For Better Dog-Behavior Training: Pretend Your Dog Is a Tiger

Frustrated with your dog? Then manage and train him as if he’s a captive animal out of his element – because he is!


Owners often turn to dog trainers when they’re feeling exasperated. They report that their dog has the following behavior and training issues:

  • Has no idea how to walk on a leash!
  • Chews their shoes!
  • Jumps all over the guests!
  • Barks wildly at other dogs!
  • Chases the cat!

Of course, we trainers have detailed behavior-modification dog training plans for all of those things. But to start with, I like to suggest this all-purpose, magic tip:

Pretend you have a tiger, not a dog.

Dog training – like so much of life – is all about expectations. If you’re in the wrong headspace, it’ll ruin any training plan you try. The right mindset is your greatest advantage when it comes to creating a home where you and your dog are living happily together. That’s where the tiger exercise comes in.

If This Were a Tiger, Would You Be Mad?

tiger in cage
You wouldn’t expect a tiger to immediately blend into a human household. If you adopted a tiger, you’d work incredibly hard to set everyone up for success, always keeping in mind that this is not the tiger’s natural environment. Rather than feeling angry at a chewed shoe, you’d be thrilled it wasn’t worse, reminding yourself to better tiger-proof next time. © Anankkml |

Close your eyes. Think about that last unfortunate incident with your dog. Now, adjust that visualization, and picture your dog as a tiger you took into your home.

How does that tiger alter your reaction? You’d probably feel a little less mad, and it’s likely that your thoughts would shift like this:

  • He has no idea how to walk on a leash.

“Well of course he doesn’t! It’s amazing we’re out and about together at all, given how unnatural this is for him.”

  • She chews all of our shoes.

“Good Lord, why did we leave our shoes out where the tiger could get them?”

  • He jumps on the guests.

“How did we not realize that it was ridiculous to put the tiger in that situation when a tiger’s method of greeting is utterly unlike anything we humans would want to see?”

  • She barks wildly at dogs.

“It’s natural that she’d have big feelings about those other animals. Clearly we should help her with carefully guided experiences before expecting her to just be chill.”

  • He chases the cat.

“Why did we let those two species meet and interact without supervision?”

Don’t Expect a Dog to Know Our Human Ways

Obviously, your dog really isn’t a tiger, but every one of the empathetic reactions you’d probably have to a tiger’s behavior is 100% appropriate for a dog. Like captive tigers, dogs are a different species of animal just trying to adjust to living in a human world. Our expectations that dogs should immediately fold into our lives like Lassie are worse than silly; they’re terribly harmful – both to the dogs who are set up to fail and the humans who feel like they’ve blown it because their dogs aren’t perfect.

That’s why it helps to remind yourself (and everyone in your home) that you have a tiger in the house! A tiger is serious business, so:

You’re going to be proactive and set that animal up for success.

You’re going to think hard about how to manage guests.

You’re going to work diligently to tiger-proof the house.

You’re going to expect to be “on duty” when young kids or other animals are around.

You’re going to understand how completely weird all of this is for a creature who’s not in his native habitat, so you’ll expect those bumps in the road.

Finally, realizing you have a tiger who’s missing out on what he’d get if he were out in the wild, you would think like a good zookeeper would. “How can I better meet the needs of this captive animal, who wasn’t designed to Netflix on the couch?”

How Your Tiger Becomes the Best Dog

Flipping that mental switch from dog to tiger makes owners smarter, kinder, and more open to problem-solving. Do you know what that kind of nurturing does after a while? It turns that tiger into a dog who’s a pleasure to live with.

Mind you, most owners will still benefit tremendously from a great trainer with a dog behavior modification training plan, now that you have the right mindset. But the best trainer in the world can’t help you when you have impossible expectations about a member of another species who landed in your human home.

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Kathy Callahan’s new book, Welcoming Your Puppy from Planet Dog, is now available wherever you buy your books. Certified as a dog trainer (CPDT-KA) and licensed as a family dog mediator (LFDM-T), Callahan specializes in puppies. She and her family have fostered 225 of them in the past decade, and her business, PupStart, is focused on puppyhood coaching. The podcast Pick of the Litter is Kathy’s newest effort to help people and their dogs live more happily together. Kathy lives in Alexandria, VA, with her husband Tom. They’re technically empty-nesters now since their grown daughters have moved on, but the house is still very active thanks to the four family members who were foster-fails: Mojo the German Shepherd/Akita, George the Great Pyrenees/German Shepherd, Kreacher the Chow/Beagle, and Mr. Bojangles, the best cat in the world.


  1. “Our expectations that dogs should immediately fold into our lives like Lassie are worse than silly; they’re terribly harmful – both to the dogs who are set up to fail and the humans who feel like they’ve blown it because their dogs aren’t perfect.”
    Sounds like the previous commenters only read the highlights – not the entire article?
    Well, I dont find it idiotic – my take on it would be “common sense”. Which so very few people seem to have when dealing with dogs, cats or many other animals. Perhaps looking at it from the animal’s point of view just might be worth a try! Maybe not from a tiger’s viewpoint tho. Interesting take.

  2. Wow, everybody’s a critic. Don’t worry about the haters – I like this article! Of course, I’m a dog trainer, and today I’m feeling very frustrated by my inability to convey to a client the seriousness of her dog’s needs. You’re right, dogs suffer from the curse of familiarity – and worse, the rosy belief that any dog, with encouragement will become Rin-Tin-Tin.

