I see so many people whose dogs have no respect at all for their (the humans, that is!) personal space. The dogs simply barrel in and jump on them whenever they want to. Now- when you look at a group of dogs, there will always be a leader. The leader, by the way, is not necessarily the most dominant dog! The leader of any pack, is, by definition, the best leader in the pack. This is true with humans as well, in my experience. Even if the boss is a bastard, there will always be someone who is “the leader of the pack” behind the scenes, not obviously in charge, but influencing the group dynamic more than anyone else.
Dogs thrive when they have a strong, clear leader. At the same time, they will step into any leadership vacuum. I have noticed that nearly always, when the people are not leading the pack, the dogs that do step into the leadership vacuum are nervous, anxious, and deeply unhappy. This can show up in many ways – continual pressuring of people for attention, bad behaviour (Disobedience, jumping on people, mouthing or nipping, etc.), separation anxiety, being unable to relax and settle, barking, and the list goes on and on.
The thing is, that amongst a group of dogs, no dog will enter the lead dogs space without asking permission, and receiving a clear message that it’s ok to enter their personal space. (Usually then the dog entering the leaders space will lick at the leaders lips.) This always happens. However, it’s so subtle that most people don’t even notice it. Dogs speak in body language, and the smallest postural shift, or movement of the eyes can speak huge volumes for them.
The simplest and quickest way to show up as a leader for your dog is to teach them to respect your personal space. You can do this by “outing” them. You use the command “out” with really strong eye contact, and an “I mean it!” body language. The sort of body language you’d put on if some drunk person was trying to invade your space in a pub – tall, upright, pushing out and away with your energy. Your voice needs to mean it too, lower pitch, firm tones. If you don’t really mean it, your dog won’t believe you in the slightest! Then you keep them out of an invisible bubble about 3-4 feet away from your body, until they stop trying to push their way into your space. This can take a loooooooooong time, and you must NOT weaken in the slightest. This could be the most important lesson you ever teach your dog. I have had this take 15-30 minutes in the rare case. If you have several dogs, best to separate them and do this one on one until it’s pretty solid before doing it in pairs, and eventually the whole pack.
An example: I saw a lovely, high drive, full on border collie belonging to a lady who is a very experienced trainer a while back. He was always, always, always demanding attention, and would never settle. While I was working with the other dog, I did this simple outing process. You should have seen the look on his face, the “how dare you?”, and the one hundred and one tricks he tried to get around the process. It was quite entertaining. Eventually he got it, and stopped pushing to come in. Then, I called him in and gave him a pat. He lay down on the floor beside my feet, and just chilled out. “Wow! He’s never done that before, ever!” his mum told me. With some follow up work on outing, he went from a dog who was continually restless, and always worrying his people for affection, to a much calmer, more settled, and most of all, more confident dog. This was transformative for him, in a very deep and profound way.
It’s a technique I stumbled on, by happy chance – based on some techniques I learned years ago around moving stock – cattle and horses. In fact, the first dog that taught me this was a very nervous, scared dog, and I couldn’t get near it. I was frustrated, and trying this, trying that, getting nowhere. I’d been there for half an hour, it was hot, I was sweaty. I took a deep breath, and paused. Then, I remembered that if you push horses and cattle away, after a time, they will want to come back towards you. So I did that- just ever so gently walked around the yard, pushing this dog out of my space. After 10-15 minutes, I could see her settling down, relaxing, and not long after I could catch her.
Some dogs are easy to do this with, some are harder. If you try it for yourself and it doesn’t seem to work, you may need help. It’s probably best that you set aside 10 minutes once or twice a day to really focus on this at first, a time when your dog does absolutely not eneter your personal bubbled without a clear invitation.
I’ve never seen mention of this technique anywhere else, and it is absolute dynamite. I have had so many clients see massive improvements in their relationship with their dogs when they take the time to do this. So simple, and so effective. It makes your dog happier, more confident, and more secure in themselves. It is super stressful for a dog to fill a leadership vacuum!