The Basic Tools of Leadership
Being that thing first that you want your dog to be – attentive, aware, calm, grounded, patient, respectful – comfortable, confident and normal.
Observe a dog interacting with another dog. Dogs that are psychologically well balanced dogs – not anxious, reactive, fearful etc. A confident, well socialized dog uses subtle means of communication to teach or correct another dog. Most of what occurs is posturing primarily conveyed through body language, although there may be verbalization at times. Have you ever watched dogs playing and observed what happens when one dog is too pushy with the other dog. The dog who objects to the pushy behavior disengages from the play by calmly ceasing physical contact and turning his/her head away from the other dog. this is leading by example. Calm, patient , non-confrontational, logically directive and respectful – not dominating, not unnecessarily intrusive, not aggressive.
Leadership Is Not…
Leadership is not domination and has nothing to do with being an ‘Alpha’ – a much misunderstood, over-used and misused term. You should never aspire to being an ‘alpha’ to your dog – read why here. It is unfortunate that many veterinarians, trainers and people have adopted the false concept of the alpha dog.
The starting point, the very core of teaching a dog to be a good dog is not about habituating a dog to sit, stay or lie down. Teaching a dog to be a good dog starts with educating the human about the true nature and requirements of the dog. Dogs in their natural state are generally ‘good’. Without intending to do so many humans take away a dog’s ability to fulfill themselves as a dog. This sets the stage for ‘unhealthy’ dog behavior. When the human understands the basic principles of how to fulfill the ‘dog in the dog’, the human is in a better position to enable the best in their dog and themselves.
Step One Training for the Human
a) Be aware of what and how you communicate;
b) Have a basic understanding of how dogs communicate.
Step Two – Basic Does and Don’t s
- Not controlling your own emotions;
- Not engaging in a working, logical mode.
- Engaging in emotive mode;
- Providing incomplete direction to a dog
- Arguing, complaining rather than directing –
- i.e. ‘I wish you wouldn’t do that’, ‘Oh, stop that’ etc. There is a vast difference between complaining and instructing!
- Not stopping –
- i.e. if your dog is ‘not behaving’, ‘not listening’, stop what you are doing, don’t keep moving forward; stop and address – then continue.
Most dogs, will instinctively know what they are being asked to do if they are communicated with & shown in the right way at the right time & provided with the right tools to navigate safely & confidently through situations.
Step Three – Your Dog Needs Structure
Humans require structure in their lives – so do dogs. In the absence of work, a hobby, something productive to focus on, a goal(s) to keep wits sharp and mind fulfilled a human becomes aimless, anxious, depressed…and so it is for a dog. As a species we mentor our children – helping them to cope with normal daily life situations – when this is done properly the child becomes a grounded and confident being. Dogs require that same mentoring.
Why do humans have so many rules and laws within their societies? To provide consistent, clear direction for the mass of humanity. Why is this necessary – well because most humans are not born leaders – they look to specific individuals to ‘light and pave’ the way. Given the opportunity most people will make decisions based on emotion and impulse – not logic. Inadequate training in strategic decision making gets people in trouble – and so it is for dogs as well. Most dogs are not born leaders – they are by natural disposition followers. While some dogs are natural leaders, most are not and as such they look for leadership.
A dog requires:
An overarching structure in his/her life. Within that broad structure there should exist…
A framework for each and every typical daily situation, i.e. social and life skills for example:
- Entering and exiting a door, room, etc.
- The use of couches and beds
- How to take treats
- How to wait for food and respect others food
- How to share toys and treats
- How to get ready for a walk
- How to great a human or another dog
- How to play
And within each framework there must be a series of gateways which the dog must work with and within, in order to gain access to the desired goal, i.e.
To exit from the house out the door and into the backyard…
The dog must go through a series of steps – psychological and physical to ‘ask’ permission and in this way the dog learns to connect and work with its human by navigating through a series of what I call ‘gateways’. In so doing the dog knows that it will be provided with direction, that it will not be permitted to escalate to intense behaviour, that it must stop and think…
- The dog should not be pressed up against the door, but instead should yield the space by the door and wait several feet away from the door
- The dog should make eye-contact with its human
- The dog should wait for the human to yield the space in-front of the door and/or wait for a gesture or signal that it may proceed out the door
- The dog should be calm and attentive throughout this entire process.
In order for this process to be both fair and successful the human must direct in a kind, fair, intelligent, aware and self-disciplined manner .