By Luzelle Cockburn
Ever met those people who seem to have the perfect dog? Like, no matter what sort of dog they get or what breed of dog they have, the dog just seems to be perfect. They are calm, content, happily lie by the owner’s feet the owner can take the dog anywhere on or off leash and the dog just never seems to put a foot wrong.
Do you want to know what the secret is? Are you sure? Ok, ok, I’m not very good at keeping secrets anyway. It’s as simple as effective leadership.
How does effective leadership work?
Effective leadership helps your dog to have faith, confidence and trust in you as their owner. Just like you value good leadership skills in your boss and other people who you trust and rely on to make good decisions and choices on your behalf (not always by choice). So, dogs value good leadership skills in you as their owner.
Think back to your school years – you, no doubt, had many different teachers. I’m sure some teachers stand out to you. The students in the class may have toed the line, but they didn’t love their teacher. Other teachers were door mats, and the class was usually out of control. And then you had the special teachers, the ones who inspired you to do better. The class not only toed the line, but the teacher was their hero! The teacher you trusted, respected and didn’t want to disappoint – and this is the type of leader that you should strive to be to your dog.
Your dog will respect you if you show good leadership because you will not act as a door mat. Your dog will know that you know how to, and will, take charge even in difficult situations. Your dog trusts you to keep them safe. Through good leadership your dog will want to do their best for you, because they do not want to disappoint you!
“And then you had the special teachers, the ones who inspired you to do better. The class not only toed the line, but the teacher was their hero! The teacher you trusted, respected and didn’t want to disappoint – and this is the type of leader that you should strive to be to your dog.“
How do you know if you’re a good leader?
Your dog’s behaviour will tell you. You see, your dog can’t lie. If they are not the dog that you want them to be, it’s up to you to become the leader that they need. But of course, each dog is different. You might get away with being a softer leader if your dog is a Golden Retriever, but you will need to step up a notch for a Rottweiler and another 10 notches for a Malinois, usually.
Back to your teachers. Did the really good teacher need to beat you into submission for you to trust and respect them? Likely not. So, you don’t need to be hard on your dog to get them to be a good leader either. But what you do need to do is be firm, fair, consistent and trustworthy. We’ll cover the 7 Qualities of a good leader in a future blog post, but for now, it’s important to understand the value of good leadership and how it can help you have a better behaved dog.
Leadership is the way you act and deal with your dog in day-to-day situations. If you are pro-active and help your dog to make good decisions (say by putting your shoes away so that your dog can’t practice chewing on them) it will make your life a lot easier. Poor leaders are reactive. Instead of setting up situations to prevent problems or for learning to take place they react after the horse (or dog) has bolted. So, good leaders invest in training to make sure that they can help their dog make good decisions.
Leadership is not a silver bullet
Good leadership will not magically give your nervous dog confidence. It could. I’ve spoken to trainers (and seen first hand) where the dogs in the owner’s care were for instance scared of getting in the vehicle, but with the trainer they weren’t. Though, you cannot bank on it. You will likely still need to do training, and take steps to set your dog up for success as well as making sure they get used to loud noises, so come fireworks season or thunder storms your dog isn’t freaking out and running away out of sheer panic.
Leadership, like relationship – which goes hand in hand – is fluid. Each interaction has meaning to your dog. They are watching you like a hawk. Your dog is paying closer attention to you than you think. Pay attention to your interactions and make an effort to improve. Because while leadership is not a magic pill, leadership skills can be improved and your dog will benefit from your efforts to become a better leader. You will also benefit from developing better leadership skills.
I know, I wasn’t born a good leader. Even now, I fall short many times. But, I’m a much better leader than I was when I started out. And you can too! Dogs are very forgiving, that is why we love them so much. In the next article we will look at 7 Qualities of a Good Leader!
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