That word gets thrown around as much as motivation guru’s talk about positive thinking and how it improves quality of life over all. Both of those things are very important, except we tend to not really, really listen. We know we should do it, but life gets in the way.
Well, I am hear to tell you (though I know you know, but bear with me) that without leadership, you are likely to struggle with your dogs behavioral issues for life and if you have a new dog, without leadership that dog will develop behavioral issues.
Dogs without leadership and lots of spoiling tend to do two things (or do at least one thing)…they become nervous anxious balls of energy or fear, where they can start to lash out at life or retreat from it, OR they get pushy, moody, protective and seemingly dominant over everything. Of course there are many variations of the above, but that is it in a nutshell.
When you first went to school as a child they did two things. 1st everyone introduced themselves in their desks. No one went around and gave hugs or even handshakes. We all learned names and said something about ourselves if we were even brave enough to do that. In the dog world that is sniffing people and dogs respectfully from a distance, NOT being pushy with smelling and being pet like crazy. If a kids class room had to give hugs their would be so much excitement and running around and at least one fight most likely.
2nd the teacher went over the rules. By knowing boundaries that gave us confidence because we understood what we could and couldn’t do. When a child pushed that boundary they were reprimanded. If they weren’t reprimanded to a level where they cared or where it mattered to them then they were more and more likely to do it again and again (along with other things). This is the same with dogs, except with dogs you REALLY have to follow through because they don’t rationalize. You can’t have a conversation with them so a lack of consistent structure actually confuses them and causes more issues immediately or down the line.
If you have done your best, but are still having behavioral issues with your dog, you might be surprised HOW strict you must be with your dog and treat your dog like a student rather then a pal in order to help your dog over come those behavioral issues long term.
Now, what does ANY of this have to do with a kid version of yours truly on a horse at a show doing barrels? Plenty! This is Shannon and she taught me more then any other horse I had as a kid. She was stubborn, headstrong, pushy and most of the time didn’t act like she liked me very much. She also caused me to fall off and break my leg because I was trying to be as strong and stubborn as her, but ended up losing that battle and probably confusing her in the process. Some animals just have a stronger will. You have to counter act that with amazing consistency. Well, from 7-13 that was kind of difficult. She ALWAYS made me ask twice, she would do the wrong gate just to make me switch her back, she’d refuse to back up half the time if I asked and she regularly pushed through any reign control I tried to give. It was frustrating, tiring and challenging work with her. We had some of the BEST days and some of the worst (the broken leg definitely is one of the worst) The frustrating thing for me is my Aunt would hop on her and she’d perform BEAUTIFULLY! They were two peas in a pod and she might’ve won at the world’s with Shannon. So don’t get me wrong, Shannon worked beautifully, she just didn’t respect me and since she didn’t respect me, she didn’t trust me either, at least not to a deep and meaningful relationship. She trusted me to feed her, take care of her, pet her and treat her right, but that isn’t always enough. It is no different with dogs.
I never could match Shannon’s will and I never did gain a consistent respect with her, but I loved her with all my hear and still do because she taught me so much. If I knew then what I knew now we could have been a very successful pair, and by success I don’t mean trophies, I mean we could have reached that deep level of trust through respect and understanding that I desire for all of my clients.
So if you take anything away from this story let it be this…not being a consistent leader doesn’t just spoil your dog, it actually creates inconsistencies that cause stress. This can lead to a few little bad things or major behavioral issues because the dog is given the choice to lead. Find out what you want the rules to be and don’t be lax on them until the dog is SO confident that giving in a bit won’t confuse him and he can adapt and listen to you in many situations, because if you can achieve that, then you have achieved love and respect from your dog that grows into a deep trust. Yes, with dogs you have to often prove yourself a leader, sometimes over and over.