Be a ‘Great Leader’ to your dog!
In my definition ‘Leader’ is synonymous to ‘Guide’ rather than ‘Dictator’. A great leader should communicate clearly by providing consequences to behavior, strive to gain trust and respect, create training goals, guide by setting the dog up to succeed rather than fail, and motivate the dog!
Great leaders set good examples by showing, explaining, and communicating clearly as to what is expected and acceptable. There must be consequences to all behavior, but in no way shape or form is any sort of physical/verbal punishment, force, intimidation, or aggressive actions acceptable when being a great leader to your dog. Dogs are not wolves, nor do humans need to make them “submissive” or show “dominance” over them. As a leading agility trainer Susan Garrett says, “positive is not permissive”. This means that just because we are being positive with our dogs, we do not let them get away with everything. To provide consequences one simply has to reinforce behaviors that are appropriate, interrupt behaviors that are inappropriate, and prevent the dog from being reinforced for practicing unwanted behaviors. You can interrupt behavior by making an attention noise that has been trained using positive reinforcement or recalling your dog. There is no need to become a dictator when stopping unwanted behavior. Recent scientific data has proven that aggression towards animals can actually increase stress hormones. Therefore, the reverse effect of increasing aggression and stress behaviors in dogs causing more problem behaviors as a side effect.
In a world where people are getting dogs specifically to be their companions, benevolent leadership is becoming the popular way to train. The dog takes on the role as the training partner who is happy, willing and eager to learn; while the owner strives to be a great leader to their dog. I love seeing results and feel pride knowing that I have never had to yell at or physically punish a dog. What is the secret? Well, learning to be a great leader is what it is all about in my opinion.
1. Clear Communication:
Clicker/marker training will aid in bridging the gap between you and your dog and is a great way to establish clear communication. Either the dog does the right behavior and gets rewarded or he does the wrong behavior and tries again. All species including humans can be trained with markers. It is as though you are taking a snapshot of the behaviors you like and follow with reinforcement to ensure those behaviors are more likely to happen again. Once you have conditioned the dog to understand what the marker or click means, you will have established a clear-cut way of communicating. In my opinion, one needs to take responsibility of training their dog. Part of training is to teach the dog what you do want him to do; rather than punishing him for doing the natural dog behaviors he might think up on his own. Through clicker training you can establish a clear and effective way to communicate with your best friend.
A responsible dog owner teaches their dog how to earn privileges and rewards. We all work for the things we want or need. Our dogs can work for their dinner, playtime, affection, attention, things in the environment, and anything else he may want. A leader sets the rules and enforces the rules in a fair respectful way. One does not need to force a dog into submission or intimidate a dog to ensure he listens and follows rules. Training a dog using force or physical aggression which is demonstrated by many that call themselves “Pack Leaders” will have the side effect of teaching a dog that force, aggression, intimidation is an acceptable behavior. Aggression begets aggression. I am a progressive reinforcement dog trainer and use marker training. I have rules for just about everything, greeting (dogs and humans), walking on a leash, coming when called, knowing where to go potty, appropriate play, and house manners just to list a few. If you do not communicate to your dog what you do want him to do, he will learn, but will he learn acceptable behaviors? Chances are he will not learn what is acceptable, but rather what is fun and reinforcing. Barking, pulling, chasing cats, jumping up on humans are all highly reinforcing behaviors for our canines! What do you want your dog to know? Once you figure that out, you are ready to start communicating and reinforcing those great choices your dog makes, guiding him in the right direction, and teach him how to learn and earn.
When one trains their dog using this type of leadership the relationship between dog and human will be strengthened and the things you and your dog can accomplish will be unlimited.
The art of communication is the language of leadership.
2. Trust and Respect
Align your words and actions. Stay true to what you believe and with who you are. Your beliefs are the foundation of every decision and every action you make. It is what makes you trustworthy and respectable, when dealing with humans or dogs.
It is important to establish trust, respect, and for the dog to know that no matter what happens the leader will provide for, protect, take care of, and keep him out of harms way. Give your dog 100% of your attention when working with him, where ever you are, “be all there”. Be that dedicated leader your dog deserves. Human canine relationships are built on trust, not dominance. So, be consistent and fair. Training or teaching a dog is not any different than teaching a kid. In our society it is not acceptable to mistreat, physically punish, or yell at children, so why do so many feel the need to do those things to a dog. Physical punishment, intimidation, and force will only destroy trust and respect.
You don’t lead by hitting people over the head – that’s assault, not leadership.
3. Goal Setting & Having a Game Plan
It is important to know and write down what you want to achieve and set goals that are realistic and achievable to create a successful dog training plan. Setting small attainable goals through the use of a training plan, making changes when needed, and being patient to allow learning to take place is what great leaders do. Set goals that allow the dog to be successful and encourage the dog to want to play this game that we call, “training”. If you want a dog to succeed, you need to have a well thought out plan. When a dog is successful and rewarded for his hard work, it helps build confidence, makes him more comfortable, and builds a strong relationship between the trainer and dog. When you build a dogs desire to work, it is a win win situation.
A great leader can recognize when things have gone wrong in training and can turn those challenging moments into learning experiences and formulate a new plan that will cause the next training session to be successful. It is important to appreciate differences in dogs, draw from the dog’s strengths, and build a training plan according to each dog.
I have a Husky mix and two Border Collies and I do not expect my Husky mix to be able to do some of the tricks that my Collies can. I pick tricks that are acceptable for her size, modify tricks, and make sure she can physically do the tricks. I would also not expect her to learn at the rate which my Border Collies learn. However, she is very smart and because I have taught her to learn, she picks up tricks very quickly. One would think she has the intelligence of a Border Collie. I set goals and have a plan to ensure she is successful with everything I teach her.
One of the true tests of leadership is the ability to recognize a problem before it becomes an emergency.
4. Provide Learning Opportunities
Great dog leaders provide learning opportunities; setting the dog up for success by using a well thought out plan, and guiding the dog in the right direction. It is important to allow a dog the opportunity to think for himself, figure things out, and learn on his own. Make sure the environment is safe and will not cause a regression in training, injury, or allow the dog to have a bad experience. Play learning games with your dog and help him grow into a confident, secure, well-adjusted dog.
Education is the mother of leadership.
5. Motivation & FUN!
It is important to be able to motivate, engage the learner and build value for what the trainer wants because it is in the dog’s best interest. The dog gets rewarded through fun playtime, treats, the environment or with anything the dog finds valuable that you can use for doing proper behaviors. Great leaders are creative, know how to have fun, and are imaginative. Einstein wrote “imagination is more important than knowledge.” The ability to think and see things differently allows leaders to go in new directions instead of following others. Look for more ways to motivate and in return open up the pathways for more possibilities.
Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.
In conclusion, train your dog to do what you want him to do. Guide him by teaching him the appropriate behaviors and reward him for it. Your dog will repeat what he finds reinforcing. So, be sure to reward him for things that are acceptable or he will find things that are reinforcing without you. An example of this is barking at people passing by could be highly rewarding, so make sure you make being quiet when people pass by more rewarding.
You can be a great leader. You can make a difference, enforce changes, have success, and earn the respect you deserve from colleagues, friends, neighbors, children, spouses, and yes even your dog by being an amazing leader.
By Pamela Johnson