The Canine Ecosystem© is broadly defined as a dog’s environment. Within this environment all resources must be controlled and managed inside the home and outside by the dog’s leader. If a dog is living in a multi-person residence, everybody living in the residence is the leader of the dog. The controlling and management of resources (space and things) includes access to food, water, treats, toys, other dogs or people for play, the ride in the car and social engagements, for example. In short, anywhere your dog goes is their Canine Ecosystem© and you control access to everything.
As responsible dog owners, we must have complete control of our dogs in all situations in their Canine Ecosystem©. If your dog is taken to leash-free areas, experiences city walks and sounds (sirens, loud bus or truck motors, construction sites), joins you at a street festival, playground, school yard, parks or picnic areas, campgrounds, entering a new building, or on and off public transit: the objective is for your dog to be calm, obedient and be under your control. When the dog experiences a situation for the first time they look to you for reassurance, they look for leadership. To achieve this trust must be established between you and your dog. Building trust to become your dogs leader will take time patience and persistence. Do not get out willed or outsmarted by a dog.
Clients often ask: how long will it take to reach my training goals with my dog? The response, without being evasive: it takes as long as it takes. Dogs, similar to people, learn at different rates. Dogs have different levels of drive, focus and intelligence. Different dogs excel in different areas of day-to-day life from physical and mental perspectives.
Dogs need structure, rules and leadership (SRL). A dog with no SRL will be void of consistent good behaviour. It is common to hear that a dog is good on a leash, until they see another dog. Some owners of such dogs go so far as to cross the street to avoid another dog, this should not be the case. This is an example of unwanted behavior that needs to be managed. A lack of SRL in a dog’s life will lead to frustration of many players in the dog’s Canine Ecosystem©: family members, delivery people, house guests, and neighbors, strangers on the street or dog park and other dogs to list a few. The other key player to express frustration: the dog. Some frustrations experienced by people in the Canine Ecosystem© where there is no SRL could be: destruction of property belonging to household and non-household members, digging, incessant barking when people come to the front door or at night or when the dog is left alone, hand biting, dog fights, leash pulling or forms of aggression to other dogs or people. A dog with no SRL could jump on, chase or attack family and strangers alike. A dog with no SRL has potentially catastrophic downside consequences and very little in the way of upside. Owners of dogs with no SRL often make excuses for their dog’s unwanted actions. Some excuse examples: s/he’s just a puppy, we haven’t started training yet, we are waiting until s/he is a year old, sorry s/he gets excited easily, s/he’s a rescue and s/he does not mean it. These are all examples of dog owners increasing their tolerance levels and absolving themselves for not training their dog. When a dog comes into the house, human behaviour is not to be modified. Dog behaviour is modified.
There is no upside to having a dog with no SRL. Examples of downside consequences for a dog with no SRL: muzzle orders, rifts between family members or friends, bites, a soiled personal reputation and of course the ultimate penalty: an order to euthanize the family pet. Losing a pet in this way is a traumatic event for all involved. As people we all have rules we need to follow, for example: traffic rules (think speed limits) there are social rules, rules at work, domestic rules and many more rules for us to learn and follow. It is not different for our dogs. We risk reprimand if we don’t follow rules. for example: you are not going out to play until you finish your carrots or if your room is not cleaned up, no computer time. Why should a dog be excused from this?
For harmonious canine/human relationships, dogs and humans need to be educated and coached. It is our duty as responsible pet owners to help them understand what behaviour we want from them. We need to help them understand what behaviour is acceptable and what is not. In addition to patience, persistence, perseverance and building trust, how is all of this achieved? There is the adage “It all begins at home”. The same applies when we establish SRL and training goals for our dogs.
The home environment is where dogs spend most of their lives. Even if a dog gets four hours of outdoor time, that leaves the dog inside 20 hours a day. Home is where we must have complete control of space and resources in the Canine Ecosystem©. We achieve this by introducing the dog to structure, rules and limitations (SRL) early and practice on a daily basis. How early do we start training a family pet? As soon as the dog arrives in his or her new home on day one, no matter what the age of the dog. Waiting to train the dog any longer is a myth. It is believed imprinting on a pup begins as early as three weeks. The intense process of training a Police dog starts at around eight to ten weeks of age. This is done early to set up a high chance of success in the rigorous of a Police K9 program. The same is true with your pet at home.
Mastering control of your dog at home will set the foundation for having a well behaved dog. If we do not have control over our dogs indoors, it is not fair for us to expect our pet to have a leash clipped on, go outside and be well behaved: no leash pulling, lunging, growling or barking at; other dogs, people on bikes, skateboarders, runners, cars, buses or strollers. It is also not fair to expect the dog to be calm in all situation, familiar or otherwise. your dog should ideally not to be panicked by sirens, loud vehicles, car alarms, lawn mowers, power tools, construction sites and any other sound or object that may be distracting or alarming.
How do we achieve this level of control in all situations, including the uncontrollable or unforeseeable? By following the principles of the Canine Ecosystem©. It all starts at home.