Leadership - the key element to dog training.
Now a lot of people out there think that being a leader means that you need to be really loud and heavy handed and like a drill sergeant. But today I’m going to talk to you about how you can be a great leader for your dog without being any of those things.
Today, we’re going to talk about one of the most important topics when it comes to dog training. And that is the idea of leadership. Now, it’s sort of a strange word. And it’s something that gets thrown around a lot. And unfortunately, it’s something that’s often misunderstood.
Teach them to listen to you.
A lot of people think that leadership is all about, being in charge or by being really controlling or yelling and screaming at the dog. But I want to talk to you about how you can learn to be your dog’s leader in a much less confrontational way, in a way that builds your relationship and builds your dog’s confidence and teaches them to like to listen to you.
One of the most common things people ask is “How do I get my dog to listen to me?” One of the most important things you can do is to learn to be a good leader for your dog, because dogs love to listen to whoever they feel is in charge.
Dogs seek Leadership
And in fact, dogs seek leadership. So it’s really important that you are able to provide that for your dog so that they can sit back and relax and let you do all the work.
People are often apprehensive to go through some of the steps that are needed to provide good leadership for their dogs. Sometimes people think that their dogs are not going like them if they take away some of the luxuries that they’ve already been giving their dog, but the truth is, it’s actually the humans that are a little bit more worried about these steps than the dogs are.
Dogs are not babies nor kids
What we need to remember is that dogs are not babies, they’re not kids, and they have a completely different way of thinking. So it’s really important that we treat them like dogs.
And then, eventually, once they understand the rules of where they fit in, and that you are a good leader, you get to spoil them rotten just like you’ve been wanting to do from the start.
Does your dog need more leadership
Now, how do you know whether your dog needs more leadership or not? Well, it’s actually pretty easy. You just need to look at how are they handling the freedoms and the luxuries that you’re giving them already?
How good at listening are they? How well do they make good choices in your house around distractions, or your furniture, or your kids? How well do they listen when you take them outside and there are a lot of distractions?
Right there is going to tell you how much they respect you and how well they listen to you. When there are other things that could distract their attention.
Reduce the opportunity for your dog to make poor choices.
It’s very common for people to come to me with dogs that are well under a year of age. And frequently the luxuries or the opportunities that those dogs have been given by the owner, let’s just say, it allows the dog to make too many poor choices.
So what happens is the dogs start to learn bad habits, because there may have been given too much freedom in the house or too much opportunity to self-reward. Ultimately this means that you, as the owner, become a little bit less important in their life. Therefore, you’re going to start to struggle with some leadership issues.
Establish really good rules from the onset
So the goal is to come out right from the beginning and establish really good rules and structure for hour puppy. Then as your puppy starts to show good behaviors, and they start to make good choices, we then start to give them more freedom and more luxury.
So basically, the more well behaved they are and the better listener they become, the more opportunity they get to kind of do their own thing.
You are the gate-keeper to powerful resources
What a lot of people don’t realize is that there are many things that you’ll do in your dog’s life that your dog will view as an important resource.
It could be something as simple as whether or not they’re allowed up on the furniture, the bed, the couch. What toys are available to play with all the time? Do they have the ability to decide whether they can go outside or not, for example a dog-flap versus asking you to go outside first.
There are many kinds of scenarios or decisions made all throughout the day where the dog could choose independently and without your interaction. Alternatively you could use the resources that your dog finds valuable to your advantage. By using them to teach your dog that you’re the leader and are in charge of those resources.
There are great non-confrontational ways to say “if you want this, you have to come through me first because I’m the boss”. And do you know what it is actually is great fun when you get your head around this concept and your dog starts responding differently to you.
Let’s talk about the non-confrontational ways that you can teach your dog that you’re a good leader, and to listen to you, without you having to be a big meanie.
Say what you mean, mean what you say
The first key thing is “to say what you mean and mean what you say”. So when you ask your dog to do a behaviour and they deliberately ignore you. It is really important that you follow through with your command.
It could be something as simple as asking your dog to sit. So if you ask your dog to sit, and they are too busy sniffing the floor or barking at a distraction. All you need to do is repeat the command “sit” in the same neutral voice you did the first time, and then follow through by helping them to move into the sit position.
But often what happens is people will start to say, sit, sit, sit, and they’ll get, louder and louder and more and more angry with each time that they have to repeat the command. Until eventually the dog finally gets overwhelmed and learns to listen.
Well, I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to have to scream at my dog in order for them to listen to me, I want them to learn that if I ask them to do something, they need to fulfil the request. So my follow through needs to be really calm and collected. So the dog is not getting worried or stressed.
They basically need to learn, if mum tells me something to do, I really need to listen.
The other thing that we really recommend is trying to put your dog in situations, all throughout the day, where they are less likely to make poor choices. And this is how I train and raise my own puppies. I control the scenarios so that most of the time the dog is sort of being influenced to make good choices.
