Many owners are confused as to what constitutes appropriate leadership of their dogs. Before we talk specifically about ways to take charge of your home (rather than leaving that role open to the dog) it is helpful to look at what leadership is NOT.
Leadership is NOT:
1. Allowing the dog to do whatever he wants whenever he wants. This includes allowing him to engage in behaviors that are inappropriate because “it’s just who he is” or “he’s a dog.”
2. Beating, hitting, kicking, strangling, or using physical violence to make a dog “submit” . This is punishment, not correction. Using physical violence in an attempt to “dominate” a dog and “make” it do what is desired can cause both physical and psychological harm to the dog–not to mention the risk of the handler being bitten by a defensive dog. These are not corrections. By contrast, an appropriate and humane correction is immediate and quick, is unemotional, is appropriate to the infraction, and helps clarify the boundary and desired behavior (in other words, the dog immediately stops the unwanted behavior and re-engages in the desired behavior; this shows that he understands the correction. We will discuss corrections later in another blog.).
3. Bribing the dog with food, treats, or toys in an attempt to make him listen. This is different from using rewards in training. Bribery is more along the lines of “Fido, if you sit, I’ll give you this wonderful cookie. Mmmm, cookie!” The dog has not been trained reliably to “Sit”, and instead is being bribed into ‘good behavior’, rather than being taught the behavior. The dog will not comply when he does not actually see the bribe, nor will he comply if engaging in the behavior he wants outweighs the value of the bribe.
4. Allowing the dog to obey commands only when he feels like it. This includes having to give multiple commands before the dog decides to obey, allowing the dog to release himself from a commanded position whenever he wants, the dog only obeying commands when he thinks you have food or something he wants, etc. All of these behaviors show a lack of respect from the dog and a lack of discipline from the handler.
5. Giving the dog free run of the house, and then coming home to discipline him for peeing inside, counter surfing, chewing up shoes or couch cushions, tipping over the garbage, etc. Behaviors like these obviously show that the dog cannot handle freedom in the house, and that the owner has done an incomplete job of appropriately training their pet to a level of reliability. The owner should be disciplined, not the dog!
6. Making excuses for all the inappropriate behaviors a dog does, instead of seeking to change the behavior. This is incredibly common among dog owners of all types. Instead of changing the behavior, they “explain it away” and attempt to justify it using all sorts of explanations and reasons borrowed from dog pop psychology: “She’s perfectly fine at home, but she’s hates men, because she must have been abused before we got her.” “He’s a bit possessive of his toys because he’s a [insert breed of dog here].” Excuses abound, but excuses do nothing to change the behavior. The majority of these dogs desperately need confident direction, leadership, and training from their human, but have not received it.
Now that we have a better idea of what leadership is NOT, we will begin talking about ways to build appropriate leadership between the handler and the dog.