Being your Dog’s “Boss” [4 Effective Leadership Tips]
Picture yourself in the perfect job. Do you feel safe? Secure? Well looked after?
What’s your boss like? Are they approachable? Predictable? Do they listen to you? Do they make you feel like going above and beyond?
Of course, all of the above is important for us… so why does being the “boss” have such a different meaning when it comes to our furry friends? Why do we feel the need to show “dominance” when it comes to our pets?
Unfortunately, “boss” and “leadership” has become a dirty word in the dog training world. Trainers using outdated methods of training have hijacked these words to explain why they need to use scientifically disproven, cruel and dangerous methods to train dogs.
These trainers argue that the dog is trying to “dominate” us so we need to “dominate” them first. They will use such methods as the alpha roll to put dogs back in their place. But surely an animal that already relies on us for food, shelter, comfort and company couldn’t possible dominate us?
Don’t get me wrong, boundaries are extremely important and dogs sometimes need to be reminded of their manners. However, we also need to create an environment that allows them to thrive.
Here are some tips to be the best “Boss” possible:
1. Communication is Key
Which boss would you prefer? The one who only tells you when you are wrong, behaves erratically and punishes you without explaining why? Or the boss that gives you lots of support, praise, acknowledgement and has open, two way communication with you?
When I train or walk dogs, we have a constant feedback loop between the two of us. My tone of voice will change depending on their behaviour and their behaviour will change to my feedback. I give food and pat rewards for desired behaviours and appropriately tell the dog when it has done something unwanted. The communication from me is clear, and I watch for every signal the dog gives to me to ensure the best possible outcome.
2. Plan to Adapt
An inflexible boss is hard to work with and causes unnecessary stress. However, a boss that has no plan at all is just as frustrating.
Everyone has good and bad days – dogs are no exception. Even the best laid plans can go wrong. Before you start training, have a plan in place but be willing to adapt to your dog’s (and your) needs at that time. Remember that dogs can see, hear and smell things that we can’t so ensure you properly read your dog’s body language and adjust accordingly.
3. Be Patient
Imagine giving managerial tasks to a junior employee. While challenges are great, if they are working above their level of skill, they will quickly become frustrated and disenfranchised. Make sure their tasks fit their pay grade as well – no one like to work for nothing.
Dogs are no different so ensure you give them tasks that are challenging yet achievable. If your dog doesn’t seem to understand what’s expected from them, break it down into smaller, simpler tasks that they can manage.
Don’t expect your dog to sit on the first go – show her how to sit a couple of times and associate the word with the action.
Understand that your dog will perform at different levels in different environments – your dog is less likely to sit at the dog beach with 50 dogs around than in your lounge room.
4. Don’t be a Jerk
While this is an obvious one (no one likes a jerk boss), it’s also an important one.
If you are frustrated, don’t take it out on the dog. Remember that you have off days as well – if you’re tired, grumpy, stressed or unwell, skip training until you are in a better frame of mind (this is not a get out of jail free card – ensure you set aside some time once you’ve sorted yourself out).
If you need to correct your dog’s behaviour, don’t make the punishment painful, scary or inconsistent. This will just make the training less successful and damage the relationship you have with her.
Make sure you tell her for all the things she’s doing right and don’t be stingy with your treats. For example, take higher value treats to more distracting environments and make sure you reward for good, calm behaviour as well as specific commands.
Learn to be an effective leader
Struggling to connect with your dog and want to make dog training fun again? Located on the Bellarine Peninsula and servicing Ocean Grove, Geelong, Point Lonsdale and surrounds, Pawtastic Dog Training strive to help you and your dog reach your goals. Book online for a class or contact us to find out more.