Being Leader of the Pack
Westies are loyal, affectionate, playful, enthusiastic, and little clowns. They bring joy to our lives.
However, they can also be stubborn, loud, possessive, aggressive, and bossy. It will be up to you to determine if your new friend is a good companion or a terror.
Dogs, by nature, consider their companions whether they are canine or human to be part of their pack. In a dog’s world someone has to be the leader. If the humans do not become leaders of the pack, the dog will. This is The Key to dog behavior problems. Most of the dogs we have coming into Westie Rescue are the result of humans not resolving a small problem behavior before it became significant enough reason to give up the dog.
A dominant dog allowed to set itself up as the pack leader will become at first be bossy then aggressive in its manner toward you. On the other hand, if your dog is by nature submissive it may become a fearful, anxious, and nervous biter in its attempt to be leader of the pack.
Establishing yourself as head of your household does not have to be a complicated or cruel process. It is accomplished in small logical steps.
The smartest dogs have the intelligence of no more than a 8 year old child. Most dogs remain in the range of 3-6 years. Just as you would set limits on behavior for a 5 year old so you will need to establish limits for the dog’s behavior. If you do not, then the dog will be left to set his own limits. Children do not come into this world knowing what they need to know to survive. They learn by example and training. You will provide this training to your dog as its mother did initially.
You will be responsible for teaching them how to walk on a leash, where/when to potty, when to play, when to sleep, when to eat, etc. You set the schedule. You are in charge. You have to be able to handle the dog to groom it, to examine it for injury or cleanliness, to remove its bowl or
toys without growling from the dog, and to control its interaction with other humans and dogs.
A tip about correction. Scolding a dog for misbehavior is pointless Unless you catch them IN the act. Example: The dog is chewing a rug. Loudly, say “NO” in a low harsh tone of voice (women must lower their voices). Then give the dog one of its chew items. When it chews it, say “Good” in a high light tone of voice (men lift their tones). If you come in and see a chewed item, urine on the floor, or garbage all over the floor, it is Too Late at that point to scold, yell, point, etc. Clean up the mess and figure what can be done to set up the situation when it can happen while you are
around (so you can correct the dog fairly).
NEVER hit a dog-with your hand or any object- UNLESS you want a fear biter. We can always tell dogs that have been hit as when they come to us they are hand, foot, or object shy. Hitting does not correct a behavior. It just creates another problem. There is NO legitimate reason for hitting a dog.
What you want to be is a benevolent, loving, fair boss, but the BOSS nevertheless.
In return, the dog will feel secure, relaxed, and comfortable. It will respect and obey you. This does not mean you will have a “wimpy” dog. It merely implies that when you tell the dog to do something, it will have to and it will. Someday the ability to be able to issue a command and have it obeyed may save the life of your dog if it starts to run out in front of a car or gets into another dangerous situation.
You may want to sign up for an obedience class (see following section on Training). Please understand that your dog will not learn what it needs to know in a one hour weekly class for 8-10 weeks. The classes are designed to teach YOU how to train your dog. The dog will need at least 15 minutes of training every day to learn the basics: sit, down, stay, come, etc. The dog learns by repetition, repetition, repetition, consistency, patience, and reward/praise. Your training of the dog goes on long after the classes are over.
Once you dog does learn the basics you have the options of earning obedience titles or going on to other activities where your work will pay off such as dog agility where the dog races against the clock while completing a series of obstacles. Most dogs love learning new things and pushing
themselves to fly from one piece of agility equipment to another.
The extra bonus of obedience or agility work or any training you and your dog do together is the bond that forms between you. You become a team. This is not you against the dog. It is a team effort of seeing what is the best method to reach a goal whether it is completing a 5 minute Sit/Stay at a obedience trial, doing a trick such as rolling over, or hitting the contact zones on the A-frame in an agility contest.
People will marvel at the attentiveness your dog exhibits as it listens and responds to your commands. A dog is happiest when interacting with you whether on the agility field or your sofa.
Giving it something to learn stimulates its mind and creates a closeness to you and keeps it from creating its own diversion which could be chewing the rug. So work with your dog everyday even if you just play fetch in the back yard or practice “Sit” in front of your easy chair with the dog.
There are many individuals or groups that provide dog training. The following are examples of the type of training opportunities you may find. Costs run from $60 for group lessons to several hundred dollars for individual training. If the instructor you initially choose does not provide the type of training you think right for your dog, there will always be another more appropriate instructor nearby. It is up to you to make sure that the training is a positive experience for your dog as it will effect the dog’s behavior the rest of its life and determine whether you have a
Terrier or Terror in your home.
Variations on training can include the use of traditional training collars or food treats (positive reinforcement) or clickers (a metal finger operated snapper that sounds somewhat like a cricket) along with treats. Do some research at the library or on the Internet to decide what kind of
training you want then talk to some trainers to see how their program works. Finally, take the plunge and enjoy. And practice, practice, practice. The training course is to teach you how to train your dog. The dog’s learning will only occur with his repetition and your patience! Always end each practice session with something the dog does correctly so you end the training with praise.
Remember dog training is a team sport. It is not you against the dog. The reason we recommend a training course for you and your dog is to build a positive relationship between you and the dog as you work together to learn new skills. It is work that you will continually do the rest of the
dog’s life for 5-10 minutes daily just to remind both of you what you have accomplished. These “mini refreshers” can be fun as you use your basic skills to teach/learn a trick such as “beg”, “shake hands”, or “roll over”.
After basic obedience is successfully completed, advanced training can really become fun progressing to freestyle obedience, agility, or flyball training. These sports are where the dog can really begin to enjoy itself and you see how the basic work pays off.
Happy Training And Remember The Things We Can Learn From Our Dogs
. . . Take naps and stretch before rising.
. . . Run, romp, and play daily.
. . . Eat with gusto and enthusiasm.
. . . Never pretend to be something you’re not.
. . . Be loyal.
. . . If what you want lies buried, dig until you find it.
. . . When someone is having a bad day, be silent, sit close by, and nuzzle them gently.
. . . Thrive on attention and let people touch you.
. . . When loved ones come home, always run to greet them.
. . . Let others know when they’ve invaded your territory.
. . . Avoid biting when simple growl will do.
. . . On hot days, drink lots of water and lay under a shady tree.
. . . When you’re happy, dance around and wag your entire body.
. . . Never pass up the opportunity to go for a joyride.
. . . Allow the experience of fresh air and the wind in your face to be pure ecstasy.
. . . Delight in the simple joy of a long walk.
. . . When it’s in your best interest, practice obedience.