I wanted to write an article about leadership because this seems to be a highly controversial topic in the dog training world. Some trainers say things like “Don’t let your animals on the furniture ever”, ”Make sure to make your dog watch you eat dinner first. They only get fed after you.” “… walk through doorways first.”,”You need to establish you are the dominant one, and you are alpha.” Do I follow these rules with my clients? Sometimes. Do I follow them at home? Sometimes. But isn’t consistency the key? Yes.
Now, I know what you are thinking. She just said consistency was the key, but she ‘sometimes’ follows these rules?
Here’s the thing: I think leadership is important in any house with a dog. However, how strict the leadership must be is up to the family, the dynamics and scheduling of the family, and the dog. Some of the scheduling and strict leadership programs out there aren’t feasible for some families. I want the client to want to practice everything we talked about. I don’t want it to be a challenge, and have it be work. In the end, if they aren’t having fun practicing everything with their dog, they won’t do it.
Also the level of how strict the leadership must be, depends on the dog. If the dog already respects humans’ and their boundaries, then the dog is already making the decision to let the human be leader. Which is exactly what we want.
If the dog in question has many behavioral problems, and/or has aggression, a pushy attitude, or never had any socialization, then a strict leadership structure needs to be put in place to set the dog up to succeed. This is my approach. With pushy dogs, there need to be boundaries the dog can never cross. At least until it is trustworthy enough to not push those boundaries anymore.
So, when do these ‘strict’ rules apply, and when can you be lax with leadership with your dog? This is a tricky question. Think of a child. A child who constantly gets in trouble needs more strict leadership. Eventually, when that child starts to make better decisions, he has earned more freedom. Then, somewhere down the line, he makes another bad decision. So, he loses some of that freedom. If he keeps making bad decisions, more and more structure gets put into place. However, if that child makes good decisions, he is rewarded by having the opportunity to make his own choices and either reap the benefits, or face the consequences.
Think about when you learned how to make your own decisions. You made a bad one, and paid for it in some way or another. You made a good one, and realized it’s much easier to make the right choice, than constantly paying for the consequences. And everyone learns at their own pace. Dogs learn in the same manner. They need to learn if they always jump up on the counters, they will get the Pet Convincer used on them. (This is the tool I have handy and use often). Eventually, you will learn to watch out for their signals, and catch them before it happens. Then, because they haven’t self-rewarded in a while, they will forget what that feels like and won’t want to do the undesirable action anymore. There’s no ‘fun’ in it anymore.
So, I hope that makes sense. Basically, just like a parent, you set the rules, and then give the child an opportunity to make the right decision. How strict you need to be with your leadership depends on the dog, and the behavior you want to correct.
Questions, comments? This is in a nutshell, by the way.