Eureka! Dog Blog

Dog Training and Behavior weblog

Thoughts from Dan – Leadership

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Dan English has been working with Eureka! Canine Behavior Specialists for the last few months.  He has a 2 year old American Bulldog, Tex, and has a long history of training dogs of all sizes.  His skills are particularly impressive with the larger, more assertive breeds.   From time to time, he will be writing blog entries on various aspects of dog training.  Here is his first.

 

I was assisting Jane during a Canine Good Citizen class with my 2 year old American Bulldog, Tex.  Tex had reacted with some tension around an unaltered male so I was closely monitoring their interaction.  At one point I had to walk past the dog on the left so I put Tex on my right side.  I began walking him on my right side instead of my left when he was young while we were at parks to avoid the zooming bicycle riders and joggers and other dogs.  Initially Tex would try to cross over to the left side and I extended the hand with the leash out to the right (no jerking, just a little pressure on the c0llar) and gave the command of “Don’t cross that trail.”
 
So as we walked past the dog Tex showed interest, I moved the leash slightly and gave him the command.  The dog’s owner walked up to me and asked me how I trained him to do that.
 
I really did not have a clear answer for her.  But as I started to ponder how I should have answered that question it all came down to one thing.  I was Tex’s leader.  There had been no “don’t cross the trail” training sessions.  I did not teach him to not cross the trail like I had taught him to sit, down and stay.  Those skills were accomplished in sessions using treats and commands in a repetitive way.  The command for Tex not to cross the trail was on the job training but it became possible because I am his leader.
 
People come to us with a variety of dog behavior issues and they ask our help to bring about the behavior they want to see out of their dog.  Different training techniques are required for different situations but one thing stays constant.  Leadership.
 
How do I stop my dog from barking?  Be their leader.
 
How do I stop my dog from pulling on the leash?  Be their leader.
 
The basic commands of sit, stay and down can be accomplished by formal training and rewards.  They learn pretty quickly that if they perform a certain trick they will be rewarded with a tasty treat.  But in order to change unwanted behavior or to teach a dog more abstract skills you must be unquestionably the dog’s leader.
 
In the dog world there are only two positions.  Leader and follower.  If you are not one, you are the other.  And with almost every dog behavior problem I see the problem is that the dog does not recognize the owner as a leader.  This can be because of the youth and inexperience of the dog or it can just be a learned behavior of not taking the owner seriously.
 
So how do we become our dog’s leader?  It begins when the alarm clock rings in the morning.  Canines in the wild never stop posturing and they never allow a breach of etiquette.  Rules like “No Free Lunch” and the controlling of food and the high ground put us in position to lead.  You can spot a dog with a strong leader pretty easily.  They are a pair that seem to have a vibe going on.  Almost like the dog can read the owner’s mind.  The truth is the dog has learned to pay close attention to their leader and has grown accustomed to their mannerisms.
 
Exercises like “Watch Me” and “Leave It” focus the dog on the owner.  Giving the dog clear physical boundaries that they can understand like the tile in the kitchen or around the entrance way to the front door puts the owner in the leadership position.
 
No matter how domesticated your dog is they still react with instincts.  What we as owners need to learn are the skills to tap in to those canine pack instincts to bring about the behaviors we want.  One of the most important instincts is that the pack must have a leader.  And if we do not take that position and maintain that position every day, the dog will attempt to take it.
 
The good news is that it is not impossible to be a dog’s leader.  In fact most dogs want us to lead; freeing them up to just be a dog and exist in the world in a carefree state.  They will relax knowing that you are there to handle whatever situation comes up.
 
So find the skills you need to become your dog’s pack leader and use them every day.  Do not practice them, use them.  You will see your dog look to you for guidance and reassurance in every situation.

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Written by eurekapaws

October 1, 2009 at 9:57 pm

Posted in Articles, General, Training

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