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The risks of loving our dog too much.

Updated: Jul 10

We know you love your dog. But there is something like loving your dog too much. Or more so, by catering to him, constantly cooing and petting and a life without boundaries.

Dogs like structure and boundaries to feel safe and happy. That means they need to feel like you can be the leader and that they can count on you to take charge.

Kind of when you start a new job. What feels better?

When you arrive and no one pays attention to you, you can sit wherever you want, do whatever you want and you actually have no idea of what is going on?

Or do you like to be greeted, told where to sit, what the schedule for the day is and what the expectations are to be successful?

I know I prefer the 2nd scenario.

A leader of the dog is often misunderstood and seen as ‘be the boss’, ‘be the alpha’, ‘you need to eat before your dog to establish rank’.

Sorry guys, but that’s not what a leader is.

Leadership is about setting boundaries without the need for intimidation. We want a dog to listen to us because they respect our authority, not because they’re too afraid to make a wrong move.

Like humans, all dogs need love… but we need to make sure we are not spoiling. As with kids, if we give in to every time they whine, cry or have a tantrum.. they learn that’s how they get things. Dogs are very similar that way. And it’s not enjoyable!

Dogs are much happier when they know they are not responsible for making all the difficult decisions leaders have to make. They prefer knowing that you are in charge and often seem happier when they understand that they can count on you to take care of things.

Does that mean you can never relax and have fun with your dog? No. But look at it as a see saw.

If you have 80% worth of love, petting, cuddles, free treats in there.. and only 20% of rules and boundaries, the balance is too far to the freedom zone.

If 80% of the time is strict rules and only 20% of the time some fun, loving and TLC time.. the balance is too far to the strict zone.

So lets see if we can create a 50% / 50% or preferable even a 60% rules and 40% love.

Petting Petting feels great for us and it tells our dog how much we love them. If your dog pushes into you, whenever they want and insist in some way that you pet him.. he isn’t necessarily being sweet, loving or cute.. but really just demanding ‘PET ME’. If you respond to it, you just taught your dog. Hey, that works. If your dog is allowed to get into your space like that whenever they please, soon you end up on a sliding scale of lots of sticky behaviours, like begging for food, demanding play or stealing things like food from the counter.

Especially with dogs that have shown some aggression in the house (growling at you when you sit down on the couch, growling at a partner, resource guarding an object etc) we have to be mindful of a few things.

  • Have your dog do some obedience before you pet them. Come, sit, lie down, spin etc). Petting becomes the reward for listening.

  • Keep it brief. Don’t cuddle with your dog on the couch whilst you’re eating or mindlessly pet your dog whilst just standing around. How about when your dog nudges you to keep going. Do you do that?

  • If you want to start petting, call your dog to you. Don’t go to your dog.

  • If your dog demands petting tell your dog to move or use a body block where you turn away from your dog.

Spatial Pressure

Spatial pressure is my best friend. I use it all day, every day, with every dog and client.

Dogs are physical creatures. They use their body in such detailed ways to communicate with other dogs, we can learn a thing or two from it.

The main one is to start using spatial pressure to tell your dog to move or back off a bit. We can control space, and if you control a space you maintain your leadership position.

You know that feeling when someone stands a little bit too close to you? And you back up automatically to create more space? That’s exactly what we do with dogs as well.

Waiting at the door using spatial pressure.

For example: I control who goes through the front door. If the dog tries to push past me, I step in front of the dog and lean and walk into him until he yields the space back to me. This keeps going for a little while where I basically act as a defender in basketball. You know, how they keep blocking, with their arms up, moving into the attacker and make them back up or find a different way? Try and be a real good defender. But, without raising the arms ;). Instead you’re using your legs to constantly get in front of your dog, trying to push past you.

You can block a lot of unwanted behaviours by applying spatial pressure. Just imagine your social distancing circle around you, and have your dog pay respect to that. Your dog cut you off in the middle of you walking to the kitchen, make him move by applying a bit of spatial pressure.

If you can control space, your relationship with your dog will change drastically.

Extended down stays

Teach your dog a good down stay. Start small, work yourself up to a minute in a quiet place without many distractions and then in 3 weeks your dog should be able to hold a 30 minute down stay.

You could sit yourself down on the couch and watch some tv whilst your dog is holding his stay.

Don’t expect too much too soon. Don’t try do this when guests come over, the kids are running through the house or when you’re cooking. That will be possible, but NOT in the beginning of the learning stages. If they get up, correct them with a body block/spatial pressure and put them back on their bed. Remain quiet and calm. Don’t go ‘Sit, sit, stay staaaay, stay’. Just block them, put them back on the bed. Try again.

Sit on the dog

Similar to the extended down stay except here your dog is on lead. Step on the lead and give him enough room to sit, lie down and stand. Ignore your dog and wait until he lies down. Once he lies down have him lie there for a good while. It’s a self settling exercise. An exercise where they learn ‘I can be bored and just settle myself and fall asleep’, instead of constant attention seeking. I prefer doing this when I’m busy with checking emails or scrolling through FB or when watching tv.

Only dogs that don’t resource guard, can come up on the furniture.

Does your dog growl at someone in the household when they sit down?

How about when you move yourself in bed? Those type of dogs are not allowed on furniture.

If you never had any of those issues, you can go ahead and invite your dog up. The key is here, invite your dog.. and have them move when you tell them to move. There should be no grumbling!

Leave it

Teaching your dog to leave certain things alone, such as a dropped piece of food or things in your hand is a great way to show some leadership to your dog.

I use Tyler Muto’s Food claiming strategy here which you can watch in detail here:

Again, we will be using body blocks and spatial pressure to have a dog move away from resources.

Layer obedience in throughout the day

Instead of having one long training session you will probably have a better behaved dog if you layer obedience into your dogs daily life so it becomes routine. It’s easy to ask them to perform an obedience action before they get something such as opening the door, getting their food or a treat, getting a toy or playing with the ball.

Be mindful of what your dog wants at the time. If they want the ball, the reward will be the ball, not a treat.


We use food for teaching new behaviours all the time, but be mindful you don’t turn into a food dispensing machine. You can avoid this by treating your dog intermittently with food. Sometimes they might get a pet, sometimes praise, sometimes they have to perform 6 different skills before they get 1 treat.

Especially when they know a skill, sometimes they should just perform it. We don’t always get a reward for doing something either, why should your dog?


Patricia B McConnell - How to be the leader of the pack and have your dog love you for it

Tyler Muto - Food Claiming

Blake Rodriquez

Sean O’Shea.

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