By Peter Levy. Dog Behavioral Therapist and Master Dog Trainer
TLC In-Home Dog Training

A young pup taught me why having outsiders train one’s dogs often fails. If humans living with the dog fail to demonstrate leadership, the training often falls on deaf ears.

Decades back, I worked as a movie projectionist, between college terms. In those bad old days, we lacked today’s consensus that responsible owners neuter dogs young. When my Lab, Corey, had a litter one January, sired by a Whippet, I attempted to keep a puppy, Pixie.

By June, Pixie drove me crazy. I’d come home to find every wastebasket knocked over, prized possessions chewed, and Pixie’s leash manners were regressing. With heavy heart, I arranged for Pixie’s adoption by Jane, a casual acquaintance.

After giving her Pixie, I encountered Jane several weeks later. With trepidation, I asked: “So how’s Pixie doing?” “Oh she’s great”. “Does she knock over your wastebaskets?” “Never”. “Pull on the leash? “Not at all” “Has she chewed up your shoes or anything else?” “Not a thing. In fact I’ve never seen such a well-behaved dog in my life!”

Projecting human traits onto dogs is always a mistake. Back then I surmised that as long as Pixie lived with her mom, Corey, she was most comfortable in the “puppy” role. Once on her own, she was free to mature.

Understanding more of canine psychology, I would revise that assessment as follows. Since Pixie saw Corey as the pack leader, even if Pixie understood what I wanted, she treated it as optional. Corey, after all, never corrected Pixie for any behavior that upset me.

Pixie clearly saw Jane as the leader of Pixie’s new pack. Because Jane showed sufficient leadership, Pixie strove to understand and to fulfill Jane’s wishes.