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Power II: Do you have a Power Dog?


A "power dog" sounds either kind of cool...or kind of terrifying. What do trainers mean when they talk about a "power dog?" (sometimes also called a "high-power dog.")


Usually they are not referring to the dog's physical strength, or how much physical power the dog has. "Power" in this case means how assertive the dog is and how confident he or she is in getting his way.


To help understand the difference between a high-power dog and a low-power dog, let's look at a series of dogs on a scale from low to high power. For this comparison, let's say all the dogs are doing the same leash-walking exercise; for example walking on a leash toward a bowl of hamburgers (or something equally delicious.) All the dogs in this comparison like hamburgers equally and would like a snack-- so no picky eaters, no completely full dogs, etc. Let's also assume that none of these dogs have received any formal leash training, or even any informal training, so differences in their behavior can't be related to training. Got it? OK, now imagine all those dogs walking on leash next to their handler toward a bowl of food.


Dog A: Does not pull towards the food. Sees the food, glances at her owner, does not advance ahead of the owner. "That food looks good. Is my owner going to take it? My owner might take it."


If the owner encourages the dog, "Go ahead, go get it!" the dog might trot ahead one or two steps, then stop and look back at the owner: "Are you sure? I can get it?"


If the owner says "No," the dog will look away from the food and maybe even stop walking or lie down.


Dog B: Attempts to go forward to the food, but just barely (no heavy pulling or lunging, may just move toward the end of the leash causing some but not much leash tension)


If the owner encourages the dog, "Go ahead, get it!" the dog might lunge to the end of the leash and begin a more enthusiastic pulling/dragging toward the food.


If the owner says "No!" or pulls the leash back, the dog will probably not immediately try to stop getting the food but will try once more, and then give up.


Dog C: Sees the food, forgets all about the owner, lunges and pulls and drags toward the food.


No encouragement from the owner is needed.


If the owner says "No!" or pulls the leash back, the dog will probably totally ignore early or gentle requests to stop. It will take the owner quite a bit of effort to stop the dog, but ultimately the dog will be stopped.


Dog D: Sees the food, forgets all about the owner, lunges and pulls and drags toward the food.


No encouragement from the owner is needed.


If the owner says "No!" or pulls the leash back, the dog will ignore not only early and gentle requests to stop, but probably firm and forceful requests as well. In fact, if the owner is not strong enough to physically overpower the dog, the dog will probably have its way and head for the food.


Each of these four dogs has a distinct level of "power" that they are accessing to get at the thing he or she really wants. Dogs A and B are relatively low power dogs -- they do not have a tremendously strong will to access what they want. Dogs C and D are higher-power dogs.


Most novice owners would love a dog like Dog A (and these dogs do exist) -- ideal pets who don't even require much in the way of training because they are so mild. Most advanced owners would enjoy Dog C or D, because they've got enough drive and energy to work really hard. But whatever kind of dog you end up with, training and handling requirements are going to vary depending on how much internal power your dog has, and and guess what -- that's a subject for the next post in this series!


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