Understand Your Leadership Style for your Dog
I was in Weston last week at a Home Dog Training Session with a new client and his Dutch Shepherd named Drachen. The Shepherd was having a hard time focusing and respecting my clients. Although headstrong, Dutch Shepherds are easy to teach once you get their attention. We got Drachen’s attention and he quickly understood that he had to pay attention to my clients. During the session, my client asked if I could give him some insight as to the proper leadership style he should display with Drachen. He had read a lot of different things on the internet and wanted to get the real scoop from me.
The first thing I told him was “Ask your dog. He’ll tell you what your leadership style should be.”
Every mammal has a social structure—especially those who live in groups. Packs are the social structure that dogs understand, and every pack requires a leader who can accommodate the pack’s complex decision-making requirements, such as food, entertainment, shelter and how the pack spends time together. To best meet a dog’s needs, the dog should feel part of safe and fulfilling pack.
Every dog requires order, consistency and a healthy social structure. The absence of structure creates stress in dogs. In fact, most of dogs’ problem behaviors can be traced to humans wanting the structure the pack to be different from the structure the dog wants. If the pack is not structured properly according to the dog, he will make changes to improve the situation.
For instance, when a dog feels he must tell his owner when he needs to be fed, he asks for food and his owner feeds him. This can lead to begging and manipulating. The owner should instead feed the dog at a standard time and ignore the dog when he begs—demonstrating that the owner is the decision maker when it comes to how food is managed.
Unfortunately, there is no hard-and-fast rule about how to be an effective leader for your dog. You have to first understand who your dog is and what he needs. Some dogs need more order. Some need more love, caring and guidance. Some need more exercise and stimulation.
Perhaps your dog is a working breed. He is a tenacious, hard-working canine who requires stimulation (entertainment) and a strong leader. Your dog’s brain moves fast, sorting out problems and creating solutions. If he doesn’t feel your leadership is adequate, he will resolve issues for himself.
If yours is a timid dog, he needs to understand that you are not a threat—that it is safe for him to trust and bond with you. Tough love is not part of this equation with this dog.
This is why it is often the dog who determines which leadership style you should have. A common mistake of owners is to pattern their leadership behavior after what worked with a previous dog. Each dog has different needs, requiring that you recalibrate your leadership style to each individual dog.
Communication is another issue. Your dog might know you are the leader, but he might not agree with the choices you make. He cannot explain the situation in words—instead, he shows you with behavioral patterns and body language.
As a social animal, you have the skills to read body language and infer the feelings and motives behind it. Stop your brain. Just be quiet and look at your dog. He is telling you something. Don’t fixate on the details of the problem—that is, on what form the problem takes. Focus instead on the function of the problem.
Dominance gestures—jumping up, biting and barking—are a good example. The dog is saying, “You’re the supposed leader, yet I control you. I’ll make the decisions and you’ll have to respond to me.”
As your dog’s leader, assess the payoff for your dog when a behavior pattern arises. Help him understand the situation better to make a choice that aligns more with what you want. If your dog is the one who chooses, you don’t have a basis from which to fix problem behavior.
All dogs need a balance of love, trust and respect. Different owners show these emotions in different ways, and different dogs need these emotions in different amounts. Solving that equation with your dog will lead to the most fulfilling relationship for both of you.
Robin and I are always happy to answer any dog training questions you may have. Please call us at (954) 424-0170. Please visit our extensive collection of dog training articles at Dog Training Blog at Best Dog Trainers Weston South Florida. All of our contact methods and information is available at Dog Training Help Center Weston South Florida.
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