Friday, March 8, 2013

Proper Leadership

After starting a new Basic Manners Level One class today, I got to thinking about more and more dog training information.  I do my very best to include as much helpful information in class as possible, but there is just so much, sometimes it's hard to cut things out.

Although I do touch on the subject of proper leadership in class, I do not go into detail.  Because of this I have developed a handout for participants to read outside of class.  Extra information is always helpful, so today I am sharing my handout on Leadership.

When adding any new dog to your family, leadership is very important. 

To be a good leader to your dog, you must be strong, consistent, and dependable.  Dogs become extremely stressed without a leader.  A dog will only fill the family leader position if there is no strong leader for him to look to.  Dogs can become very stressed when forced into the leadership role, however some dominant temperament-type dogs can manipulate their way into this role.  The dog that does this will use aggression to maintain his leadership status.  Obviously, this is not something we want.
Duties of the Leader:
1)  Establish the rules
2)  Enforce the rules
3)  Maintain social order

For many past centuries, dogs have had a job within the family unit.  Some of these jobs included:  hunting, protection, herding, pulling carts, eliminating vermin, and locating lost people.  

Over the years the dog has become a non-working member of the family.  Humans unknowingly treat dogs as leaders every day.  These things include:  letting a dog eat as much as he wants whenever he wants, receiving constant free attention, and being able to demand sleep time, affection, and alone times.

Remember, your dog gets nothing for free.  The dog should work to earn everything he gets.  This can be as simple as sitting and waiting to be fed or for a treat.  EVERY item in your house is yours, NOT the dog’s.  This includes the dog food, dog bowls, dog toys...everything.  The dog will learn to follow if you teach him that he must work for the things he likes.  A dog can learn very quickly that all good things come from you, but the really important part is to teach him to earn these things.
It is vitally important for the human to establish and enforce house rules from day one!  Don’t forget:  consistency is important.  All members of the family should have the same rules all the time.

Relationship Exercises can help maintain your strong leadership role while building a strong bond of trust between you and your dog.  When you control your dog's access to everything, you can more easily train your dog while also keeping him (and your belonging) safe. 

Feeding.  Leaders always eat first.  I encourage people to have their dinner and then feed the dog(s) afterwards.  By doing so, your dog is not only learning to wait nicely (no begging), but learning to work for something he likes.  He is earning his food, not just getting it for free.  Dogs that get things for free tend to develop many different kinds of unwanted behaviors.
So when feeding your dog, make him sit and wait while you put the bowl down.    I also always require my dogs to "watch me" (look in my eyes), before being rewarded with food.  Also, do not free feed your dog.  A dog should be fed twice every day.  If the dog does not eat the food within 30 minutes, remove the food.  The dog will not get fed again until the next regularly scheduled mealtime. 

Sleeping.  I strongly try to discourage people from allowing their dog in their bed.  Start your training by only allowing the dog on the floor and his dog bed.  If you initially teach a dog he is not allowed on the places humans usually rest, you are reinforcing your leadership role.  This does not mean they will never be allowed on the furniture, but dogs should only be allowed up when invited by you or other members of the family.  You make the decision, you do not allow the dog to make the decision.  
Also, I encourage people with young puppies to sometimes remove them from wherever they are sleeping.  Dogs can become possessive over their favorite sleeping spots and this can sometimes lead to an aggressive response.  Every so often, move your dog from their current sleeping spot and claim it for yourself (sit there for a few minutes).  Positively reward any calm behavior the dog offers when doing so.

Free Time.  Access to freedom throughout your house is definitely something that should be earned by your dog.  When first bringing a new dog into your house, always start with an on-leash tour.  Go through the house, only entering a new room when the dog is calm, waiting, and paying attention to the leader on the other end of the leash.  The person should always enter the new space first.  New dogs and puppies must be consistently supervised and should only be allowed limited access when not being watched.  A new dog or puppy that is left alone should either be crated or left in a small area where they can't get into any trouble.  Remember part of training is preparation and maintenance.  If you leave your dog in his crate with his toys, he can't really do wrong.  If you just leave him locked in a bathroom with regular bathroom items around, you will have a big mess to clean when you return (any possibly a very sick little puppy).  Remember to protect your dog (and your things) by planning ahead.  Get down on the floor on your stomach and look around.  There are many little things down there that you don't normally think of that are staring your dog right in the face.  Things like electric cords, poisonous items, and choking hazards are probably lurking just under your nose.

These are just a few items and examples of how to take proper leadership over your dog.

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