Why leadership matters in dog training

Why leadership matters in dog training | Clan Dog

Your dog doesn't want to be in charge

Why leadership matters?

It’s a long held myth in dog training that your dog is desperate to be in charge. If they are out in front of you on a walk, go through a door before you or eat first then they will think they are the boss and that’s your training out the window. Not true.

Dog’s don’t want to be ‘in charge’. They have zero desire to dominate you. This is old school thinking based in old school training methods from the same era as public hangings and capital punishment in schools. We’ve evolved past that with how we raise our children so why do we hang on to these same ideas and constructs with dogs?

Here’s the truth – you are by default dominant over your dog. You need to make peace with that. You control the food, the walks, the toys and all the good things in their life. Most modern and ethical dog trainers will  actively encourage you to take control of some or all of the things that your dog loves in order to motivate them with those items for training and behaviour. This is why good leadership matters – you have control by default so you need to learn to use it well to give your dog the best possible life you can.

Leadership is the cornerstone of a successful, enjoyable and rewarding relationship with your dog. Let’s just take a minute to look at the concept of leadership in general.

We have all been subject to leadership in our lives, from our earliest days our parents are our first real leaders. We grow up within family units, they may look different for us all but there is almost always a structure and hierarchy within them where someone is in charge. It is how we stay safe, how we learn and ultimately how we grow to be able to make our own good independent decisions.

When we make it into the workplace as adults we almost always come under another leadership structure. We’ve probably all been subject to this when it has had a positive outcome on our day to day lives and when it hasn’t. Let’s have a think about the ‘boss’ you wouldn’t want to show up to work for and why. We will call them Boss A.

Boss A is pretty shouty, if they need you to do something for them they just shout at you to ‘get on with it’ – regardless of if you have any idea of what it is you are meant to be doing. They offer you no help, no understanding and they don’t give you any guidance on what it is you are meant to do to achieve this ‘thing’ they are asking for. When you get it wrong, which you probably will they simply dock your pay and let you know you better learn from your mistakes and get it right next time. Do you want to go to work? Nope.

Now let’s consider Boss B – who is the nicest person you ever met. Cares deeply about everyone and everything but is just a bit hopeless when it comes to making decisions. There’s a list of jobs that needs doing and all the other staff are running around doing their best to sort it out but with everyone pulling in different directions because they have their own ideas about what’s best and what’s not and the person who is meant to be in charge just handing out the cups of tea it’s all a bit of a mess. Do you want to go to work? Possibly, but it’s so you can throw a party on someone else’s time that annoys the person in the office next door and when Boss B finally asks you to do something you don’t want to do – are you going to do it??

So now we are working for Boss C who gives out a clear instruction for what they want you to do. Shows you how to do it if you don’t understand. They get to know you and ask for you to do things for them in a way that makes sense to you – but they aren’t in your face and they don’t attend the staff parties, get drunk and behave like a bit of a jerk. You wouldn’t choose to ignore them because they respect you and you respect them, when the call for an extra shift at midnight on Christmas Eve comes you will probably say yes because well Boss C is just a decent person who you trust, respect and makes your life a whole lot better. Boss C isn’t really your boss, they are your leader because you WANT to work for them.

Now take a look at yourself through your dogs eyes and decide which one of those you are to them! You might somewhere in between and thats probably where most of us are, because lets face it – we aren’t robots and none of us are perfect. But the crucial thing to understand here is that being that person in your dogs eyes is the one thing you can do to make their life better, to get the training that you’ve been trying and trying to get to stick to actually stick – and achieving it isn’t as difficult as you think. Dogs are endlessly giving and they forgive us our mistakes time and again, if you make the changes they will follow.

So consider these things, how do you behave around your dog that shows them you are that calm and confident leader they crave? How well do you know YOUR dog, do you just take a tennis ball for play because all dog’s like tennis balls right or have you tried all sorts of different things to see what really switches them on? When they get stressed or worried about something do you support them or just join the party? Do they really understand what you are asking of them?

Because get your base relationship right with your dog right and the rest should all fall into place.

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