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.