Leader of the pack


Jessie as a puppy, back in Canada.  Yes,in the snow!!!

I want to revisit the whole "leader" issue.  Over the last couple of years a very harsh, conventional television trainer has made "alpha" a common term and goal of many dog owners.  Because of this, positive trainers have been steering away from the 'leader' idea all together trying to gain some ground between them and trainers like 'him.'  Just because you are a positive trainer or want to train your dog using positive methods does not mean that you should drop the 'leader,' part.

So what does being the leader with regards to your dog really mean?  Guidance, education, patience, understanding and most of all helping them to understand how to behave in a human world.  It also means that we the humans are the boss and we make the rules but being the boss and/or leader has nothing to do with physical strength or usage.

The first thing that you need to realize is that dogs are not little hairy humans, they look at things in a much different way than we do.  That said we need to fully understand the canine to better teach them how to live harmoniously in our human world.  Too often I hear people say that they never tell their dog what to do, they can do what they like.  Being a true leader has nothing to do with stopping fun, affection or happiness.  Dogs are pack animals and as such need a leader.  If you do not step up to that position, they will; it is as simple as that.

I have seen many dogs who lack leadership and because of it suffer from insecurities.  Just like in humans not all dogs are meant to be leaders, there are leaders and there are followers.  Dogs need our guidance constantly throughout daily life to help them maneuver our world the best that they can.  Even the best of dogs need guidance, leadership to help them make their way through it all.  Saying that you allow your dog to do what they like is really letting your dog down as far as your job as a canine guardian.

All dogs, from the most fearful to the most harsh, tough and dominant types need leadership.  Good dogs can go bad when owners drop the ball and leave them dangling tryiing to figure it out on their own.  There are many common issues that result in a lack of leadership, barking is a biggy.  Many dogs are left at open windows, see through gates or doorways to do as they please.  Barking is a huge issue that can and does lead to bigger issues.  Dogs can start barking which quickly turns to frenzy barking and then to frustration.  If that dog gets out things can go from bad to worse.

Greeting is another issue that can go very bad if a leader does not take charge.  What does your dog do when people come over?  Perhaps your dogs launches itself at your guests, purely in a happy and joyful manner but perhaps not so joyful for the person being pounced upon.  Have you ever considered stopping it, showing your dog that we do not greet people this way?  If and when you decide to stop it you cannot just stop it, you must give your dog an alternative.  Far too often people just say, stop, stop, stop without showing the dog what to do instead.

Guarding is an issue often caused by a lack of leadership.  I have been called out many times to stop a dog from being over protective.   The dog has taken the door monitor roll; feeling like they need to take care of the stranger standing behind the door because no one ever told them not to.  When someone does come in the owner feels apprehensive due to their dogs behavior and the dog senses this as fear; so they step up the guarding mode and things go from bad to worse.

Being that Elsa is 9 months old I am giving her a great deal of guidance.  I often sit back and think; wow, she has only been in this world of ours for nine months, crazy.  She is learning a lot and learning it fast.  She has a lot of help from her mentor Luke; she looks to him for guidance often.  He has almost 12 years of life experience for her to draw from.  This is one great thing about spanning your dogs apart by several years.  With my constant guidance and Luke's assistance we are helping her to understand what is and is not appropriate.  She's a quick learner.

Education is never a waste; when you do want them to stop a particular behavior, educate.  Tell them what you do want them to do; don't cut the lesson short.  Expecting them to simply stop without giving them the information on what they should be doing is a puzzle with missing pieces.  Black and white is how dogs understand best.  Making things clear and precise; dogs don't get gray, they don't understand the meaning behind or hidden agendas.  "We do this, we don't do that;"  tell them, it's your job to educate them about our human world.