Love is probably the most defined and written about concept in human existence. For purposes of this discussion, I will allow the term to define itself. The same can be said for affection. It is self-defining. Love and affection are often used together. In fact, if you google love, the first meaning offered is “an intense feeling of deep affection.” So for the time being, let’s leave our human concept of love. We can agree most humans understand and know how to express love and often this is through the acts of affection. But I submit that expressions of human love and affection are not necessarily understood nor advisable when we are trying to manage and train a dog. I will try to explain how expressions of love and affection often eat away at leadership,
The same can not be said for the word leadership. Whenever I define leadership as it relates to dogs, I include the phrase, “not dominance” right next to it. This is to remind the dog fancier that dominance is more of a pack behavior driven concept, one related more to the interaction of the particular species of canine, the inter-canine relationships of a canine pack, no human included. When a trainer tells you that you must be the alpha of your relationship with your dog, you should call into question his true understanding of all that is dog, We are by nature of the relationship with our dogs their leader. We feed them, provided shelter, care, water virtually everything it wants or needs. We provide for their physical and emotional needs and when we look in their eyes, they are actually accepting our leadership and dependence on us. This evolved relationship is about 60,000 years old. For the past several years there has been a change in the relationship. This change is not the fault of the dog. It is the fault of love and affection and the immense popularity of dogs due to what I will call sociological reasons. I will leave that discussion to the sociologists. Simply put, dog ownership has exploded. Statistics bear this out I quote a few statistics. Three-fourths of Americans in their 30’s have dogs and since 1996 the pet industry has increased three-fold to a $63 billion industry. The increase is in expensive pet products, clothes for the dogs and frivolous products. This is all complicated by the owners desire to please and “love” the dog. It extends to the treatment and relationship which seems to forgo leadership for love. Let me explain.
Love and physical affection have no place in dog training. Not that we should not love our dogs and treat them lovingly, its just when we begin to handle them too much in a loving manner, stare at them excessively (an act of aggression they accept from their owners), treat them like little children, or excite them too much with praise, they are unable to comprehend this as love, but rather see themselves as the leader. They take over the couch or bed as theirs, resource guards their owners or other objects and generally take over the leadership role. I am not saying there is not a place for affection in the relationship, but it should be given in a controlled manner. It should never be given while training. Praise is ok, but that should not be excessive either. A “good dog” or treat is sufficient. While training, these understandable acts of love and affection to the dog. This is also leadership. Training is the most important form of love and leadership you can ever give a dog. It is a true bonding experience for you and the animal. An extra bonus is a well-behaved dog. It takes time. Positive training takes a little more time and patience than punishment based training. This is the true measure of love. If owners would spend more money on training their dogs and less money on fancy collars, clothing, worthless toys (interactive learning and busy toys are good) and exotic grooming, they would find their dogs better companions. I always say that dogs make lousy leaders. They came to us for a better life, this does not mean we should forfeit our natural leadership and governance to them. Love your dog. Show your dog affection, but do it in a way that does not forfeit your leadership.