A Dog's L.E.G.S.®

L.E.G.S.® is a framework for understanding all aspects of your dog's behavior, developed by Applied Ethologist Kim Brophey. A dog is at their best when all four legs are in balance. "Behavior Problems" happen when the dog's L.E.G.S.®  are out of balance.

- Kelly Whittington

Image by Jamie Street

LEARNING

Your dog's experience and education. Education is the things we teach intentionally, like Sit, Down, and Come. Experience is what your dog learns as life happens and the associations they form. 

ENVIRONMENT

The many facets of their external world. Where they live (house, apartment, country, city, etc.) and what they are exposed to (sights, smells, sounds, others they live with). What enrichment is available to them and what physical boundaries they have.

Image by Mariyan Atanasov
Image by Josiah Ness

GENETICS

The DNA that designed him, inside and out. Genetics determine not only their physical appearance but also certain behaviors (eye stalking in Border Collies, pointing in Pointers). Some behaviors, just like your dog's color, can't be changed.

SELF

His unique interior world: health, development, age, sex, and individuality. Behavior such as puppy biting is part of a dog's development. Being sick or in pain can have an enormous impact in a dog's behavior.

Image by Sophie Elvis

"What is possible between a human and an animal is possible only within a relationship."

Suzanne Clothier, Bones Would Rain From the Sky

SEE THE DOG IN FRONT OF  YOU

Dogs and humans cooperated for their mutual benefit for centuries. They hunted together, worked together, and provided protection and companionship for each other. Dogs help the police and military with complex and dangerous jobs. They find missing people, help the blind navigate the world safely, protect livestock, give emotional support, and so much more. 

Dogs make our lives better. For everything dogs do for us, we owe it to them to train them with kindness and to consider their needs and feelings as well as our own. As Clothier says in her life-changing book Bones Would Rain From the Sky, 'See the Dog'. The dog in front of you is the unique combination of their four L.E.G.S.

The farther society becomes separated from nature, the less we truly see the dog in front of us and instead see an idea of what a dog "should" be. Sensationalized t.v. shows which claim to magically "fix" dogs help promote the idea that dogs are like furry robots. If we do things 'just so', then we can program them to be perfectly obedient and totally compliant with our wishes. 

Dogs aren't software. Dogs are independently thinking, sentient creatures with needs, desires, and motivations of their own, just like every other animal. Sometimes, what they want and what we want are at odds. It has ZERO to do with them "trying to be dominant" and everything to do with them trying to meet those needs and desires. 

Free Range (unowned) dogs make up 75-85% of the world population. While dogs and humans have been together for 10,000-40,000 years, dogs living in homes simply as pets is a new thing. Purebreed dogs were selectively bred and used for specialized jobs for hundreds of years and not for sitting on couches all day or for unquestioning robotic obedience. Guide Dogs for the blind are taught to disobey their owner in certain situations when it's not safe to obey, a skill known as "intelligent disobedience". 

There are many reasons that your dog may ignore a directive from you. Clothier's book gives an example of a dog who refused to pick up a dumbbell in class. The teacher insisted that the owner pinch his ear until he complied. Thankfully, she refused because it turned out that the dog had an exposed nerve in his mouth. He wouldn't pick up the dumbbell because it hurt, not because he was "trying to be alpha". 

The idea that people must be dominant over their dogs or else they will try and take over the world is a relatively new idea that came from a book published in 1970 by wolf researcher Dr. L. David Mech. The 'Alpha Wolf' theory was inaccurate about wolves and is even more inaccurate about dogs. Mech himself has spent years trying to correct the information.  

We do have to set certain rules for our pet dogs to help them navigate our modern world safely and to be good neighbors. It is our responsibility to keep Fido out of roads, from pooping on other people's lawns, and from killing the neighbors' pets or livestock. We should, though, know our dogs well enough to know when they simply can't do what we asked. We should 'See Our Dog'.

The 5 Freedoms
of Animal Welfare

  1. Freedom from Hunger and Thirst

  2. Freedom from Discomfort

  3. Freedom from Pain, Injury, and Disease

  4. Freedom to express Normal Behavior

  5. Freedom from Fear and Distress

Brambell's five freedoms have been adopted as the basic standard in zoos, farms, and animal shelters.