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Dr. Nicholas Dodman on Dog Behavior and New Training Techniques

So I think that leadership is very important because of the pack mentality of dogs. If you are the leader, I don’t think that the dog is unhappy about having you as the leader. And when the owner takes clear control through a non-confrontational dominance program, you can almost hear the dog sigh with relief. It’s as if they are saying, “My god, for a minute I thought it was me who was in charge here.” It’s a relief. They don’t feel miserable. They are not like humans who have to be number one. They don’t care about being at the top of the hierarchy, they just need to know where they are in it. Clearly know .

Bark: In your books you talk about the importance of aerobic exercise for the health of a dog. How can dog owners provide that kind of exercise for their dogs at the end of leash?

Dodman: The vast majority of dogs do benefit greatly from having exercise periods. And walking dogs on a leash is not sufficient exercise. It’s not that they die if they walk on a leash, just as it’s not that a human being dies in solitary confinement either. It is just that it is not optimal for their physiological and psychological well-being. Exercise is good for us and it is good for a dog. People say to me, “I give my dog a lot of exercise, I take him for a walk around the block every day and it is about a mile or a mile and a half.” I say, “Well, I take my 84-year-old mother for a mile walk around the block, but that doesn’t constitute exercise.” We really need to get heart rate to a certain level, and this is done by running off-lead.

Then again, there is another side to the dogs-in-parks issue, and this is where you find people coming out stacked high on both sides. There’s responsible pet ownership. But it is the irresponsible behavior of the few that has made society make rules that are punitive for the many responsible owners. So it is not appropriate to walk along Fifth Avenue with your dog off leash—even if you happen to have a dog trained to heel, all it takes is a rollerblader coming down the street and the dog might run after him or the dog might decide to cross the road because there is a bitch in heat. On crowded streets you need to keep a dog on lead, and people need to be responsible for picking up their dog’s waste; and if you know that your dog has a weakness for, say, attacking small dogs, that is another thing that you should control. The only way you can control it is physically. But that doesn’t mean that you have to forego aerobic exercise. It is the owner’s duty to find a place where they can let their dog off leash to run, safely.

I know how difficult it is when you live inside a huge sprawling urban complex, such as a city like Boston. Tufts is north of Boston in Medford and they have the same issues. All the dog people from the north shore of Boston were using the university playing fields to exercise their dogs. They were all congregating on the only green area. The football players were running around and skidding in dog muck. So they put a little fence around a little area in the corner, so now all the dog people are condensed into that small area. This is a difficult situation—the dog owners have nowhere else to go, but the players shouldn’t have to roll around in the dog doo either. I think there should be certain areas where dogs are permitted to do whatever they want to do, to run. I sometimes tell people if they are in a really difficult situation, though this is somewhat illicit, if worse comes to worst, take their dogs to a tennis court—wing a ball to them and they’ll run backwards and forwards.

So whether it’s continued petitioning to provide parks for dog owners, these things are necessary, considering how many dogs there are in the country. There are something like half as many dogs as there are cars. If you told car owners they could not park on the streets, what would they do? So there is this massive problem. One in five people owns a dog, something like 40 percent of all American households have a pet. And to make a rule that people can’t exercise their dogs off leash might even be one of the reasons that we are seeing an increase in problems these days. The demographics of the human population is such that people are moving into the inner cities, we are becoming a nation of city dwellers, and in the city it is a concrete jungle, as Desmond Morris would say.

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