Thoughts by Richard Bleil
His name was Milo, a young and ill-mannered Jack Russell Terrier. He was a new dog for my then-wife and her four sons aged six through ten. Yes, she was busy. Training was clearly necessary, and although I’m not a professional trainer, I do know that the dog cannot be allowed to believe that he is the alpha.
Early on, I brought a butcher bone for Milo as a treat. If you’re not familiar with butcher bones, they’re basically bones that have been basted and cooked for dogs to chew on. My puppy Bella adored them, and as she was a big dog, she always got a big bone. The best Halloween costume I ever created was to stick the bone in a sleeve with a stuffed glove on the end of it so when kids came to the door, they would see her gnawing on what should have been the shoulder joint. Milo got a smaller one, which he immediately took under a table. One of the boys decided this was a good time to crawl under the table and “help” Milo “play” with the bone, which, of course, Milo had quickly become very protective of. The result, which was, of course, my fault was a nip and upset child. My so-called beloved wife grabbed the bone, threw it away, and promptly forbade me from ever giving Milo another.
Milo had a kennel, but he didn’t like the restricted movement it provided. Dogs should like their kennels for the protection it affords them. It should feel safe, like a home inside the home, and, yes, when the door is closed, they can’t get out, but with bedding and a toy or two it should feel like home. There are times that the dog should be in the kennel, depending on the choices of the family, like bedtime and when the humans are away so the dog won’t get out on their return. And the dog must learn to obey humans when they tell the dog it is kennel time.
There are a couple of ways to accomplish this goal, and I’m not suggesting one or the other, but rather both. When asked to go into the kennel and Milo did so rapidly and without fuss, of course he got a little treat. Just something to say thank you and good job. But early on, Milo didn’t like it.
Dogs respect discipline and are very much order based in their thinking. If they don’t see you as the alpha, they will never behave and could endanger children, as Milo did, as well as themselves. This means that when there is a power challenge, you cannot let it stand. One night, early on, when the kids were in bed and Milo was really just beginning his kennel training, I did my usual thing. I stood by his kennel, pointed, and said, “Milo, kennel”. Milo clearly knew what I wanted, as he ran up to me but stopped shy and started barking and growling. This is a challenge, and it cannot stand. When a dog does not want to go into the kennel, it is important to scoop them up and put them there, so they understand that the choice is not theirs to make. Milo immediately started growling and nipping and the argument ensued.
Although it only lasted less than a minute, it was enough time to draw the boys, and their mother, out from their beds and into the room. “Don’t hurt him!” they shouted. I wasn’t, I was holding him and scolding for his nipping, but I certainly don’t hurt dogs. I ignored the boys long enough to put Milo in the kennel and close the door. As I turned to the boys, I explained that I was not hurting him at all but teaching him who is alpha in our relationship. He was whining because he didn’t want to go into the kennel, but because he was challenging me I couldn’t back down. I wanted him in the kennel, so his only choice was if he would get a treat for going willingly or not.
There mother thought this was just an awful thing for me to do, but he became beautifully kennel trained. From that point forward, every time I wanted him to go into his kennel, he flew in excitedly and always won a treat as a result. And dogs don’t hold grudges. Whether or not he remembered the argument I cannot say, but I can tell you that of the six of us, I was the one with whom he spent most of his time. He understood a few lessons from this argument. First, I am alpha. Second, I won’t hurt him even when we are arguing. And third, I will protect him because I am bigger and tougher than he is. In the end, we were great buddies.