Are You the Leader of Your Pack?

Most of you have probably seen or heard about National Geographic Channel's The Dog Whisperer with Cesar Millan. Briefly, Cesar rehabilitates dogs with behavior problems and believes that most dog problems are caused by humans not providing their dogs with leadership. In most cases, Cesar solves the dog's problem by teaching the human family members how to be good leaders. Some of you might be asking yourself how this might apply to greyhounds. Well, greyhounds can have problems too. Plenty of greyhounds suffer from separation anxiety. Some may growl or snap if a human attempts to join the greyhound on the couch. Others live with shyness or fear. I believe many of these problems can be prevented or improved if the humans demonstrate leadership. I want to encourage you to become a better leader for your current dogs and for future dogs. Even if you adopted years ago, you can step up to the plate at anytime and improve the lives of all of your dogs. Even if you consider your dogs to be perfect now, there may be a situation in the future (move to new house, new baby, new dog, travel, bad storm, death of a family member, etc.) that may lead to problems you have never experienced before. If you are always a strong leader, your dog should have nothing to fear and should take it all in stride.

In the beginning, it can be overwhelming for a greyhound to be suddenly removed from a greyhound pack and placed into a pack of humans. When the humans allow the greyhound free access to the entire house and onto furniture, allow the greyhound to dictate schedules and to determine when the household should wake up in the mornings, and shower the greyhound with affection around every turn, a greyhound can suddenly become very concerned that there is not any clear leadership in this new pack. With no rules to follow and free flowing attention and affection, a greyhound may find the need to step into the leadership role. Most adopters simply want to love their pet, but without structure, this can create a lot of stress. The greyhound may not be able to understand or trust that you know best when you put the greyhound in a crate and leave for work. To make matters worse, some people feel guilty and struggle with leaving their greyhound behind. To the dog, the person looks incompetent and suddenly this incompetent person is confining you and the person leaves the house to take on the world. To the dog who has been given the leadership position, this is an extremely stressful and anxious situation to be in.

If you are dealing with a more confident dog, you may not see signs of separation anxiety, but the greyhound may quickly lay claim to the furniture and then begin telling the humans to keep their distance when he or she is snoozing on the couch. Others may claim the space around their beds on the floor. This is not good either. The humans should own all of the space and if the dog is annoyed, he or she should yield to the human and leave the area. Snapping should never be considered acceptable.

Maybe your greyhound is at the opposite extreme and is very shy and timid. These fearful canines crave to be told where to go and what to do. They want to be able to trust that their humans will confidently lead them through danger and keep them safe. If the humans do not demonstrate leadership qualities, but instead try to comfort the shy dog during fearful situations, then the shy dog may never improve.

So how does one become a good leader? If our family (new adopter looking to prevent problems or an adopter looking to improve current problems) withholds affection initially and focuses their energy on exercising, implementing rules, and adhering to the family schedule, then the canine family member can relax, adjust, and take it all in. Here are a few examples of rules you can implement:

  1. Keep your greyhound off the furniture. This is especially important if you have kids or might have kids in the future. If in the future (one that does not include children), you decide to allow your greyhound on the couch, it should be because you invited he or she. Not because the dog discovered it and you never blocked it. It is best if it is your idea and not the dog's. If you cannot easily remove your greyhound from the couch, then he or she should not be up there.
  2. Make your greyhound wait to eat. Do not prepare food until he or she is calm and quiet. Stop preparing the food, if your dog begins to get excited anytime during the process. Once he or she calms down, you can continue. When you finally do put the food on the ground, make the greyhound stand back and wait until you tell he or she that it is ok. Using your foot to block your greyhound from getting to the food too soon works well. You must follow through. It might take an hour to feed your dog the first time you try this, but each day will become faster and faster. If you give up, you lose the battle and become a follower.
  3. Do not allow your greyhound to walk you. I see lots of adopters follow behind as their greyhounds drag them along. You should make those decisions. Too many people simply do not walk their dogs because they find that all the pulling, stopping, and sniffing to be too much of a hassle. Simply, insist that the greyhound keep moving with you until you reach an area suitable for stopping and sniffing. Then you can let the slack out in the leash and let him have some free time to do what he wants. When you decide the time is up, move along.
  4. Do not allow your greyhound to sniff food on counters or tables or to approach you while you are eating. If you are sitting at your table eating dinner, your dog should mind his or her manners and give you space to eat.

Families should make up their own rules. If a particular room contains a prized teddy bear collection, you do not have to allow your dog into that room. If the humans want to cuddle with their dog on a particular sofa while watching TV, but do not want to sleep all night in a bed together, that is a good rule to implement. If there is something you do not want your greyhound to do, do not allow it.

Once your greyhound understands how the household flows and how things work, then you can start giving affection at times when your greyhound is doing what you have asked. By then your greyhound should be well on his or her way to becoming a great pet.

Copyright © 2007 Never Say Never Greyhounds