A good leader leads quietly
Whenever I think of the necessary requirements in assuming pack leadership, whether in the animal or human world, words that come to mind are” calm”, ”quiet”, ”consistent”, ” creating balance” and most importantly “mutual respect”. It never ceases to amaze me how differently my clients’ perception of what assuming leadership means. To them leadership is about being harsh, loud, violent and cruel. This couldn’t be further from the truth. A good leader leads quietly.
Dogs are pack animals, living in social groups. In order for the group to function and survive, they require structure and leadership. Unlike humans, dogs do not follow weak leaders. In their world there is no room for weakness. Mutual respect is the ultimate goal in a balanced relationship between humans and dogs. If you are too soft or too harsh, dogs see this as weakness and will never respect you. In the majority of behaviour consultations that I do, disrespect for the owners are the main cause of unacceptable behaviour. People tend to think that disciplining their dogs is abusive and cruel.
Following the rules
If you observe the social interaction between adult dogs and puppies, the adults do not think that puppies are “cute” and therefore cannot be disciplined. They will tolerate a certain amount of nipping, tugging and crawling all over them, but limits are set and if the puppies overstep the mark, the adults will follow through with the appropriate discipline and the puppies will respect and back off. This vital discipline varies in intensity from a mere growl to a snap and a touch. Discipline, when administered amongst balanced dogs is well timed, quick and effective. Humans struggle with administering discipline because we tend to be more emotional. Puppies are cute and are over indulged. Rescue and shelter dogs were abused and so must now be over indulged in order to compensate for not being over indulged as puppies. People are well-meaning and their intentions are good but the problems arising from this can become serious. Dogs are more aloof and live in the present and will always move on towards achieving balance. In order for humans to be accepted and respected as deserving pack leaders by their dogs, they need to follow a few simple rules:
- Dogs are not human and do not want to be treated as humans. They prefer to be treated as dogs. If you treat them as humans, chances are they will treat you as dogs.
- No guilt or pity when communicating with your dog, especially when correcting unacceptable behaviour. No anger or frustration either. Always project positive energy which is achieved by being less emotional and more patient. Dogs will never respect people who are either too soft or too harsh.
- Consistency and following through with desired behaviours is important. Inconsistency creates confusion, which leads to undesired and unacceptable behaviour such as fear, aggression, dominance and manipulation. Inconsistent leadership leads to an inconsistent obedient dog. Following through with discipline or demands is important in order for your dog to take you seriously, trust you and believe in you. Mean what you say.
- Everything on your terms, not the dog’s. Nothing for free. Dogs must earn attention and affection. If your dog demands your attention, just look away and don’t react. He will walk away with no hard feelings. It’s what dogs do. Humans find this exceptionally difficult to do because of their emotional need to touch their dogs. Rather fulfil your emotional needs by calling the dog to you and then giving all the attention you want, on your terms. Remember to dismiss the dog by ending the stroking and looking away. You will find that your dog’s response to your call will be immediate, because he is no longer in control of the attention.
- Nothing happens with excitement. Putting on collars and leads, walking through a door or gate, greeting or feeding only happens when the dog is calm. If you practise all this consistently, the dogs will learn to accept very quickly that calm behaviour is more rewarding than excitement. When going for a walk, the lead must be loose and the dog in a following position and you do not move forward unless the dog follows. Dogs never lead, humans do.
These simple rules are easy to follow and nowhere is there a mention of the need to be harsh, violent or abusive – just consistent and patient. Asserting yourself as a pack leader will not deny the fulfilment of your emotional needs. By fulfilling your dog’s needs you will accomplish a well behaved, balanced dog deserving of your attention and affection. Discipline is not punishment and leadership is not dictatorship.