Try to avoid the negative
So I spend most of my day reinforcing, praising and playing with my dog, rather than saying “leave this”, “leave that”, “don’t!”, “no!” – all that kind of stuff. You want to try to avoid that.
Now, of course, I do need to help my dog to understand a lesson. If they do make a mistake. I’ll help them with that. But I don’t want that to be my primary way of delivering information.
Crates, Baby Gates and Long Leads can be useful.
I might utilize things like my crate more often, A lead or a long line. Baby gates in parts of the house can be really useful. You can barricade rooms off so they are off-limits and the dog can’t just go wandering in and do their own thing.
A Reward needs to be Earned
We want to try to control the environment, so that the dog is less likely to get into mischief and learn bad things. There are actually other easy things that you can do to help show your dog that you’re a good leader. For example don’t just hand them food for no reason, make them do something for it. It could be something really fun to do like, doing a trick or asking them to do something quite basic like a sit or to lie down. Once they comply you can reward them.
It might be fun, or give you a warm feeling to give your dog a treat just because they’re cute, but you’re missing a perfect opportunity to teach your dog that you’re a good leader and they should listen.
I often have my young dogs wait in their crate when I open the door so that I can easily put on the lead or longline before they barge out and I need to release them. So what I am doing there is working a little bit of control into those scenarios.
You can also do things like controlling the resources. Typically when my dogs are young, I don’t have dog toys scattered everywhere around my house so that the dog can go and play on their own.
A chew toy or Kong toy are useful
I might have a chew toy or Kong toy. But as I see it. These are really fun toys for times that we can play with them together. Maybe it’s through a game of tug of war or a game of fetch. But those toys are valuable resources that I want my puppy to associate with me. So that it makes my role as leader more valuable in the eyes of my dog.
Should dogs be allowed on beds?
Now let’s talk dogs on the bed and dogs on the furniture. I will be the first one to admit my dogs absolutely snuggle up on the couch with me and sometimes they sleep in my bed. But here’s the thing, I don’t offer those luxuries to my dogs until they have good training and they listen really well.
So, in the time being, if you have a dog that tends to be a bit unruly, or maybe they’re not listening that well to you, those are two areas that you can remove from your dog as an as an extra luxury.
So for example if your dog is up on the couch, make sure that if you tell them to get off that your dog happily gets off the couch when you ask. Or maybe you come into the living room and they’re lying on the couch in your normal spot. Rather than going to find somewhere else to sit have them move out of the way so that you can sit there.
Maybe you have them sleep on a dog bed beside your bed instead of up on your bed initially.
Crates are useful in so many ways
Or start by having your dog sleep in a crate beside you bed and then as time goes on, and your relationship and your skills start to get better, then you start to allow them to have those additional luxuries in the house.
But of course it is all personal preference. If you want to go your entire dog’s life without letting them on the couch or on the bed that’s totally fine.
Our ultimate goal is to be such a strong leader for your dog that when they make poor choices, you are able to redirect them with this simple use of our voice or even a glance.
Say what you mean and mean what you say.
But unfortunately when your dog is young, you first need to teach them that your voice has merit. That there is a reason to listen to you. So this comes back to my comment that you must follow through. “Say what you mean and mean what you say”
If your dog is making a poor choice; whether it be getting on the furniture when you don’t want them to; sticking their head in the rubbish bin; barking at people walking by. It is really important when you are asking your dog not do those particular behaviours that you follow through with something that is going to actually get them to stop. It could be utilizing your lead and manoeuvring them away from that particular area or, taking them and placing them into position if you’ve asked them to sit..
Try not to be repetitive with your words. Our ultimate goal is that our dogs learn to listen to us the first time, every time.
Timing of commands is important
If your ultimate goal is to have your dog listen to your voice without having to follow through at all, it is imperative that you have good timing with your commands. So for example, if their head is in the rubbish bin and you tell them “leave it”, try not to, take 5 years to walk across the kitchen and remove their head from the rubbish bin, move close to them, repeat leave it, and then follow through using the lead quickly.
Dogs learn within one second. So it’s really important that when we are teaching them, we remember the timing and what types of information they need from us in order for it to be clear and not confusing.
Be careful that you are not allowing your dog to spend extended time in the garden without you paying attention to them in the early stages. Be careful that you are not allowing your dog to just have free range of your entire house. So that they can’t get in your laundry or eat your kid’s toys.
It is very important that you are trying to spend quality time together as much as possible, so that the quantity isn’t as important anymore.
Say what you mean and mean what you say
There are three really key things that I recommend.
1. Be consistent in what you are asking your dog.
2. Be clear in what you are asking your dog.
3. Be fair in what you are asking of your dog.
Or to put it another way “Say what you Mean and Mean what you Say”
If you can nail down those three elements, you’re bound to be a great leader for your dog.
Good luck and have fun !