When Your Dog is a Game-Maker

We talk a lot about alpha dogs and dominance theory, and how the term is out-dated and the theory is debunked, but I feel that the reason a lot of people struggle with moving past that theory and terminology is because they have this label for a dog’s behavior that seems to fit perfectly for their dog, and they don’t understand how to redefine that behavior and let go.

Anthropomorphization plays a huge role in this, because whether people are fully aware of it or not, the idea of an alpha dog means that you are projecting human thoughts and emotions onto your dog. I could write a paper on how toxic masculinity plays a huge role in the concept of alpha dog theory, but I’ll save that for when I’m actually writing my phD.

People may understand that their dog isn’t dominating them when he runs out the door first, or pees on their favorite shoe, or eats their favorite book, but when you live with a certain kind of dog, you cannot help but project human emotions like “vengeance”, “pay-back”, and “jealousy” onto your dog, and if you can’t call it “alpha”, then what can you call it?

It’s simple. Your dog is a game-maker.

Dog training is often referred to as a game. You come up with the game and teach your dog how to play. Usually, you’re the game-maker. Occasionally, however, you get dogs that are the game-maker. The reward either isn’t enticing enough for them, or they think their version of the game is more fun.

Whatever the reason behind it, the result is that whatever game you propose, they counter with an alternative to your game, or start a whole new one. This is where people get so frustrated and say, “he knows what I want him to do! He’s doing this on purpose!”

Almost, but not quite. For example, let’s say I’m working on recall training with my dog, and we’re out in an open field. She’s free to sniff around, but when I call her, she comes, collects her treat, and then takes off again. She does well and she enjoys this game, because she knows she is free to take off again once she collects her treat.

We’re in the middle of our game, and suddenly a rabbit pops out of the grass and takes off running right in front of her, and she chases after the rabbit. I can scream until my lungs are raw… she will hear me, and ignore me. Of course she’s doing it on purpose, and of course she knows what I really want her to do, but this new game is a lot more fun than the one we’ve been playing so far.

Ideally, your dog will always want to play by your rules, and you can train them to focus on you so that a hoard of rabbits could run past them carrying peanut butter covered steaks and they would still come back to you instead of going after them, but just because your dog isn’t quite there yet and may never get there does not mean that he is trying to be the alpha, or dominate you. It simply means he’s a game-maker, or a rule-changer for that matter.

It is important to avoid anthropomorphizing your dog when interpreting their behavior, because it could lead you to some very false conclusions, which can lead you to taking the wrong steps in dealing with it.

If you’re struggling to find the words to describe your dog because “confident” and “independent” don’t quite fit, try “game-maker” on for size. It might help.


Your Dog Is Only as Disciplined as You Are


Some time ago I posted a quote of mine that I coined during a conversation with my dad. “Your dog is only as disciplined as you are.” He responded with, “in most cases I think dogs are more disciplined than their humans.”
I told him to stop ruining my fancy quotes.

I guess the quote requires some context, as do most quotes.

I see so many people, online and offline, who sit and watch YouTube videos of “cool” dogs, or watch movies where dogs are doing pretty amazing things, and say, “I wish my dog could do that.” or, my personal favorite, “aww no he’s a sweetheart and I love him, but he’s too dumb to learn something like that.”

We had a lot of dogs when I was growing up. When we were in the Philippines we had several dogs because every time my dad and I saw a puppy discarded in the gutter, we would take it home with us because we just couldn’t stand to see it like that. I’ve had all sorts of dogs throughout my life; purebred dogs, working dogs, street dogs, lovable mutts, big dogs, small dogs, and medium dogs.

Every single one of them learned exactly what we trained them to do. They all learned to sit and wait for their food. They all learned not to jump on people to say hi. They all learned to loose leash walk (some even learned a proper heel). All of them were house trained, even if they were outside dogs.

Those that learned more weren’t inherently smarter than any of the others. They simply learned that which we taught them. Those that learned a proper heel had been taught it. Those that scaled walls and danced in circles were taught how.

Chances are, if your dog hasn’t learned something, it’s because you didn’t teach them.

One time I watched a movie with a friend of mine, where the dog signaled he wanted to go for a walk by bringing the leash to his owner. She sighed and said, “wow I wish Toby were smart enough to do that.” I turned and stared at her in indignant silence. I wanted to say, “maybe if Toby had seen a leash more than three times in his whole life, he would know what it meant.”

