What is Your Dog’s Superpower? Use it. 


What is Your Dog’s Superpower? Use it. 

All of our dogs are good at something. Following scent, snuggling, walking on a leash, barking, predation – whether behaviors we like, or behaviors we do not, all of our dogs have certain strengths. What if we could use our dogs’ strengths to help their weaknesses? And what if their weaknesses actually are their strengths? 

Take a moment and write down five things your dog is good at, no matter if you like these behaviors or not. My list for my dog Helena might look like this:

  • Hunting
  • Fetch
  • Showing affection
  • Scratching
  • Learning new verbal cues

These are some of Helena’s superpowers. I like 2 of these behaviors all the time. I like two of these behaviors in certain contexts. One of these behaviors drives me nuts. I’ll let you figure out which is which. But like them or not, Helena is great at all 5 of these things. 

After you’ve got your list, it’s time to ask the question: How do we harness the power of these, well, superpowers?? 

How to Use Superpowers for Good (not evil): 

  • Put Superpowers on Cue: Especially if your dog is really good at behaviors you don’t prefer, or behaviors that are not appropriate in all contexts, putting them on cue can be very helpful. This way, you can ask for the behavior in the right place at the right time, and you can reinforce your dog for doing this behavior. You can ask for alternate behaviors on cue when these behaviors are off limits. 
  • Use Superpowers as Alternatives: You can use your dog’s preferred behaviors as alternate behaviors to things you don’t like. This is where perceived weaknesses can be strengths. If your dog tends to naturally do a behavior, you can provide the right conditions for them to do that behavior instead of a behavior that isn’t going to fly. For instance, if your dog likes to hunt in the bushes for small moving animals, this is a great alternative to barking and lunging at a person walking towards you on the bike path. By encouraging their hunting mode, you are preventing their fear mode. 
  • Point Your Dog Towards the Phone Booth: In order to really use your dog’s superpowers, you’ll need to find appropriate outlets for their behaviors: Chasing the neighbor’s cat isn’t ok, but what about chasing a squirrel? Digging in the garden isn’t ok, but what about in the gopher holes in the empty field down the street?  If your dog is really great at shredding stuff, providing a cardboard box or paper bag is an appropriate outlet – your shoes are not. Instead of trying to thwart their natural behaviors, try instead to find ways for them to fulfill their dogginess – in other words, use their superpowers! 
  • Be Clear: Let’s not live in ambiguity. Make sure to tell your dog when it’s time to put their cape back on the shelf, also known as when a behavior is on and when it’s off. If your dog can chase deer off leash, but you don’t want to make a run for it with them when they’re on leash, let’s be clear, shall we? Making sure your dog knows when to activate their superpowers and when to remain Clark Kent will prevent confusion. 
  • Make Creativity Your Superpower: Let’s be real. You can’t take every behavior and use it and sometimes there’s just not an appropriate context for certain stuff to be o.k. But make sure to examine all possibilities before tossing out potential superpowers. If your dog is afraid of strangers and wants to hide, running away with you might turn the fear into fun. Retreat becomes their superpower. Glad we didn’t throw that one out!
  • Be Wowed: By harnessing your dog’s superpowers, you might be less stressed by their behavior, and appreciating them might suddenly come more easily to you. Think about this quote that is famous in the dog training community: “Dogs do what works.” (If you haven’t read “Culture Clash” by Jean Donaldson, where have you been? There’s still time). Dogs don’t expend energy thinking about what is right and wrong, caught up in moral questions or having life crises. They basically keep on keepin’ on by doing behaviors that have worked for them in the past. Whatever your dog is doing is working for them, so consider how cool it is that your dog finds stuff using only their nose (even if it’s the food on the counter), chases (and can almost catch) moving creatures, and alert barks to tell you someone is intruding upon your territory (even if it’s just the plumber). Marvel at the efficiency, speed, instinct, and intensity of this incredibly efficient superhero by your side! 

So- What is YOUR dog’s superpower? 

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