The Rules about Leadership, In my Opinion

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?

GD

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.

PetConvincerThink 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.

Ryder, My Project Dog

Rider2Ryder, a 2 year old male merle Great Dane I have been working with for a few months is a PROJECT! He came to my client from a neighbor who didn’t want to take care of him anymore. He was underweight, and completely unsocialized. His problems included jumping on people to say hello, biting the leash while pulling and trying to get away, being rowdy in the house, counter/refrigerator surfing, aggression towards men, and he would ‘play bite’ your face, hands, butt, anything he could reach.

Now, that was a few months ago. Now, he doesn’t jump on people to say hello anymore, no more play biting, and counter surfing has been greatly reduced. We have been working on a leadership program to teach him who is the leader (it isn’t him!), and kennel training. We have also been heavily working on the leash and handling the aggression.

Kennel training was… difficult. 1) Because he’s huge. He didn’t like going in at first, the client would bribe him by putting a bone in the kennel. This is still something we are working on, but now, he will come out of the kennel perfectly. He will lay down until we open the door. He has to be laying down CALMLY before we can let him out. In the beginning, he would try to push you out of the way to get out of the kennel. That was a few months ago. Now, he waits calmly to be called out.

Now, the aggression is still a constant challenge. He lunges at men while barking, and this is not a ‘to say hello’ lunge. He snarls and does a hard stare when there is a strange man across the street or outside.  Now, this goes 2 ways. If the man completely ignores him, he is fine. If he looks at Ryder, he gives a warning hard stare and then a growl. If the man continues to stare, he barks and lunges at him. We have been taking him to a social class to help with this along with one of Ryder’s biggest problems: He’s pushy and dominant.

The rules are coming along, and I see major improvement within the client’s house. The family has learned how to behave around him and all the kids are on board. Even the youngest (around 4, I believe). Obedience is showing improvement, though it is slow.

As for the dominance and pushy behavior, we are teaching him he doesn’t get what he wants by pushing past people or rushing the door. We are making him slow down for ANYTHING he wants by making him sit first, and then wait calmly. Putting the halti on, taking it off, coming inside, going outside, going in the kennel, coming out of the kennel, feeding time, attention, obedience training, etc. We have also stopped him from jumping on the furniture, as this was a problem in the beginning. Still jumps up on the couches when no one is looking, but he has made HUGE progress.

So, overall, we still have a ton of work to do with him, but he made tremendous progress into becoming a loving family pet. I am so impressed with how much the family has been on board, and the progress he has made. Every week (most of the time) I see a change in his behavior.

Successes:
-Counter surfingRider
-Jumping
-Play biting
-Calming down in the house
-Kennel training

Work in progress:
-Loose Leash walking
-Accepting the halti
-Respecting the family
-Aggression towards men
-Pushy/Dominant behavior