Starbuck was 4 months old when he ran to the foyer and pulled my dad’s “walking jacket” off the coat rack and brought it to him. My dad was only 10 minutes behind schedule. In 2 months he had learned that at 4 PM it was time for his afternoon walk, and my dad always wore the same jacket on every walk.

The “smarter” a dog breed is doesn’t necessarily mean they can learn more than other dogs. It just means they pick up on it faster. Where Daenerys learned to sit and wait for her meals in 4 days, the labradors needed about 8, and they were still a bit shaky on it.

Too many people try and imitate an instructional video on YouTube for a couple days, and when it doesn’t solidify, they give up and say, “wow I guess my dog isn’t smart enough.”

Do you learn things overnight? Did it take you two days to move past diapers? Did you just wake up one morning and start walking? Did you learn your ABCs in a day?

If you did, you’re an exception. Don’t assume your dog is an exception. Fact is, most people could own an exceptional dog and they’d never know it, because they aren’t disciplined enough to get their dog to that point.

The question isn’t, “how smart is my dog?” The question is, “how disciplined are you?”

Originally published on Dogs Are My Patronus

Be Responsible

Originally published on Dogs Are My Patronus.

Earlier this morning I got into a heated discussion with someone over responsible pet ownership. In the middle of the argument, I realized they were still just a child, and broke it off, because, if I’m being honest with myself, screaming at a child over the internet just isn’t going to get either of us anywhere. I know if someone had shouted at me when I was 15 I would have told them to screw off and continued on with what I was doing.

The insults and screaming aside, I still feel very passionate about responsible pet ownership, and it’s an opinion I feel the need to express, because I believe it is the very core from which all other dog ownership opinions stem.

The simple fact of the matter is that far too many people get a puppy—regardless of whether they get it from a responsible breeder, a puppy mill, a shelter, or someone’s “oops litter”—without doing proper research first. After the puppy has been acquired and they start stumbling through the Internet or the bookstore for answers, they hodge-podge their own system for raising the pup, which the dog will either somehow successfully maneuver, or fail and be rehomed, abandoned, or even put to sleep.

The chain of events is simply all wrong. No one should be sitting in their living room with their brand new puppy on their lap, googling “puppy’s first night home”. And of course I’m not saying you need to know everything before you get the puppy; I’ve had dogs all my life and I still find myself researching ways to correct certain behaviors, or casting aside old methods and replacing them with better ones. The point is that you should know something. The point is that the moment you start looking through PetFinder for dogs, you should stop and get more information on how to raise a puppy and what they cost on average and what kind of medical attention they may or may not need throughout their life.

When someone becomes pregnant, no one questions that they need to read “What To Expect When You’re Expecting”, and go to classes, and go to the doctor for check ups and gain information from other parents on babies and what they need and how they communicate. It’s just common sense. “Hey, I’m pregnant, and I’m keeping the baby, so I guess I better prepare myself before it’s here.” Someone who didn’t take these steps would be considered irresponsible.

Pet ownership requires the same amount of education and preparation as parenthood. I don’t think you necessarily need to spend 9 months preparing for a dog, but you should definitely put a great deal of time and effort into learning about dogs and their needs before you ever start looking at dog ads online.

The sad thing is, the number one excuse I hear from people who have seriously screwed up their responsibility as a dog owner, is “I didn’t know.” And the cold hard truth that they don’t want to hear or accept is, that it is a lousy excuse. I don’t care that you are just a teenager, and I don’t care that “they said she was vaccinated”. The moment you took that puppy into your arms and called her yours, she became your responsibility. If you are using your age as an excuse for not being responsible, then at least have the guts to admit, “I was too young to assume responsibility for a living being and I’m in this mess now because of my ignorance, and I wish I had educated myself more.”

Stop saying, “I was just a kid” as if we are supposed to continue standing by and watch children adopt pets and not care for them. Don’t grow older and refuse to admit that it was a mistake to let a 14 year old be the primary caregiver of a dog.

