Be The Best Leader For Your Dog
I just got a new dog in for training. Turning 1, she is very intense with a lot of energy. Alongside of this, she hasn’t been socialized a lot and in turn can display a lack of confidence towards people. So, with any dog that I get in, I have to customize a program specifically for that dog. Like people, dogs are ALL different and they ALL have life stories. High Energy vs. Lazy Overly Friendly vs. Standoffish Follow Eyes vs. Follow Nose Positive Human Interaction vs. Negative Human Experience The point? THEY ARE ALL UNIQUE and so you have to customize some of your training to fit each dog. As I was thinking about this, though, there is one thing that all dogs have in common: They need leadership. They want to be led. I like to use the illustration of a stray dog. These dogs are completely free to make their own decisions and do whatever they want. But if you watch them, you see a dog that is fearful, nervous and insecure. Often their body posture and head are lowered to the ground, tail is tucked between legs and they are very sensitive to what’s going on around them. Now, watch a dog that has boundaries. One that is obedient to his master. They are usually happy. Why? Because they have leadership. Dogs like to be led. As I continued to think about this, I wrote down a number of principles in no particular order that I try to follow when it comes to leading a dog. These same principles can be helpful in all leadership positions we are in.
- Trust – For any relationship to grow, there must be trust. A dog needs to know that I’m going to be fair with them. This doesn’t mean I don’t ever discipline them. It means that when I do, it is fair and they understand why.
- Consistency – This plays a big part of trust. I need to be consistent all the time. A dog needs to identify they are going to get the same me every day. They can have up and down days, but I can’t. I need to be consistent and try to be the same person for that dog every day. If for some reason I’m not having a good day, or know I’m not in the right frame of mind, I won’t train dogs that day. It’s not fair to them. How I handle situations, discipline, reward and communicate all have to be consistent. A dog needs to know what I expect from them, and I need to be consistent in my training to make sure they clearly know that. If a dog gets away with a certain behavior one day and not the next day, I’m confusing him. The more consistent and clear I can be in my training, the better they will be.
- Confidence – As a leader, I need to be confident. As I mentioned earlier, a dog wants to be led and they want to follow an assured leader. They need to know that I’m in control of any situation that may come up. Let’s say my dog and I are walking down the street and we pass by another dog walking and he starts barking and lunging at my dog. If my anxiety and stress elevates, my dog feels that. I must have calmness as their leader so they can distinguish I’ve got everything under control.
- Communication – We are always communicating with our dogs whether we know it or not. They are way more in tune with our moods, attitudes and gestures than we are with theirs. So it’s important that we understand our dogs are watching us. They are paying attention to everything we do. We need to remember this when we are working with our dogs. The energy we give off (positive or negative), our body posture or how we vocalize to them is all communicating something to our dog. We also need to really learn and understand what our dogs are saying to us. They communicate when they understand or when they don’t understand what we are asking. They communicate when they are bored, relaxed, or upset. It’s important that we understand this. Communication is so important in any relationship, and we need to be very sensitive to what we are telling our dogs and what they are telling us.
- Grudges – Let go of them! It is important not to hold grudges. As a leader of any dog, my passion is to help them be the best dog they can be. Do dogs test us? Yes. Do they try to get away with things? Yes. Do they disobey? Yes. At the same time, a dog is looking for leadership and companionship. Even if you think they aren’t, they are. So how does holding a grudge and keeping negative energy toward a dog help them? It doesn’t. When I discipline a dog, I discipline and then move on like it never happened. Patience is key. Some dogs take time to learn what you’re asking them to do, so be patient.
- Vision – Lead with one. Unlike a human, I can’t literally tell a dog that this is what I want you to become in the future and expect him to know what I said. BUT every day I work with him, I lead with a vision. I lead him where I want him to go. I stay focused on what I know is best for this dog and lead him there. It’s a daily commitment to making him better and helping maximize his potential. It’s spending time with him and doing life with him. Exposing him to those things you want him to do. Giving him a job and a purpose he can work towards.