Who’s In Charge Here Anyway?

The Man-whisperer

We were taking our cute puppy for a walk this morning through our neighborhood, and I thought I’d let my son try to walk him… again, it hasn’t worked out too well partly because he’s only 5, but also due to the fact that he’s been terrified of the puppy play-biting and for the past two weeks has had hit or miss confidence with the dog.  He’s allowed the puppy to think that he’s the boss of our son – and as a result, has refused to submit when our son is in command at all.  Our walk ended up with our son practically dragging him with short breaks of me taking the leash to show him how to confidently lead him until we were able to get back to the house.  He would walk perfectly for me, and then refuse to walk with our son.

Something I’ve noticed in the past two weeks we’ve had our puppy is that he is incredibly dominant.  He’s sweet, easy for my husband and I to train, can do simple tricks, wants to please in general… but even at the dog parks we’ve been to a few times, he tries to dominate older male or female dogs, push their limits like a puppy will do, play-biting them until they have to establish their own boundaries with him and he learns his canine social rank.  But suffice it to say, this walk left us all so frustrated (especially the puppy!)…   From my point of view, it was hard to control the dog, the leash, my son and his attitude towards the unsubmissive dog, along with trying to push the baby stroller at the same time.  It was a recipe for disaster and one exasperated mommy!

We came back inside to take a MUCH needed break, drink some cool water and I told my son he had to stay in the kitchen and be with the puppy for one hour without being afraid.

My husband takes control

My husband then came into the kitchen, I explained our walk and situation… he immediately took over control and began explaining to our son frame control, and having firm authority in establishing respect with the dog.

He took over and disciplined our son for acting fearful by making him stay with puppy, even forcing him to go outside with it. My husband stayed outside with our son, explaining to him what he needed to do in order to control his fear with the dog and show dominance.

It was so incredibly reassuring and relieving to feel the weight of control and discipline shift from my mommy-role shoulders, onto my capable husband’s.  A father’s unique masculinity and fortitude are so desperately needed as parenting is a million times easier with his strength and presence taking over to instruct or demonstrate.  I watched as he stayed outside a little longer with our son and the dog, teaching how to demonstrate dominant assertiveness, so thankful for his aptitude as a father and husband.  He then came inside saying that he wanted him to play with the dog outside alone for awhile.

Our son played for a good 15 minutes with the puppy, and then ran excitedly to the door and told us that he and his dog were having lots of fun together playing.  This was a dramatic difference from when he’d be outside alone with the dog before my husband had time to teach him confidence and authority.  Before, when he’d be outside letting the dog go potty, he would immediately run to the nearest chair or higher surface in order to escape any potential play-biting or jumping of the puppy.  Him being confident with the puppy and playing with him outside for a steady 15 minutes was a breakthrough!

When it was time to eat lunch, he came back inside and my husband had our son watch a few short videos of the Dog Whisperer explaining masculine dominance and calm authority in different scenarios with difficult dogs.  It led into an interesting discussion the two of them had where my husband explained leadership, and asked our son who is in charge of our family.  Our son undoubtedly answered that it was him.  And my husband asked him why he thought that was?  “Because you’re in charge.”  My husband then explained what it meant to “be in charge,” what that looked like in different situations or even environments with different kinds of people.  He explained why our son could sense that his father was in charge of our family.

Recently, my son stood up to a boy older than him that was subtlety trying to bully or otherwise exert dominance over him at a playground.  My husband reminded him of how he had dealt successfully with that situation, telling him that in order to stop that bully, he had employed strength and assertiveness.  He stood up for himself.  He actually punched the older (and taller by a foot) boy!

My husband explained how even without violence or force you can establish yourself as a leader in any given situation.  He described how he is assertive in our family – he simply employs a feeling of authority in his manner, body language, and voice.  He used the example of how he has managed to show our extremely stubborn and at times rebellious cats, who’s in charge.  They obey him simply by his commanding voice – and its no small feat to get a cat to listen to you and obey you.  He doesn’t use violence or brute force, however, his voice alone has the strength and authority that makes them feel like they have to obey.

Later that day,

I needed to take the boys and the dog out again to check the mail, and this time, the walking went a lot easier.  When the puppy would refuse to submit and walk with my son, he stopped, assumed a more masculine body language and frame of mind, talked calmly to the dog, and the dog would resume walking.  It was the perfect combination of strength and gentleness… and it was like some kind of miracle watching it work for the dog to follow.


The whole thing got me thinking about leadership, dominance, and willingness to submit or follow.  Even though humans are drastically more complex than what can be simply related to canine behavior, the basics of dominance, authority, confidence, or submission are all entities used everyday in human relations.  In fact, you could say that it is extremely important in order to survive in society to understand these underlying dynamics of relationships.  Confidence, assertiveness, or knowing and understanding when to back down all apply within marriage, with family members, friends, neighbors, and even with maintaining a good relationship with your boss.

When our son was allowing the dog to control him, to be in the dog’s frame, he showed the dog that it was the one in charge of the situation.  Even worse, when our son displayed fear or running away, the puppy’s experience of being the dominant one was reinforced and encouraged.  He had to learn how to establish trust and respect with the dog in order for it to follow him or think of him as a good leader.

The entire situation depended on how our son approached the situation.

The kicker is that he was always able to get the dog to behave the way he wanted to, but in order to use this power, he had to mentally shift into a confident, assertive and dominant frame of mind in order to achieve the results he wanted.  He had to go into the situation with the right emotional mindset and authority.  There was no way the dog would submit to someone he sensed was afraid or out of control – someone he didn’t think would make be a good leader.  Dogs only follow the leader of the pack.  He’d rather be dragged on a leash for 1/2 a mile than submit to less than his idea of canine rank.