Because at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter that the farmer down the road told you his “oops litter” pup had her vaccinations. Did he give you the vet records; the phone number of the vet who did the vaccinations so you can call and request the records? The pup is your responsibility and your absolute very first action as a new pet owner should have been to call a veterinarian and say, “I just got this puppy and I’m not sure if she’s been vaccinated as I don’t have any medical records. I need to take her in on your next available appointment for a check up and vaccinations.”

And if you cannot afford to make that very first vet visit, then you are not in a place to own a dog. That isn’t because I am a capitalist or a classist or because I have a personal vendetta against you. It is because if you truly love dogs as much as you say you do, you will love them enough to admit when you are not in a position to provide proper medical care for them. Loving something means being selfless enough to love it from afar.

Dogs are not toys. They are living and breathing creatures who are 100% dependent on you to care for them. Unlike children, they do not eventually grow to be self-sufficient. They will rely on you for the rest of their life. That is a huge responsibility, and it absolutely crushes and frustrates me that people don’t look at puppies and become instantly overwhelmed at the great and amazing responsibility they carry for this dog, but instead gush at “how cute” it is as if it were a really convincing AI robot that they can poke and prod at until they’re bored of it.

And you need to understand when people start ranting and lose their patience and when we lose our ability to be diplomatic about this, it’s because we are so very tired of seeing dogs abused, malnourished, and simply improperly cared for; something that could so very easily be avoided if people would take literally five hours to read a book. I mean, we aren’t asking much, are we? Is that really such a horrible and cruel thing to ask of potential pet owners, that they sit down and read a f***ing book first? Is that so classist? So capitalist? So cold hearted? To please go to a library or Barnes and Noble and either buy or borrow a book that says, “what to expect when you bring home a puppy”?

And of course I’m not saying that irresponsible owners can’t become responsible pet owners. Many people look back at their first year with their dog and say, “man was I ever unequipped for this journey.”

The difference is their attitude. They aren’t defensive. They don’t throw up their armour and throw a hissy fit and pretend they are flawless. They are big enough to admit that they messed up along the way, but that they took the initiative to learn more and do better.

Ignorance is not an excuse. If you are not responsible enough to educate yourself, then you are not responsible enough to own a pet.


I think social media is a great thing. It gives me a voice, it helps me stay in touch with friends I can’t see every day, it helps me discover, explore, and engage, whether I’m out exploring, or sitting at home in the same pajamas I’ve worn for three days.

At the same time, though, sometimes I feel incredibly suffocated for the very same reasons. Sure, I can choose what I put forth on the internet, and hide parts I don’t want anyone to see. Transparency on the internet is an illusion. No one has to know when you’re having a bad day; hell, sometimes you can even make a bad day look good. Wine with dinner and a good movie — is it because you’re just feeling lazy or because you are crying so hard you can’t breathe? No one has to know.

And yet, even with loopholes and life filters, sometimes it feels like there is just no way to hide.

“Hey, why haven’t you answered my message yet? I can see you commenting on that thread about the anti-vaccine movement. I know you’re online. Why are you ignoring me?”

“I see you have time to blog, but no time to answer my email.”

“I read that tweet you posted. It was funny. I’m still waiting for you to get back to me on that essay I asked you to proofread.”

“I see that photo of your Starbucks you posted. I can only assume that means you’re on your phone, yet you haven’t answered my texts yet. I need you to acknowledge my feelings and respond to them.”

The thing is, what a lot of people can’t seem to understand, is that liking a photo of a dog on facebook, or even engaging in a brief discussion about current events, takes about 0.4% emotional energy. Responding to that text where you confess your feelings for me 4 months after I’ve moved on from you, or that message about how that comment I made a week ago really hurt your feelings, or telling you your essay was complete and utter crap without destroying the friendship, on the other hand, takes about 39829220% emotional energy, that sometimes we just need a few hours, days, or even weeks to muster up.

Just because I have an online presence, does not mean I have an emotional presence. Just because I have the energy to engage in a socioeconomic discussion, does not mean I have the energy to engage in a conversation about feelings, where I have to dance on eggshells and cherry pick my words to avoid hurting feelings.

Silence does not necessary permeate from anger, or an intent to hurt. Sometimes it simply means I am going through a rough patch, and would appreciate some space. Just because I am not sharing with you my innermost thoughts and sufferings does not mean I do not suffer, nor does it mean we are not as good friends as you thought we were.

