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Boy with Dog

Cooperation vs Compliance

Compliance: The act of obeying an order, rule, or demand. 

Cooperation: The process of working together to the same end.

Dogs have been part of my life since birth. Bull was a Doberman/Rottweiler/American Bulldog mix I had when I was around 10. Wherever I went, Bull was there. Playing in the woods, Bull was there. Walking to the creek, Bull was there. Riding my bike, Bull was there - which was totally uncool when he walked in front of my bike and I went over the handlebars landing face-first on the asphalt. But, he was there! 

Bull and I grew up in a time when both dogs and kids were "free-range". His entire life, Bull never wore a collar or a leash. He didn't learn a formal Recall or an extended Down-Stay. As far as I can remember, he didn't even know Sit. Without being told to do so, he was there for me. I didn't remember that adults outside our family were afraid of him because I didn't remember that he growled at adults who came too close to me. 

My first dog as an adult and sole caregiver was a pound puppy named Holiday. She came with a little pamphlet with tips for teaching things like Come and Sit and housetraining. She learned it all quickly and well. I called her in the middle of chasing a cat, and she came back to me instantly. 

I lived with several dogs who cooperated with me willingly before I ever heard that I was supposed to "show them I'm the Alpha". There was no Internet when I was a kid. You couldn't ask Google how to raise a dog. So, I did a lot of things "They" say you should NEVER do and didn't do a lot of the things "They" say you should ALWAYS do. None of my dogs ever tried to "dominate" me. Bull was a mix of 3 powerful breeds, and Holiday was a Carolina Dog x, a primitive breed that is like the Dingo of SC, so it's not because they were "soft" breeds. 


The special bond that only exists between a person and a dog, the kind I had with Bull and Holiday and countless others, is the reason I love them and want them in my life. When I tried the things "They" said were necessary to 'control your dog', that feeling was missing. I almost gave up training completely because I was not willing to choke, jerk, pin, or shock my dog to make them obey me like some sort of dark overlord. Fortunately, I found a different way that honored that feeling. Cooperation, not Compliance.


Your dog will not do what you say just to please you 

Your dog will not do what you say out of gratitude for showering them with affection, food, toys, and beds.

Your dog will not do what you say because he sees you as "alpha".

Cooperation, not Compliance

Positive does not mean Permissive

Suzanne Clothier, author of my favorite dog book Bones Would Rain From the Sky, has a saying. "Be your dog's rock in every storm." 

Some people are uncomfortable with the idea of being their dog's "leader". They feel bad about setting boundaries for their dogs, inhibiting certain behaviors, or "telling them what to do". They worry that training their dog to follow cues will break their spirit and make them unhappy. 

Imagine you witness an accident, and people are injured. Bystanders don't want to seem bossy, so nobody knows what to do or who is doing what. It's chaos, and the injured people aren't getting medical attention.

Imagine, though, that one of the witnesses is an EMT. They immediately spring into action and take charge. They confidently assign a task to individuals to help the injured. "You, call 911." "You, check on the people in the blue car." Everyone does what the EMT says, and the injured people get medical care ASAP.  They're not being bossy or "dominant" or any other negative word you can think up. Someone must take charge in this situation or people will die. 

Animals are all programmed for survival. When they sense that nobody is Captaining the ship because you hesitate to take charge and set boundaries, they may become extremely anxious. If no one is in charge it means no one is safe. Someone must Captain the ship, or it will crash! They may assume everyone is a threat because it's better safe than sorry. 

Being the "leader" means that it's your job to look out for the safety of the family group, and they don't need to worry about it. You are your dog's rock in every storm, the person they can depend on to keep them safe.


Leadership doesn't mean Domineering

Sometimes, I wish we could go back to the days without the Internet. It's great that we have infinite information instantly available. No more frustration trying to remember the name of that old tv show or the place that had the delicious lobster. Just Google it! The problem is that anyone can publish something on the internet. I can say that you must stick your fingers in your dog's ears every night before bed, or they won't listen to you. Someone else picks up on it and puts it on their website. Next thing you know, it goes viral and everyone is sticking their fingers in their dog's ears at bedtime. But, it's total BS! 

Some of the things people suggest on social media to solve this or that behavior problem are cringeworthy. It's usually something along the lines of showing them who's boss and not letting them get away with it, and just like sticking your fingers in their ears, it's total BS! "Alpha Rolling" your dog is a terrible thing to do to them, and they will stop trusting you. 

It is not necessary to shock, choke, jerk, or hit your dog to change unwanted behavior. Many dogs will comply to avoid the painful stimulus. Others will shut down and do nothing because if they don't do anything at all, then they can't do anything wrong. Others will fight back, and that is usually a ticket to the blue juice. Being a bully is not good leadership.

Being the "leader" means that you are firm but warm when guiding or inhibiting their behavior. No pain, fear, or intimidation but a matter-of-factness that this is what you're going to do. 

Studies overwhelmingly find that when owners use physical force (aggression) to "control" their dogs, dogs become aggressive in response. It’s not because the dogs have aggressive or dominant personalities but because they are acting in self-preservation.  

How to get your Dog's Cooperation

Teach your dog exactly what your words mean.

Mean what you say.

Be Patient!

Set your dog up for success.

Be firm but warm

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