    • No, NO! NO! NO!
      A terrible simile!
      Domestic dogs are NOTHING like tigers. They are more like human children.
      They need to be taught and guided. and fit in with the family group they live in.
      Sorry. Bit I rally thionk htis on one of the silliest aericle I’ve ever read re rearing and loving with dogs. They also need to learn how to fit in with the society around where they live.
      You as Parent/Guardian might also find you need to change your expectations and methods for each individual child (or dog, or cat, or horse, or spouse, or . . . )
      it is far easier for us to change ourselves than to force others to change for what WE want from theme,

  3. I’m a very concrete thinking person and don’t do analogies very well, but even I see the value in this article.
    Take aways:
    1)Training a puppy is serious business, if you want a happy home that includes your pet. From my own experience, training is not hit or miss. Consistancy is the trick.
    2) Be proactive in preventing unwelcomed behavior. Follow the above suggestions in the article.
    3) Most people are not trainers and can benefit from professional help if what they are doing is unsatisfactory.

  4. In the past I’ve been pretty critical of articles, but not in this case. I get what the Author is trying to say: as humans, we underestimate how hard it can be for other species like dogs to adapt to our world. We can benefit them by looking at it from a different perspective. If it bothers you to think of your dog as a Tiger, maybe it will help to envision them as a Wolf instead and go back to the very basics for their sake.

  5. How unfortunate that the Negative Nancy’s out there feel compelled to contribute with their considered opinions.
    I took the metaphor of the tiger to mean that our furry friends don’t come pre-programmed to our lifestyles, and as a recognition that more understanding and effort is often required by those owners whose dogs behaviour can be naturally inappropriate.
    We could all glean some useful pointers from this article.
    Thank you Kathy, I appreciate your effort.

  6. Great article! Many dog owners don’t see things from a dog’s perspective, leading to all kinds of trouble and frustration. Imagining one’s dog as a tiger (or any exotic/unusual creature) helps to remind us how very different dogs are from humans.

  7. Good article. Disregard the negative comments, they’re not worth refuting. The point is we are different species and we’re both going to have to give a little to make it work. Dogs and people have had many thousands of years to adjust to each other – unlike tigers who “adjust” to us by seeing us as the main entree. Lol. And because dogs are physically smaller than tigers they are easier to confront unarmed, unlike tigers. But it does take enormous effort to build a relationship. It’s well, well worth it. 🙂🙂🙂

  8. Sorry. I will be very very careful of what I say. But I disagree strongly with just about everything written in this article,
    I don’t know how many years of experience of dog ownership or dog training Kathy has, but the best I can say about this article is that it does NOT recommend physical punishment.
    Domestic dogs have been selected for temperament for thousands (or more years) to fit in with the human societies. They are NOT wild or vicious animals,
    They are also social animals, and readily fit in with human society. Much more like human children that any other mammalian species.
    So just think of your pet dogs as non-verbal children. They WILL pick up a lot of human language, but cannot use it back to communicate to with us. And like non-verbal children with develop may signs in their attempt top communicate with you.
    Learn dog. (NOT tiger!)

  9. Great article! The tiger metaphor is just that, a metaphor. Dogs are not children , verbal or otherwise. Currently I have two BC which I have trained and competed in Agility, I hike w them, they sleep in our bed, and they are kennel trained. I also raised three children so I know the difference. Let’s do our dogs and children a favor and let them be who they each are and treat and train accordingly.

  10. Lots of people commenting here just don’t seem to understand the premise of this article which is very simple and the author could have used virtually any other animal as an alternative. The premise is that too many people acquire dogs who are totally ignorant of their needs and just assume they will fit in with their household without any guidance or training – no matter how dysfunctional that household may be – and then blame the dog when the dog doesn’t understand what it is supposed to do.

  11. Good article! Tiger, very young child, or whatever creature not human (except for the child of course) is not going to understand our world. The point of the article is communication and learning. Simple!

    Woof woof!

  12. Very good discussion. If everyone agreed on everything, what a bore life would be. I would add one thing.. I think many breeds, including bird dogs, herding dogs and hound dogs until recently ran long distances and not on leads. I run my Welsh Springer Spaniels a half hour or hour every day off lead in a safe area (not a bark park). This really burns energy. If you are lucky enough to have a safe area to do this in, it really helps out. Good for you and the dog.🙂

    • I totally agree! And you made a wonderful point! Although I wish most of them never even inputted their ignorance and negativity on this thread. However, moving on from their nonsense, you’re point about exercising dogs I couldn’t agree with more! I also have a working/herding dog and I too find it so beneficial and necessary to let him run off lead in a safe area ( not a dog park) for an hour every day to burn off energy. Exercise is so important to a happy and healthy life. And it’s true as the saying goes, a tired dog is a happy/good dog!

  13. I understood this artical simply stating the fact that WE the owners of dog must REALIZE that it is my error if my dog chews my shoes. Don’t leave the shoe out where dog can get.Also I have been guilty of giving my dog too much space on which to rome. I come home from errand and I did not put dog in crate. So puppy chewed another object i.e.edge of sofa!!! Dog is 20 month old. Do not expect puppy to act like a 3 y
    O. Well trained dog. So it was my expectations that caused the problem…not the dogs ! I loved the artical.

    • I loved this article too! I wish more people could have understood it and took away from it the meaning, guidance and pointers it gives readers! It definitely rang true for me and I needed to read an article like this after an incident of my young dog getting into something recently, and now after reading this article I more so wish I had handled it and reacted differently! In the event of another incident, I will definitely remember this article and what I took from it and react to the situation differently as well as try to prevent it from happening in the first place! Dogs have natural instincts and are a different species living with humans and we HAVE to remember that!