So don’t take it personal if that facebook message says “read at 9:05AM, Thursday” and doesn’t get an answer until 10:03:PM, Wednesday. Sometimes we just need a time out. Not from social media per say, but just from emotional investment.


My mind is a tomb. A graveyard of buried hopes and dreams; a graveyard with tombstones of acid and drugs. I feel numb, but is numbness even a feeling? Do I even feel? What is it like, to feel? My body is nothing. Nothing but a machine left to do what it was designed to do. Neurons and nerves, doing what they were created to do. Created, designed, chanced? I do not know. How do I know what I do know?

I remember why I started drugging my mind. I remember why I started drinking. To drown these questions out. To drown everything. Destroy. I feel like destroying. Is that a feeling? If I feel, then I feel like destroying. I can feel my hands clench. That is a feeling. I can feel blood dripping from my palm. Pain. That is a feeling. But I don’t feel pain. Only the blood. I can smell it too. Destruction.

I am tired of the questions. I am tired of the wondering. Tired. Is that a feeling? Do I feel? I no longer feel. I no longer feel, because I am dead. My mind is a tomb. A graveyard of buried hopes and dreams. Hopes. Dreams. What hopes have I buried? What dreams have I ever remembered? Dreams are subconscious wishes. Even the nightmare. We all long for pain and destruction; even subconsciously. We long for pain, to remind us that we are alive. That we still feel.

But what is it like, to feel? What is feeling? How do I know I feel? How do I know what I know? I know nothing. That is all I know. I am dead. That is all I know. I long for destruction. I long to make people burn. I want to see the world on fire. I want everyone to burn. To feel the pain I wish I could feel. I watch the blood drip. I watch their feelings in their eyes. I watch them feel.

I walk away. Dead inside. Sometimes I wish I could consume their souls; sometimes I wish I could drink in their feelings. I wish I could feel. But wishing is a feeling. Do I feel? Is wishing a feeling? Is longing a feeling? Is loneliness a feeling?

I feel nothing but numbness. But is numbness a feeling?

Nothing but numbness. I feel nothing. I am not even dead. I am not even a corpse. I am nothing but a tomb.


It’s night. He is huddled on the couch with his arms around her. Reading paperback novels and watching colourless movies. So safe and secure within his hold. She rests her head upon his chest and feels his hand roam through her hair.

When daylight breaks she’s all alone; filling her cup with coffee and staring at the pink sky. The memory of his touch haunts her skin. She wraps herself in a blanket and hugs her cup. Her hair falls into her face; it smells like his hand. She wraps a finger around a strand and pulls it over her mouth. She breathes, closes her eyes, and remembers his smell.

She watches the snow fall. He puts her hand in his and leads her down the glazed trail. Snowflakes drift softly, decorating her hair. He brushes the hair out of her forehead and kisses her as softly as the falling flakes. They dance and slip across the frozen lake, holding hands to brace each others’ fall.

The falling snow feels like his touch. She wraps her arms around herself and follows past footsteps home. She pulls her scarf up to her nose; the fabric reminds her of his fingers. She sleeps all night and half the day; she’d rather dream than stay awake.


This feels so real, but it’s all in my mind.
I’m caught within a swirling lie. Imagined memories fill my mind.
The borders have blurred away. Colours fade; they fade to gray.


There are many forms of abuse, and all of them are despicable, but the one weighs on me the most, is emotional abuse. Emotional abuse is when someone continually reaffirms your worst fears about yourself, and uses it to keep you down, rather than lifting you up.

Emotional abuse scares me, because it creeps up on you like a toxic fog that thickens and closes around you so slowly, you don’t realize it until it has seeped into your every pore and left scars on your veins.

I was in a relationship for a while, that I thought was amazing. I was infatuated with him, and one day he slammed me against a wall. That was the end of it. I bolted out of there and cut all contact. I was so proud of myself, too, because I really cared about him and sticking to my resolve was hard, but I knew that it was for the best. I told myself I was a person who doesn’t take abuse sitting down, and that anyone who tried to hurt me would get shown the door.

