Are you a good leader to your dog? Does your dog know you have their back?
Recently I was bit by a Pug! I’ve had large dogs with serious behavioral issues in my house and managed not to be bitten by one. Paco was tethered in an office at a friend’s barn. All day, strangers came in and out of his space, and he barked and lunged.
Paco had had a traumatic experience previously and was completely stressed out. His pleas for space were being ignored, and I happened to be the last straw, even though I attempted to pose no threat.
After the incident, I offered to help Paco and his owner. They are working on improving things by providing Paco with a less stressful environment and reconditioning his reaction to strangers to a more positive one.
So in a sense, he bit the right person. His owner was well-meaning and doing many things correctly, but that day Paco was in a position where he felt he had no choice but to protect himself.
Do you know how to be a good leader to your dog?
Good leaders know their dogs and respect their limitations. Paco should have never been put in a position where he felt distressed. I see dogs brought to local spaces who are highly uncomfortable. If your dog is social and not overwhelmed by crowds and noise, go for it. If not, please find other activities to do with them.
Please respect your dog and don’t try to fit a square peg into a round hole. Along those lines, please don’t put your dog in situations where it might fail. Examples include dog parks, which can be overwhelming and contain dogs with aggressive tendencies, or forcing your dog to interact with someone or something they are concerned about.
Good socialization means exposing your dogs to new situations in a positive or neutral way. They do not need to interact with the new stimuli – they just need to be calm.
Good leaders are clear and consistent. Clarity is kindness. What if your boss never gave you clear instructions and then criticized you for not doing your job correctly? Our dogs need us to be clear and consistent in our training and guidance.
So, if you ask your dog to do something 80% of the time, guess what? That is not consistent enough. Getting to do something sometimes is any time for a dog.
Good leaders stay calm. Have you ever seen a frustrated parent loudly scolding their child in public and also seen the calm parent patiently redirecting their child’s naughty behavior? Which parent do you think is more effective?
Dogs are the same way. Take a breath and keep your cool. Your training will be much more effective if you are calm and deliberate.
Good leaders show the way. Did you know you are training your dog whenever you are with them? Good training comes down to showing your dog the desired behaviors, rewarding them, and redirecting and not reinforcing undesired behavior.
Are you frustrated because your dog doesn’t walk well on the leash? Leash training is just that; training. It takes patience and consistency. Your dog was not born knowing how to walk nicely beside you on a leash! Dog training is simple but not always easy.
Good leaders engage with their dogs. Do you expect your dog to be engaged with you when you are not engaged with them? Your dog knows if you are present. So put away your phone and engage with them on your walks. Ask them to check in with you on your walks and practice their obedience.
My dog, Huck, was a big and powerful Rottweiler mix. We developed a rapport, so he knew he didn’t have to take care of any perceived threats. There were only issues when someone else was holding his leash. After the third time, I never put him in that position again. I was his person, and he trusted and respected me.
Good leaders know when to ask for help. If you have serious behavioral issues such as aggression, please get professional help as soon as possible.
Good leaders know when to lighten up. Please accept your dog for who they are. I have a hyper dog. He loves to work and train and is the most fun dog ever. And sometimes, he has attention deficit disorder which is frustrating. I accept all of him.
Dogs give us unconditional love and companionship. Undesired behavior is not personal. They are dogs being dogs. It is your job to show them the way.
[Andrea Logan from Lead Dog has been active in animal welfare for over 20 years and currently focuses on rehabilitating challenging foster dogs and helping dog owners with training and behavioral issues. Her passion is helping people build a better bond with their dogs. For help with your dog, visit Lead Dog’s Facebook page]