Dog Leadership | Why is it important
The dog is a pack animal and as such its main drive for survival is centered around the pack. Everyone does what is necessary for the pack or family. The pack is governed by a clear structure, rules, consistency and roles. Leadership and all decision making in the pack is up to the alpha. The hierarchical order in a pack is constantly being reassessed and challenged to make sure that the alpha male / female is the best choice for making decisions on behalf of everyone.
Since the survival of the peck depends on the capabilities and guidance of the leader this makes complete sense. The hierarchy is being displayed and re-affirmed each time the pack feeds, goes hunting, reunites after a separation, defends against a threat etc. When it is playtime this can all change. Often roles are switched back and forth so that everyone can learn how to behave and communicate from different perspectives. You might wonder what this has to do with your dog. The answer is, pretty much everything.
Domestication has had hardly any impact on the dogs needs and instinct for survival. The genetic difference between a dog and a wolf is 0.02%. The wolf lives on within your dog. Hence your dog lives according to these principles, whether we like it or not. You are part of the pack and you are most likely not the leader in your dogs eyes. Since we are often humanizing our dogs and thus interpret behaviors from our human perspective we are misleading ourselves. It is important that the key elements for determining the roles in the pack are understood by us. Furthermore it is necessary that we communicate to our dogs following these elements. This means appropriate dog leadership. This is our best chance for a fulfilling and thriving relationships with our dogs as we are then working with their natural instincts, not against them. Otherwise we are bound to constantly give confusing signals to our dogs and are effectively causing all the stress and problematic behaviors.
In the last decade you hear more and more people arguing that the modern dog is not is not a pack animal. That the dog moved on. Even if that would be true, someone still has to make decisions. Someone has to decide what to do in certain situations. And that can be either you or your dog. Your choice. And if you let your dog make the calls then you are handing over all the responsibility and stress of decision-making to your dog. Do you think that is fair?
Dog Leadership | What are good leadership skills?
A good leader is an integral part in any organization. And the best leaders, the most convincing and inspiring ones lead by example. Which is why leading your dog effectively & convincingly is no small task. Your have to be there, you have to show up, you have to deal with situations, you have to keep your calm, your have to be reliable, you have to set boundaries, you have to reward. And if you are not cut out for the job in your dogs eyes then someone else has to step in and do the job as best as possible.
And sadly that often leaves the dog. This is where 95% of all behavioral issues start: with a dog believing its job is to lead in a human world. To make things worse we are constantly giving mixed signals – one day this the other day that, giving attention and at the same time telling off, trying to make things right while being worried at the same time etc. Combine this with a sense of overwhelm / stress and a sense that the dog can not live up to the role. How would you feel and cope? Disassociate, withdraw, retaliate, obsessive-compulsive behaviors, stressing out, being all over the place, distracting yourself? Exactly! Depending on the dogs personality a way of coping with the situation will be found. It is certainly not appropriate to blame the dog, since we are causing their behavior in the first place by leaving the dog without the structure and leadership it so fundamentally needs. And if we honestly look at how we try to cope with our lives (be it alcohol, drugs, TV, prescriptions, keeping busy etc.) we see that we develop very similar behavioral issues and coping mechanisms as our canine family members.
Which is why we can learn so much from each other. If we are are open to change, we can practice many beautiful skills like being calm, being clear, showing up, exercising self-control, being consistent, setting healthy boundaries etc. How can your dog not respect or trust you then? Or anyone else for that matter. As a matter of fact I know in my own experience that I am a more healthy and balanced person now, since the dogs require me to excel. They teach us. Let’s make sure we are up for it and teach them in turn.
Let us know which leadership skills you practice with your dog and which ones work best in your experience?
Share this Post