I then entered another relationship. For nearly a year I let him slowly and gradually turn me into an emotional wreck. It crept up on me ever so vaguely. A gas bill hadn’t been paid on time and they called, asking for the whereabouts of the payment. When he came home, I approached him.
“Hey that check didn’t get mailed out; I thought you said you took care of it?”
“No.” His brow furrowed. “You said you were going to take care of it. I can’t believe you forgot–” he stopped himself, took a deep breath, and smiled. “You know what? Don’t worry. I’ll call them and fix it. It’s okay.” He then gave me a kiss and that was the end of it. I was relieved that he was so understanding, and upset with myself for having forgotten to take care of something so important.

Over the next months, I started forgetting a lot of things. DVD rentals wouldn’t get returned, mail wouldn’t get dropped off, phone calls weren’t made, and each time I was either under the distinct impression he had said he would be the one to do it, or I had no recollection of the errand ever being discussed, and yet every time I was reminded that this was not the case, and that it had somehow escaped my mind.

Instance after instance piled up. Eventually, I tried making notes of things after a conversation, because I felt like I was losing my mind.
“No, no I distinctly remember it. You said you were going to return the DVD because it’s right next to Starbucks and you’re going there anyway,” I said, replaying the event in my mind as I spoke.
“Honey, no offense but this kind of thing happens all the time with you. Remember the check last month? And the dry cleaning last week? It’s okay, sweetie, you’re just forgetful. It was wrong of me leave it up to you. You’re too stressed. I’ll take care of it.”

Slowly and systematically, control was taken from my hands. I felt helpless, confused, and pathetic. I became completely dependent on him, because clearly I was unable to handle the simplest task. I felt grateful to have someone so patient in dealing with my many flaws.

It got to the point where I thought about seeing a doctor. I was depressed, constantly fatigued, and felt myself going insane. When I brought the subject up, he reminded me that seeing a “shrink” would go on my medical record, and the negative connotations surrounding clinical depression. He told me there wasn’t anything wrong with me, I was just the kind of person who needed someone to look after me, was easily overwhelmed, and that there was nothing the matter with that, that he would stand by me and help me.

He made me feel like no one but him understood me. I didn’t have the energy to spend time with friends, and when I did talk to them about my relationship, the only thing I could say was how supportive he was in spite of my many blunders and mistakes. I was the screwball girlfriend with the angelic boyfriend with the patience of a god.

I finally reached a point where I could not make myself get out of bed. I called in sick to work because the thought of putting on pants was more than I could bear. The thought of brushing my teeth, washing my clothes, or even emptying the dishwasher was more responsibility than I could handle.

The less I could manage, the more there was to criticize. When was the last time I had cooked? When was the last time I had taken out the trash? When was the last time I had even remotely cared about my own physical appearance?

The thing is, when you are systematically made to believe you are out of control, you start to lose control over everything. You become so discouraged you don’t even begin to try.

I went up a couple clothing sizes, and felt even more miserable. He told me I would feel less depressed if I got out more, did more, ate better, and maybe worked out once in a while. His comments were always true, technically, but they carried a patronizing sting that made me feel pathetic for not being able to do it on my own; like a child who still needed to hold a hand to cross the street and a little chart with golden stars to get the simplest chore accomplished.

Finally, I felt so overwhelmed that I went to see a doctor. I didn’t tell him about it, because whenever I approached him with my feelings of despair and agony, he would point out how much different it would be if I would just take some initiative and “get over it”. I knew he thought seeing a doctor was taking the easy way out, but I had lost the energy to care, or try. I just wanted to feel like I had some semblance of control, even if it meant taking a pill.

I was incredibly fortunate to come across a doctor who could see the signs for what they were, and after what seemed like a lifetime, I was able to escape the toxic situation I had been trapped in for so long.

The effects of this relationship have not completely left. There are many times, to this day, I become so easily overwhelmed over things that previously would have left me un-phased. I still struggle to figure out whether something happened the way I remember it, or the way another person claims. I still find myself documenting everything I do for fear of losing my sanity.

I second guess people’s genuine patience, wondering if they’re being a caring and good person, or trying to manipulate me. I question everything and doubt everyone.

Emotional abuse is hard to recognize, and even harder to prove. Yet, the bruises it leaves hurt every bit as much as those left by physical abuse, and the scars it leaves on your soul are just as real as the ones people can leave on your skin.