage in and repeat experiences that make them feel like a 10 and avoid those that make them feel like a zero.  Laying an egg apparently makes a hen very proud.  Much like a human mother who has given birth, once she’s done her deed, a free-range hen will prance around and sing to let the other chickens know of her great and laudable achievement.  As far as I know, however, roosters don’t give out cigars.  Considering the possible fire hazard, I guess that’s a good thing.

 

If you liked this article, you’ll love my new book:

Stress is a Choice; So is Joy
now available at Amazon.com for $2.99
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