As children, I imagine all of us have bounced questions back and forth from one parent to another until we either got the answer we wanted, or got into trouble. We knew which parent to ask for permission to do certain things, and which to avoid. Our attempts at deviousness weren’t malicious; we were just doing what worked for us to get what we wanted. It’s very similar to what our dogs do, again, without malicious intent.
Our individuality is not lost on our dogs and they act accordingly. If there is one person in the house who is more generous about giving out treats, walks, playtime, and other goodies, then that is the person who they will seek out with more regularity. It also comes to follow that if there is only one person in the household responsible for training, that person is the one the dog will most respond to when given commands or cues.
With all the talk about pack leadership and dominance in the media, it’s easy to see why this type of individual response can often be misunderstood as lack of respect, or a challenge for status within the household. However, it’s rarely the case.
Dogs are simply doing things that work for them. Each situation a dog encounters either has relevancy for them or it doesn’t. If you’re not actively involved in training or interacting with your dogs on a daily basis, then you aren’t as relevant to them as someone else in the household who does all those things. Dominance and status most likely have nothing to do with it.
As I discussed in The Disappearing Sit, one of the problems that we run into with dogs is that they don’t generalize well. This means that if only one member of the family is involved in teaching the dog to sit, the dog may think that persons presence, along with many other environmental cues are all part of the “sit” process. Not sitting for another member of the family is not a willful or malicious act; it simply isn’t recognized as part of the normal process the dog goes through for sit to happen.
The solution for families who find their dog playing both ends against the middle is simple; everyone in the family needs to take an active part in their dog’s daily activities. Everyone should participate in feeding, training, exercising, and playing with their dogs. By actively participating in these things, you will become relevant in your dog’s eyes and you will remove all doubts about supposed challenges for household supremacy.