Pets: Get Bossy with the Pooch

Kirsten McMillan (Dog Club LA, 818-259-2023) is a third-generation animal trainer. Lions, tigers, and bears don’t faze her. Dogs are a cinch. Listen and learn

sheepherdingTrain dogs when they’re tired. Exercise is important, but pooches about to be asked to concentrate need to work out their excess energy first.

sheepherdingEstablish eye contact when delivering commands. “If you think your dog is obedience trained but he’s not looking you in the eye, he has not conceded that you are the leader,” McMillan says. “Every dog needs a leader.”

sheepherdingBe consistent. When getting into the car, always have your dog enter through the same door as you, and go through all doors before your pet does. Make your dog look you in the eye to seek permission before “door jumping.” “An open door should not be an invitation to run,” McMillan says.

sheepherdingControl the food bowl. “Food, love, and play are resources,” she says. “Show your dog you are the provider of all resources.”


sheepherdingThe most important command your dog must learn is, Come! “If you only do one thing, this—we call it ‘recall’—is it,” she says. “Gardeners leave gates open. Snakes will bite. Coming when called is the number one safety behavior.” How to achieve it? Treats work for some dogs, but the key is to establish yourself as “the alpha.”

sheepherdingGet help. If your dog is aggressive, it may be anxiously asserting itself because its owner (that’s you) has left a leadership void. If your dog won’t stop barking (despite getting exercise and being generally obedient), call an expert. The longer you let a behavior continue, the harder it is to break.

Illustration by Mark Matcho

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