Pet Column: Dogs need leadership as much as they need love

Olive looks to me for guidance during our walk.

By Elle Williams  
Pet Columnist, Canyon Lake Insider  

You give your dog food, water, shelter, and love, so what more could they need? They need a leader— a person who they turn to for guidance and who sets boundaries and doesn’t give in to their demands.

When I say “need,” I really do mean need. You can give your dog all the love, food, water, and shelter it could ever need and it could still end up with behavior problems. Actually, it’s almost certain you will.

Dogs thrive in a pack, whether it’s a human family with other dogs or just you and your pup. There’s a great deal of security in having a leader who calls the shots, and that security gets shattered when your dog feels it is necessary to take charge. Think of it this way, if your boss let you make all the company decisions, you would feel overwhelmed and probably make poor decisions. When boundaries are set, dogs don’t feel the stress of running the household.

Now, let’s look at the downward spiral a dog goes down when you don’t show leadership. Let’s say you get a cute innocent puppy that play nips on your hands. Cute right? Not so cute when it gets bigger and starts shredding your hands and clothing. You never set that boundary and the dog now gets all the power to invade your personal space.

Then, on walks, you grab the leash and the puppy jumps all over you with excitement. You struggle to wrangle its hauler and leash on. You go to open the door and it shoves its way out the doorway first. Then it drags you down the street and takes you to all their favorite sniffing spots. You’re just throwing away leadership left and right.

Suddenly a person walks by and it lunges forward at them. Why? Well, it’s in charge, they feel the need to protect the pack. That’s an awfully large decision to make, protecting the person who should have been the one to determine if another human is a threat. All because that walk started with them calling the shots.

A dog’s life should have a feeling of security. You should be that leader. Here are some simple steps to becoming a better one:

Teach it the basics. “Sit,” “down,” “stay,” and “come” are all great cues to teach communication and should be the first thing you do once your dog has settled into your home. Basic Obedience is about teaching your dog to make good choices, often the answer is seeking guidance from you. 

Never give out a freebie. Have your pup do something to earn anything it finds valuable. Treats of course, but I’m also talking about getting up on the couch, going on walks, giving it dinner, the list goes on. 

Set the pace of walks from the minute you pick up the leash. Only put its leash on when they are calm. Have them stay as you open and walk through the doorway, then release them from the stay with an “ok” or “done.” When it pulls, lead it away from the spot it wants to go, turn around once it walks calmly, and then reward it by letting it go to the spot it was originally pulling to get to. 

Teach it “leave it” and “wait.” Have it wait for its dinner or new toy. Reward the “wait” by letting it have its dinner or toy. Enforce “leave it” when it goes to pick up objects you don’t want it to have.

Learn how to claim space. If your dog bugs you while preparing a meal, use body blocking to let it know it can’t come into the kitchen unless you allow them to. Claiming space also applies to objects. If you value an item, your dog most likely knows and will also want that valuable item. If your dog has a love of chewing the remote, make it clear that it’s not theirs to take by holding the remote close to your center and using the cue “leave it.” Once it leaves it, reward with verbal praise.

Leadership is not accomplished with force or physically positioning a dog into a submissive posture. Leadership comes from the skills you teach and the boundaries you put in place with a calm, confident demeanor.

Elle Williams is a local in-home dog trainer and the owner of Give a Sit Dog Training. She is certified in dog psychology, nutrition, and grooming, and specializes in basic and advanced obedience, puppy prep, and behavior adjustment training.


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