I see so many dogs in my business that owners describe as “hyper” or “overactive”. These dogs are hard to live with because they never seem to settle in and relax. They jump, bark, pull on the leash, bounce off the walls and generally ignore commands. And yet, after just several minutes with me quietly yet clearly taking charge and communicating what I expect of them – a miraculous transformation occurs. The dog is calm, polite, and relaxed. Owners are gob-smacked and incredulous. They can’t believe it’s the same dog that arrived as a whirling dervish just minutes earlier. I explain that I simply showed the dog that I was driving the bus, and that their seat assignment was somewhere behind me – not fighting over the steering wheel.
It’s all about rank. Rank is good. Rank is necessary. Clear rank and order puts a dog at peace. I am fond of saying that dogs only want to know two things:
- Who’s driving the bus?
- What’s my seat assignment?
Why do dogs spend so much time worrying about rank? It’s because a clear power hierarchy in fact produces peace within the group. When each member of the group accepts their position and embraces it, things click along nicely: one dog on every rung of the power ladder. If no one took charge there would be anarchy. If everyone wanted to be the boss, there would be constant turmoil and competition. Both result in disruptive behaviors.
Happily, not all dogs want to be in charge. There’s too much pressure in the canine penthouse! Most dogs are happy to go with the flow, somewhere in the middle. Even the low dog on the totem pole does not begrudge his position as long as he knows what it is. He doesn’t mind working in the canine mail room, as long as he knows what’s expected of him there. Predictability is comforting. But…even a dog that does not want to drive will grab the wheel if no one else does! This is where the real problems can occur. Dogs thrust into leadership roles beyond their capabilities don’t make good choices and can even become a little tyrannical. Barking, leash reactivity and even territorial aggression is not uncommon in dogs that take charge when their parents won’t
Answer his questions, “Who’s driving the bus?” and “What’s my seat assignment?” and watch how your dog settles down! The predictability and clarity of it all comforts and relaxes him. The heavy mantle of responsibility is taken off his shoulders. Drive your dog’s bus instead of letting him careen down the highway. Teach him the rules of your road (like, no pulling and no jumping). Give him his seat assignment in coach and keep the first class section for yourself (your sofa or bed, perhaps?)
A hyperactive dog is just asking questions through his behavior: Who’s in charge here? Is anyone going to stop me? (Please stop me!) Who’s driving the bus and what’s my seat assignment???? Answer him. If you do so clearly enough, he will settle down before your very eyes.