We're all familiar with hierarchical systems. The CEO guides the direction of the company from the top. The military is another example where efficient and effective campaigns rely on a chain of command. You've probably also heard the expression "too many cooks spoil the broth."
Can a dog have more than one master? Should they listen to everyone in the home or should only one person handle the training and everything else that goes into being the "alpha"?
People have written in about their Australian Shepherds describing behavior problems like aggression and biting. A wife saying that their dog only listens to her husband and ignores everything she says. Or a dog that listens to the wife and is downright aggressive towards the husband. Or cases where the dog is fine with adults but growls and bares its teeth at the children (not to mention those who've had incidents involving serious bites).
This can become a problem when the dog only respects one person in the home rather than accepting guidance from anyone. While everyone may not necessarily be the pack leader, the dog needs to recognize the people in the home as a leader. This can be a real safety issue and blurry leadership roles in your family "pack" can lead to a dog believing they are higher in rank and can usurp power. This leads to dogs that run the house, have extreme behavior problems, and may become very aggressive.
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Be sure that everyone in the family engages with your Aussie in the "pack leader" role.
It is also very stressful on a dog that believes they are in a constant power struggle. Dogs are much calmer and happier when they assume a subordinate role to their human family members.
If they think they are the boss in your home they may also think they are "large and in charge" out in public. This can lead to big trouble for both you and your dog. Do yourself and your dog a favor; be the pack leader and extend that authority to all the people in the home.
However, the adage "too many cooks spoil the broth" still holds true. The key is to have everyone, adults and children, on the same page as far as training goes. You won't be successful if parents don't feed the dog human food while the children are passing morsels under the table.
Instead, everyone should understand how dog training works, have the same expectations, and implement training the same way, using the same commands. Similarly, things like rules around feeding, going for walks, and handling behavior issues needs to be consistent with all people in the household.
Our official ebook Guide To Australian Shepherd Training & Care is in PDF format and you may make copies to share among your immediate family. (PDF files can be read on computers, tablets, and smartphones.)
It's best if everyone can play a role and participate by, for example, taking turns with feeding. This goes the same for going for walks or obedience training sessions. It helps the dog recognize all the human members of the family as someone to be listened to and respected as they are a provider of good things.
Of course, there will need to be communication and coordination so everyone is working from the same playbook. It's not always easy, or even possible, for all family members to go to things like puppy or dog obedience classes. Schedules may not allow for everyone to be there for the classes which are often fraught with distractions and confusion anyway. They may be a good opportunity for your dog to socialize but aren't always the best environment for training.
I've begun to recommend another approach that allows all members of the family to learn proper dog training from the foundational principles, to obedience training, to addressing behavior problems. Everyone gets the same, consistent information, that they can review as often as they need to. This approach is simpler, more efficient, and more cost effective.
I'm referring to an online video-based dog training program created by a professional dog trainer from New Zealand. He goes by "Doggy Dan" and his program features hundreds of videos organized into an easy to follow format where he walks you through the principles of dog training, the lessons themselves (where he explains the material and then shows you how to implement the information as he demonstrates with his own dog training clients), and how to address just about any dog behavior problem you are likely to face.
Everyone in the family can watch the videos and get up to speed. Training a dog has less to do with the dog and more to do with training the people how a dog thinks and what they need to do in order to be successful. But that will only work if everyone is pulling in the same direction.
You can check out Dan's entire training program for 3 days for just $1 here. That means you have access to all the videos (not just a few samples) so you can see for yourself how his program works. The videos are available online 24/7 so everyone can watch them on their own schedule and replay them as often as they like to master the lessons.
While mom and dad may be the real "pack leader" your dog needs to recognize the authority of everyone in the family. With everyone watching the same videos all the cooks in the kitchen will be working from the same recipe. Imagine the transformation you could see in your dog in only a few months once your family makes it a team effort!