When Bill West was asked about his training method, he said, “It is dog psychology.” When Cesar Milan was asked about his training method, he said, “It is dog psychology.” What is dog psychology? Simply put, it is working with the dog’s mind and his mental or behavior characteristics. When you use dog psychology, you are relating to dogs the way they relate to each other or as Dave Walker liked to say, “You are getting down on the dog’s level.”
Dogs are pack animals and they relate to others — both dogs and humans, as either dominant or submissive to them. Bottom line is for your dog to respect you he must see you as dominant. Once you earn his respect, he becomes the follower and you become the leader. Exercising dominance over your dog is not about being mean to your dog or your dog being fearful of you. Dominance is about leadership and maintaining balance in the pack.
Bill and Cesar understood that before training can begin you must first gain the dog’s respect and establish yourself as leader. In the West method, the check-cord is used in formal training to gain the dog’s respect in the field. But even before formal training begins, you can establish yourself as leader by following some simple exercises that Cesar does around the house and kennel. “Claiming” things is one important way dogs establish dominance. Dogs claim things all the time. Ever watch a puppy make a wide circle around an older dog? The older dog is claiming the space around himself. Ever watch a puppy start to go thru a doorway and then let the older dog go first? The older dog has claimed the doorway. How about watching a dog guard his food or a toy? He is claiming it.
As a human you need to claim things around you to become your dog’s leader. For example, if your dog crowds you or jumps up, you need to claim the space around you. If your dog charges thru the doorway before you, you need to claim the doorway and walk through first. Same deal when you open the gate to his kennel. You need to claim the gate and expect him to wait until you give him permission to exit. Ditto with food. Put his food bowl down but claim it before allowing him to eat. It is important to understand that none of these exercises are taught in the traditional sense with commands or treats. These exercises are not obedience. They are dog psychology. You claim things the same way your dog claims things—with energy, and every time you claim something, you are exercising dominance over your dog.
How do you claim something? For example, how do you claim a doorway? Here is how I do it. I stand at the doorway and face the dog. Cesar says, “You want to be calm assertive but quietly in control.” As funny as it sounds, I try to imagine myself as a bouncer at a club who silently claims ownership of the entrance. You know the type of guy — he doesn’t need to say anything. If the concept of claiming things is new to you, you may want to read “Cesar’s Way” or tune into the Dog Whisperer on National Geographic Channel.
When do you start becoming your dog’s leader? You can get started right away. Here is how I do it. My dogs are kennel dogs so when I get a new dog into the kennel, I begin claiming the doorway, gate, and food. I also claim the space around me so the dog learns not to jump up. With puppies I begin around 6 weeks old. I go slowly taking a couple of weeks to let the new dog or puppies figure out what I’m doing, and before long they are letting me go thru the doorway first. They step back when I open the gate, and they wait for their food. When you learn to claim things and show your dog that you are dominant, he becomes the follower and you become the leader. And once you become the leader, everything you do with your dog around the house, kennel and field becomes enjoyable.