Part 3.. WHAT DO GOOD STRONG LEADERS DO?
I take you back to Part 1 where we spoke about how dogs see the world.
We spoke about leadership and the importance of displaying good leadership for your puppy when they first arrived at the home.
As a pack animal, the pup will look among the family to determine who is displaying the best leadership qualities that a dog can identify with. As explained in my previous posts, it is in your pups best interest to look up to or remain reliant on this member. Instinctively leadership means safety to your pup.
Let's for a moment imagine that we are dogs. Their body language says so much to each other as to who is in control. A good pack leader won't take any nonsense from the rest of the pack. He simply can't.
Keeping in mind that dog pack behaviour is instilled for safety and survival. If a dog is going to lead a pack to safety its important that he should be respected and listen to in times of stress or threat.
Your puppy is watching you closely and deciding if you are the strength that will keep him secure within his new family.
What does being a 'DOGGY LEADER' mean?
So you've decided that you'd like to try and create that leadership for your pack?
Here are some easy to read pointers of what good strong leaders do.
Lets keep reading to find out what he is looking out for:
Leaders eat first
Leaders get pick of the kill.
To reflect this in our family situation we must eat our dinner first and then down thru the hierarchy. Our dog should eat after the other members of the family have finished.
Feeding our dog at the table is a big no no and he must not feel that he can just demand food whenever he wants it. Dogs will display this behaviour by staring at you while you eat or barking for your attention when food is around.
Wild dogs learn to understand that eating is a privilege, not a given. In a dogs mind food can be scarce and they must take the opportunity to eat when it arises. However because of this, the leader must remain healthy and fed in order to support the rest of the pack, and so the expectation is that he will eat first and he insures the rest of the pack respects this decision.
Once he has had his fill he will move away from the food and allow all the other subordinates to have a go at whatever is left
Another factor is the eat now or perhaps miss out mindset.
The leader controls the food source and so if your dog is left to graze all day by leaving food out, they don't feel that food is a tool that should be respected. You as a leader must use that to your advantage. When you offer food, your dog should understand that he should eat now, and be appreciative of this fact.
This also means demanding or begging for food is simply disrespectful.
This behaviour must be ignored as you DO NOT tell the leader when you will be fed or how often.
If we feed our dog at the same time each day our dog will get used to this and will create quite a barking performance if we miss that particular time. We create a rod for our own back, especially if we can't be home at that same time, every day, forever.
A wild dog never knows when it's going to get it's next meal, so presenting your dogs dinner when you're ready, at variable times in the day, can sometimes be helpful in keeping control of this resource.
Height is dominance
Leaders sit and sleep in the best and most comfortable places. This means when we have our dogs up on the lounges and beds, this is a position of height and comfort and therefore a position of privilege.
People like to have snuggles with their dogs on the lounge in front of the telly, but a true dog leader would not allow a subordinate to sit with them in position of height.
A small dog who wants to assert it's authority may even sit up on the backs of the lounge. Above our heads. A large dog would probably try this as well if he could manage to stay there comfortably with out falling off.
If you have a particularly dominant dog then allowing them access to the lounge does give them that element of authority and this can cause troubles in other areas.
We know we have troubles and definite leadership issues if our dog tries to bite or growl at us when we want to move him from the lounge.
Preferably the dog should have his own space, on his own bed, at the foot of the lounge.
If anything, having our dogs on the lounge should be by invitation only. We can't have our dogs assuming they have the same privileges that are usually afforded to the higher pack members
This also goes for beds and outdoor furniture
Sometimes we might find out dog sitting on top of the outdoor table or perhaps on top of his kennel. Again this is a dog elevating himself to display a sense of importance.
In my time as an 'In Home' behaviourist, I would see dogs living in houses with balconies. The dogs would love to sit at the top of the house, surveying the street below. Quite often this created barking issues and again the dog saw this as a sense of authority or leadership of the family, and even the rest of the street.
Leaders have right of passage.
It is common courtesy for members of the Pack, to move out the way or part the way, for when the leader walks through.
A particularly dominant dog may nudge or push you when it walks on a narrow pathway or perhaps push past you thru a doorway. This should not be accepted at any time.
When we walk through doorways we must always lead and have our dog wait or pause until we have passed through.
If anything this is just good manners. Our dog needs to understand that it can't just charge through doorways, for fear of knocking children or elderly people over.
This also is true when walking on lead and why our dog mustn't walk ahead of us or pull us along.
They should be walking along side us or even behind us perhaps, but not out in front. There are other reasons for this, but this is a topic for another day.
Along these same lines, is allowing a dog to jump up on us. What we may think is 'giving us a cuddle', encouraging this is sending mixed messages to your dog as to who is in control. You're allowing your dog to block you and invade your personal space. A dog leader would never allow this. This must be avoided at all costs.
Teaching a dog to jump up can't be switched on and off. You may see fit to greet your dog in this way by allowing it to jump on you when you come home or walk out in the back yard. But at times when you have visitors, your dog also sees greeting them in this manner as a positive thing. We discussed this in Part 2 of the series.
Leaders are bigger better faster and stronger
Games that we play with our dogs can give your dog a sense of who is in control.
Dogs are over 7 times quicker than humans and their reflexes are second to none. This means that if we are going to play chasing games, we are showing our dog that we are not as quick or agile as them. They learn very quickly that we are inferior to them when it comes to physical attributes .
Your dog running after you rather than you chasing it, is a better option if we want to play these games. Also, by chasing your dog you are teaching it that it is a fun thing to run away from you. Which is not so great considering they will be faster every time.
Games such as 'tug of war' alerts our dog to how strong we truly are and for most medium to large breeds we will not be as strong as them if they really tried.
A human pack leader may decide not to play tug-of-war, especially with large breed dogs, so as to leave this factor a mystery.
Out of respect a dog will relinquish a toy when taking it from another dog in authority, or in this case a person in leadership.
Roughhousing with your dog really does confuse them as to who is in control. A dog leader will generally not play like this with subordinates, and so we are sending mixed messages to our dog. Nothing says disrespect than 'please use me as a play toy'!!
If you want a calm dog, behave in a calm manner. Hyperactive dogs are hard to control when the person who is meant to be his leader, is actually encouraging the hyperactive behaviour. Again your dog can also feel how strong you really are, and even if they don't push that boundary they still know that you're really not as bigger, better, faster or stronger than them. Do you really want them to know this?
Other points to consider
We spoke of food being identified by your dog as a resource. This also is true for toys, bowls, beds and any other possesions. Keeping children away from these items when dogs are around is imperative, as your dog may see the child touching these things and consider it as a threat in authority. You don't want your dog reacting in order to challenge them.
Rotating your dogs toys gives them a sense that you own these resources. Taking their toys and replacing with others gives your dog the impression that toys come and go and that you are in control of this. Rotating toys also prevents boredom which is equally important, but what you are trying to say is that the toys belong to you and you're allowing your dog to have them for that moment.
Good strong leaders don't yell or demand in high or erratic voices.
They remain calm at all times and clear with their expectations. They don't get angry and hit or smack. And they only ask once.
In the words of Rudyard Kipling...."If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs"....(you may not only be a man..as per the poem) :) ... but a good reliable doggie pack leader. (male or female)
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Next part in the series; Various behavioural issues and how do they develop?