Leader-follower relationships are very different from “pack theory hierarchy.” This discussion is never ending.
Training your dog provides excellent structure for leadership. I’m not talking about the old pack leader theory. It has long been proven that dogs do not form packs with a single pack leader. This theory is still taught by many dog trainers.
While this pack theory concept has long been proven invalid, the following is what I have seen that does remain valid and very evident today:
- Some dogs will try to manipulate one-on-one relationships- whether dogs or humans – to their favor.
- This is more important to the bossy, leader-type than it is to a submissive although the softer more submissive can usually get what they want from unsuspecting owners as well.
- Dogs instinctively manipulate relationships (humand and other dogs) based on stimulus-response patterns to get what they want.
- This is a natural process as they enter into relationships with dogs and people.
- This process (after the customary greeting sniff to find out “who” you are) consists of engaging in physical antics like humping the other dog, putting his head over another dog’s backside to dominate or engaging in a game of keep-away with a toy to see who can keep it away from the other.
- This is all orchestrated to determine “who’s the leader and who’s the follower.” It is all based on “order and control” or, who gets the toy first and who maintains control of the toy.
Most owners of problem dogs are not aware of these stimulus-response patterns and how they begins to dictate leader-follower relationships or, “who’s doing what for whom.”
Here are a couple of examples:
- He nudges the hand of the owner and the owner pets the dog freely.
- He brings a ball to the owner and the owner throws the ball.
- He barks and the owner lets him out of the crate.
Dogs are able to affirm and re-affirm leader-follower relationships on a daily basis, based on “who is doing what for whom.” Until enlightened, most owners are unaware of the connection these patterns have with their problem of how to train their dog.
If you are a parent, this may all sound very very familiar as to how your children work your relationship.
Dog behavior comes into conflict and clashes with us on a daily basis. Their hard-wired behaviors – run, chase, bite, chew, pee, poop, jump dig and bark don’t fit within our human and social expectations.
- Jumping is inappropriate.
- Barking is a nuisance.
- Biting is totally unacceptable – just to mention a few.
To avoid these conflicts we train other more acceptable behaviors. How do we do this?
We lead, train and guide them. If approached correctly, it is a process that is simple.
I think it goes without saying that if you say, “Sit” and your dog complies, you are in charge. If your boss says, “give me a report” and you comply, he is in charge.
By being in charge, as you train acceptable behaviors, you lead, he follows. With this structure and expectation, the stress and anxiety in your dog is reduced.
Don’t be confused by labels.
Some trainers avoid labels like leadership or guidance. Instead they use terms like “communicate with your dog” or “balance” your relationship with your dog.
Your relationship with your dog is well-balanced if you get what you want and he gets what he wants.
Example: You get a well-mannered sit for greeting house guests, he gets a treat or pat on the head. You get a good sit at the front door; your he gets a walk. We’re balanced now. How you communicate with your dog is important but it’s still leadership, guidance or training.
Let’s take a look at the following scenario. Being the smarter of the two species an owner recognizes a problem (jumping on a house guest) and then leads, guides, trains or communicates to their dog what “they” would prefer him to do (sit to greet) instead of jumping.
Communicating with your dog to get what you want before he gets what he wants is still leadership. If he has to perform something before he gets what he wants, you’re still in control or in the lead. You got what you wanted first and now understand how to train your dog.
A dog doesn’t get the food treat before he sits. He sits first, and then gets the treat. We make it work for him. This gets back to order and control of value items like food, space, toys, affection, walks, games, etc.
Here’s a case in point.
Dogs have always been aware of the value of leader-follower relationships and the benefits it can provide. HERE I am speaking specifically only about dog-dog relationships or behaviors, we might better use terms like dominance and submission.
Scenario: Put a bowl of food down in front of 5 litter mate puppies and see for yourself. They quickly discover the principles of order and control. The bossy or leader-type puppies will hog the bowl first. There will be this sense of control and order of who gets the food first – as well as how much. They instinctively know this and will try and manipulate the
relationship with us to get what they want first.
Our job is to keep them working for the things they want. Some trainers call it “no free lunch.” Others will refer to it as an “earn-to-learn” program. The bottom line is we still require them to perform first then we give rewards afterwards.
If you have a cool, easy going and compliant dog, that’s great. For every “cool one” there are 2-3 bossy leader types somewhere out of control that need leadership and structure in their lives.
Be as comfortable with the trainer of your dog as you are with the teacher of your children. And remember, “Opportunity Barks!”