Dogs Don’t “Want” Structure”

Listening to a dog training podcast today, I thought my head was going to explode.

This (totally well meaning) guy, was going on, and on about how dogs love structure.

They NEED it.

They CRAVE it.

ON and ON and ON.

He actually got me talking back to my radio in the car. I’m sure I looked like a lunatic.

Chad Mackin once told me “Dogs don’t want STRUCTURE….. They want CLARITY!”

Write that down.

No animal thinks…… “ooh, I’d really like to be put in a box, and have my movements restricted by ropes, and be made to do tricks before I get anything”.

Nope. Not dogs. Not kids. Nobody.

They’d rather be free.

Now, before I get crucified as a hippy…… You have to understand…. Real freedom has crystal clear consequences.

In the wild, if you do A…. B happens. Every time. You don’t get food, you starve. You don’t follow the social structure of the group you split, or get trounced. You don’t find warmth, you freeze.

So….. Wait…. Dogs crave punishments?

Nope. Again. Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc.

Just because something comes after, it doesn’t mean it came because of that thing.

Nature provides clarity. It may do it harshly, but it does it. An animal may seem free…. But they are acting in a tight parameter of rules.

We took them out of nature. We put them in our modern world. We took away their clarity.

And since I learn as I write…. I’ll take it a step further. What they are really craving isn’t clarity… It’s self empowerment.

There’s an evolutionary psychology book called “Power Therapy” that goes into detail about this in regards to humans.

Clarity, lets us understand the rules of the game. And when we really understand the rules, we can navigate everything more skillfully. This skillful living is how all animals derive self esteem.

The problem is in the life of most dogs, there is no “system”. Things are haphazard. Sometimes it’s ok to jump up sometimes it’s not. Sometimes when they pull you towards a dog, you laugh and try to keep up (they’re an “approved” dog), but then sometimes when they pull you get really mad.

That’s really hard. You want to drive someone nuts. Put them in an environment where they can’t figure out the constants. The light cycles randomly change. The temperatures change. Sometimes that food is amazing. Sometimes it’s rancid. That’s considered torture! You can break people like that.

But people do that on a lower intensity to their dogs all the time.

And that’s a HUGE source of stress.

Here’s where it gets tricky. The “structure to fix a dog” camp is right in their action.

Structure can provide clarity. Clarity can provide self esteem, and satisfaction.

So yes, when a dog is really, really, out of their mind a “lockdown” protocol with good structure, can really help them. Even though it seems like jail. Hell, some humans would rather be in jail, than outside because the clarity inside is better. But, that doesn’t mean “People crave jail”.

So yeah…. Technically, dogs need structure.

But, you have to realize WHY you’re doing it.

You’re doing it to take a dog that has NO maturity, self esteem, or confidence….. And you’re teaching them how to GET those things. When they are more skillful, you can relax some of the structure. But, you still have to provide clarity!

Dogs (or people for that matter) don’t crave “structure”. They crave clarity. They crave self efficacy.

You use structure skillfully to get them there.

But, please…. Let go of the “dogs are meant to be followers”, They “crave” dominance” and “structure”.

Your understanding of that can have a huge impact on your relationship with your dog.



4 thoughts on “Dogs Don’t “Want” Structure””

  1. right on – couldn’t have said it better myself – I’ve found that once dogs have the structure clear, they can learn so many things on their own – a free thinking dog that operates within the boundaries they have learned is a wonder to witness and a pleasure to be around

  2. I can agree with the confidence and maturity but where I stand puzzled is at the self-esteem part of the dog.i’m not sure if I understand what good self-esteem or bad self-esteem looks like in a dog maybe in a future post you can elaborate thanks great article.

  3. I always tell my clients that we are here to clear up the communication….and that’s what I do every day. Clear things up. Live life. Have fun. Eventually, with time and maturity, my dogs need much less of me ‘clearing things up’ because they tend to clear it up on their own. I like it that way.

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