What happens when you take your dog for walk or out to an event? Does s/he:
- pull on the leash to get ahead of you?
- pay attention to everyone and everything EXCEPT you?
- scan for something to get into or bark and lunge at?
Those will be easy to fix once you establish yourself as a leader for your dog. Yup, I said that word that has become something like a 4-letter word in today’s society… l-e-a-d-e-r.
Why is it a bad word? Unfortunately, many equate a leader to a tyrant. Websters’ definition is a person who leads something such as a guide or a conductor. None of the definitions talk of tyranny or dominance, so let’s just drop the bad taste for the word, ok?
So off my soapbox about leaders and onto why it’s so important with dogs….I am not going all Ceasar Milan-ish on you about pack leaders…just about being a plain ole leader to help your dog maneuver our complex human society.
Without guidance, a dog will take matters into his own hands. That is where behaviors often run amuck and get ugly. A dog doesn’t have a moral compass, so their innate instincts take over and they often revert back to their wild ancestry behavior. Their humans need to intervene to guide them, as their leader, to what they should do and reward them for it, and what they should not do, and discourage it. Yes, I am saying this too…”NO” needs to be given some meaning, not just idle threats with no accountability. Again, that does not mean you need to imply your will through brute strength and force.
Trust is necessary for a dog to look to you as a leader. One must trust to be trusted. Yes, read that again…we must learn to trust our dogs so our dogs trust us. A dog that trusts us looks to us for guidance and approvals.
Just because you rescue a dog that does not mean the dog will automatically trust you. Sure, s/he is probably very grateful that you removed him form a shelter situation to be able to live somewhere quiet, dry, warm with regular meals and love, but trust is earned.
Read just about any article on leadership and there are common themes of good leaders. In my opinion, these are true as leaders of people or dogs. Some of those characteristics include:
- Clarity - be clear in what you ask of your dog, they don’t know the English language, they didn’t come programmed to know the basic obedience skills or manners, you have to teach them and guide them to keep doing the right thing to build good habits.
- Compassion - think like your dog, it does not matter if we think their fears are silly or unfounded, if they are spooked them we need to help feel safe enough to get pasted it. It is not fair to leave a dog stuck in a fearful spot, help them get past their “hang-ups” to get to a better, happier place to exist. Respect your dog’s space, don’t always be hugging, kissing and picking them up. Let them come to you seeking that. You might be surprised at what you see and get in return.
- Character - be the person your dog wants you to be, advocate and stand up for them, protect them from perceived threats.
- Commitment - if you adopt or buy a dog, it is a commitment. Although we live in a throw-away society, our pets shouldn’t be viewed that way. You made a commitment now live up to it.
- Consistency - be consistent in how you treat and train your dog, from one family member to another. This is how they learn, through consistency and repetition.
- Competency - you might not be a professional trainer but you owe it to the dog you brought into your life to learn at least some basic “dog parenting” and training skills. They need that from you.
- Confidence - you need to be confident yourself to build confidence in your dog. If you are a weak, emotional mess, your dog will pick up on it and be even less confident without the proper support and guidance from you. Our dogs mirror us. They are masters at reading our body language and emotions.
- Calmness - don’t stay in an overexcited, anxious state yourself.
- Spend time with your dog! Most dogs just want to be with and around you. Your love should be expressed through training, promoting health and wellness and just letting them be with you, doing some stuff they think is fun.
Building trust in your dog so they look to you as their leader does not happen overnight. It’s through the characteristics above that trust is built. It takes time and effort. Dogs are masters at reading us so your leadership cannot be fake, incomplete or misguided. Be an advocate for your dog, know their fears and anxieties and help them learn to cope with them transforming them to be happy, healthy, balanced and well-mannered dog.
For training help to build trust, obedience and manners in your dog, contact K9 Rules Training Camp, www.k9rulestrainingcamp.com or follow us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/K9RTC.