It was a difficult and exasperating lesson for a five year old, but enlightening for this grateful mommy.  Learning to approach any situation in our lives with confidence and calm assertiveness in our ability to succeed is crucial to a life of success.  We may fail miserably, but we cannot allow that to control our mindset so that we undoubtedly set ourselves up for future failure.

We have more control in any given situation than we may feel or realize, and by simply shifting our mindset, shifting the way we view our problems, we can find an alternative solution akin to a miracle.


  1. Good post. It’s really true, we can learn a whole lot from dog behavior.I have observed my husband with some pretty feral dogs before and been quite impressed by the way they respond to him. Now me, I’m likely to just get nipped in the butt. It’s somewhat funny, because I can go through the same motions, the same behavior, not have a drop of fear in my heart, and yet some dogs just know I ain’t really fooling anybody 😉

  2. “There was no way the dog would submit to someone he sensed was afraid or out of control – someone he didn’t think would make be a good leader. ”

    I guess though the difference with women here is that she still has to submit no matter what, no matter if she sensed he was afraid, out of control, or not a good leader.

  3. By default, if he’s not leading, then she is. There always has to be one leader out of the two.

    And yes, if he tries to suddenly take over after being submissive, she will find it EXTREMELY hard to submit. If he’s violent (out of control – unstable), she will only submit with first fear, anger, then resentment (and hopefully will leave). If he’s cowardly, he’s actually being submissive so then she’s really leading.

  4. This is a great post!

    “It was so incredibly reassuring and relieving to feel the weight of control and discipline shift from my mommy-role shoulders, onto my capable husband’s.”

    Yes, I know this feeling too. There is almost a tangible sense of peace when my husband is around, compared to weekdays when he’s working. And I think it’s because we can all sense his authority and the order that comes from that.
    I am working on getting better discipline-wise with the kids – Mums certainly have an important role to play there too! But I’m never going to be Dad 😉

  5. My instinct is to get defensive here, and say that early on in our marriage I tried to submit, but my husband just wasn’t a good leader.
    But if I push past that and take an honest look, yes, I was leading (through manipulation) and actually a bit of a b*tch. Was that my husband’s fault for not asserting his masculine frame properly? I don’t think so. I think he was doing the best he could with what he knew, and that I was reacting out of frustrating at him not leading “the way I wanted”.
    And it takes time to unlearn those habits… you have to practice the dance steps over and over before it starts to look and feel natural 😉

  6. I think women constantly try to push and use subtle manipulation tactics in order to lead their men. I believe in the manosphere, these are called shit tests. Its basically trying to check if your man is dominant (a good enough leader) to undergo some shit thrown at him and still continue calmly, rationally, and confidently in his own frame of leadership.

    “Was that my husband’s fault for not asserting his masculine frame properly?”

    Not trying to make this personal but generally speaking, that’s what this is all about. A man finding his frame and coming to a relationship already set in it is very attractive and establishes a desire-motivator for women to please him, they don’t want to (or are afraid to) lose him. If a woman is being too bitchy, then she is probably not that afraid of him being able to walk away, otherwise she’d employ less threatening shit tests against his authority-masculinity. In marriage, unfortunately, its nearly impossible for him to walk away (especially with kids).

    But using his amused mastery with his wife (girlfriend, or whatever) is addictive to women because it feels so good to be with a man like that, and that does provide a hefty incentive to make them want to follow his lead. It is like an addictive “treat” for lack of a better word. Of course a woman can still reject him leading, not all women are alike or react to the same kinds of men (some will be easier to lead and others will be extremely difficult – there’s a whole range).

    Once a man marries, however, it is a different set up… and if he doesn’t come to it already in a firm frame of control over himself, his goals, his life, etc. he often will “lose himself” to his wife’s purposeful (or innocent?) manipulations to control the relationship. Like that man in that nice guy post I did a few days (? omg they’re running together) ago who “lost himself” in his work or in being there for his girlfriend’s psychotic children. He entered into HER frame of control and existence, to the point that he didn’t even have any of his goals, desires or needs met in their relationship and was caught up in trying to negotiate her desire for him (which had conveniently evaporated).

  7. Hey, where is Colourmeanew – look, Dragonfly is blaming a man for something! 😉 Lol.
    I think both my husband and I were not in an ideal place when we married (really, who is?), so I’m sure we both share the blame for the dynamic our marriage had at the beginning. But I’m not comfortable saying it was all my husband’s fault for not having the right frame. Like lgrobins said, a wife also has responsibilities, and I’m certain I was failing him and not holding up my end of things. In fact, sometimes when I reflect, I’m surprised he married me at all. It’s totally God’s grace that we’ve got to the point we are at now!

  8. Right I think we as women make it extremely hard for men to lead with all the shit tests and mixed signals… the desire to control our men and yet the reality that we’d lose our attractiveness to them if we did control them. No situation is ever perfect or ideal, and both partners usually have some part to play in marriage not going smoothly. The blame is like Adam and Eve – they both really messed up and then shifted the blame around to each other.

  9. Great post, Dragonflygirl. 🙂

    Glad to hear your family is gaining some control over that pup. Dalmations need a stronger hand than most. They are wicked smart dogs (at least, ours was), but they have to know they aren’t the master.

  10. 😀
    When our first son was a baby and colicky (REALLY colicky), our Dalmation was about the only thing that made him smile. He’d watch the dog run around the room and get this cute wide toothless grin. I think it was something about the moving black and white spots.
    They are beautiful animals.

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