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Posted on Tue, Feb 7, 2012 : 5:22 a.m.

An unruly dog who thinks he is boss of the household needs training and structure

By Julia Levitt


Julia Levitt and Cheri Lucas

Julia Levitt | Contributor

Could you imagine a football team without a coach? What about baseball? The coach of any sport is as important as the players. For the pinnacle of the non-pros, take the Olympians — even they have coaches. 

I have written a few blogs on the "trainer's trainer" —  the coaches who help us dog professionals. It comes as no surprise that I too have a coach, a "trainer’s trainer," a woman at the top of her profession: dog trainer Cheri Lucas.

"Many years ago," Cheri explains, "before Cesar Millan became Cesar of 'The Dog Whisperer' TV show, I had opened a rescue organization called Second Chance at Love. I had a large group of dogs that I rescued, but I needed help with them. A friend of mine suggested I work with Cesar. The work Cesar did with my dogs was amazing." Cesar mentored Cheri for many years.

Let's fast forward to today. Second Chance at Love is thriving, and Cheri has become an accomplished dog trainer — and often appears on "The Dog Whisperer" TV show with Cesar.

When visiting Cheri's home in California last week, one of the first questions I asked her was about an unruly dog barking incessantly. Whenever someone knocked on the door, whenever something heavy fell from the counter, whenever there was a quick movement by a member of the household, the dog would bark. 

And worse than any of those, whenever someone new came into the house, the dog would follow the new comer around barking. The dog has even scared off dog sitters off by barking fearfully and running away when the sitter would attempt to catch it.

Before Cheri asked me some insightful questions: she explained, "A five-pound Pomeranian cannot run a household. To allow a dog to be leader of its humans creates dog that is disrespectful of humans."

Next she asked me:

Does the dog sleep on the bed?

Does the dog sit/sleep on the furniture?

Is the dog carried around (this a small dog) instead of walking?

Voila! This is not fearful behavior but behavior created by... guess who? The humans.

Cheri made the connection this way:

"When a dog uses these behaviors, it is dominating the humans. It does not respect humans. The dog assumes the job of the protector of humans. After all the human isn’t doing its job —someone has to fill the void! Unfortunately for us humans, all sorts of unwanted behaviors result from the human abdicating their leadership position. Now who would let their five-pound Pomeranian rule their house?"

Like most things, these behaviors start out in a small way. The dog is so cute, a perfect little bundle of fluff to hold. But wait.

The owner takes the dog across the street to chat the neighbors. The neighbor can't pet the dog. It is barking too loud. What is it saying is "Keep away. I'm protecting what’s mine!”

Guess what? It works. Score one point for the dog, embarrassment for the human.

"A dog barking frantically at another dog at the window," Cheri continues, "is the equivalent of going to the market and shouting at every person who walks by. Dogs do not have to bark frantically whenever they see another dog stroll by the house. I allow who I want to come into my house. It is not the dog's job to decide who that might be. This my home and guests are welcomed by me."

Okay, so I am going through my mental checklist when I return home. Who needs discipline? Discipline should not be punitive; never correct a dog out of anger and frustration. I'm talking about discipline as defined by Cesar Millan as "structure and routine."

Yes, I went through the checklist when I went home… only to discipline that unruly Pomeranian that I live with.

Click here to see a video of Julia walking a pack of six dogs under the guidance of Cheri Lucas.

Julia Levitt is the founder of In Harmony Dog Training ( in Ann Arbor. She can be reached at or at 734-645-4707. Julia provides individual training for dogs and their owners, and also conducts dog training classes at Ann Arbor Animal Hospital.


Julia Levitt

Wed, Feb 8, 2012 : 1:15 a.m.

Thanks Jeff for your question. I will be addressing how to curb the very typical behavior problems that occur with small breed dogs in an upcoming post. I of course welcome participation in specialized classes that I have created for toy breeds. For that, please see my contact information at the bottom of my blog-Julia


Tue, Feb 7, 2012 : 5:21 p.m.

Good article. May we have more info? How did retraining the human go? Did the 5 lb ball of fluff reform her ways? Was it necessary to stop her from sleeping on the bed, etc? Did they yell at the dog for barking? Was there only one human in the house with the dog?

Jeff Frank

Tue, Feb 7, 2012 : 7:12 p.m.

Please follow-up... we have a 5 pound Pom/Maltese that needs some extra correction and any tips would be welcome

Julia Levitt

Tue, Feb 7, 2012 : 5:45 p.m.

I love it LA! Thank you for your interest. Based on your comment -I'll be writing a follow -up blog in a month to let you know who is ultimately in charge- five pounds or 120 pounds-Julia