One of the biggest misconceptions about humans and dogs is the ‘boss-idea’. The idea that in a human-canine-relationship the human should be the boss of the dog. If not, the dog will be the boss and this will cause a lot of trouble.
This is a ridiculous idea. It is simply not how things work and it causes a lot of trouble in the relationship between humans and dogs. That is why I will explain how it does work, in real life.
Dogs and humans have been living together for thousands of years. Not in a boss-subordinate hierarchy, but in a relationship based on mutual respect and the idea of working together. We use each others assets to obtain a mutual goal. Like food and safety. This requires a good cooperation and an understanding between dog and human. You can see how this works with dogs that really work with their human, like police dogs, herding and hunting dogs. The police officer is not the boss of the police dog and the police dog is not the boss of the police officer. They know each other thoroughly, they know each others strong points, needs and limits and they work with that. They work together, as a team.
Nowadays a lot of humans live together with dogs, but they do not work together. They walk their dog, usually not paying much attention to the dog. I see this a lot: the human is talking to another human or into this strange device they seem to carry with them all the time. The dog is sniffing the air and pulling the human on the leash to where he wants to go. There is no interaction whatsoever.
And that is where the trouble begins. Humans don’t seem to understand that they have to work with us, in order to have a good companion in us. They think we will not lie on the couch or jump over the fence or dig holes in the garden or whatever it is that they don’t like, just because they told us they don’t like that. So when we do, they’ll complain to other humans that their dog is not listening and they will probably hear that they “have to be the boss”.
But this is not how it works. Look at the tv-shows of Cesar Millan, the famous dog whisperer. A lot of humans seem to think that he is the guy who promotes the conception of a human being the boss and the dog the subordinate. But I see something else. The dogs he works with are usually bad mannered or downright crazy. He has to be clear with them from the start and that may seem bossy. He sometimes even pushes a dog to the ground, forcing him to be subordinate. Whenever I see this in his show, I look the other way. I think it is embarrassing for the dog, his friends will never take him serious again. If Mr. Millan would do that to me, I would certainly bite him. Happily, he hardly ever comes to Holland.
Anyway, when you see his show, take a better look at what he does after his so-called disciplining the dog: he starts working with them. And that makes sense. He makes sure they get the exercise they need. He investigates their special needs and works with that – he lets them herd sheep, for instance. And what is very important: he really interacts with the dog, all his attention and focus is directed to the dog. That is what makes him a dog whisperer. The same applies to my personal trainer, the Dutch dog whisperer. She is there, she focusses on her dogs. She knows them and their needs and she works with them. You can see the result: we are a happy pack.
So here’s the clue: you do not need to be a boss, but you have to build a relationship with your dog. When you have true focus and attention, you will receive the same from us. We will get to know each other and work together. Sometimes the human will tell the dog what to do and that is fine – this is a complicated world and following the human directions may keep you safe. Sometimes the human will depend on the dog, because we have certain abilities that humans have not. Like tracking down tasty bits of pizza. Or finding the best way to cross the ocean!
Not every dog can be a police dog or a herding dog. But you can go out together and have Adventures. Enjoy the weather, enjoy being outdoors, have fun. Do games together. Forget about being boss. Be together. That is what makes a human-canine-relationship one of the most special relationships in the world.