Non Confrontational Leadership
Teaching your dog that you are the leader need not be a dominance war with numerous power struggles!! If we choose to use humane, scientific and behaviorally sound methods we can accomplish communication that leads to a satisfying and trusting relationship and a very well-adjusted pet. Dogs are neither machines nor wolves; they have been domesticated for thousands of years. We do need to take on a leadership role as by nature they are more secure knowing where their place is in their environment and what role they play within the family unit. But this does not mean we should or need to use hands on or dominating, scary or aversive methods. I believe most dogs do not want to be the so called “top dog”, they are actually very happy being followers. But we as owners don’t always give clear communication (words and actions) in terms they understand, which in turn would build a strong bond of trust between pet and owner. Being a strong leader can be accomplished more soundly and with better results using positively directed methods to communicate, identify and change problem behavior.
Looking closely and identifying the behavior we want to change is the first and foremost priority. If we have a long list of behavioral issues we might try to break them down into individual units of behavior and look closely at what the dog might be getting out of it as a reward. If we have tried several things and the behavior still holds strong and we can’t see any improvement over a period of time then the dog is getting something good, a reward from that situation. That reward is maintaining the behavior. But this “reward” is from the dog’s perspective and not ours. We must also look at what goes on before the behavior occurs, and set up the environment to make it more unlikely the unwanted behavior will be able to occur (prevention). Setting things up in the environment differently can make all the difference. Then looking for way to make it worthwhile for the dog to exhibit the wanted behavior (reward) will help to give the dog a reason to perform correctly and replace old, unwanted behavior with new, acceptable behavior.
Building trust and leadership also requires giving your dog mental and physical stimulation in the form of regular walks, working positive training exercises and playing appropriate games like “fetch” or “find” and looking for positive activities and social interactions with people and other dogs. This keeps the dog happy while also building a special bond between you and your dog.
Empowering your dog with some control over his environment and changing his attitude in a non-confrontational way is essential to changing unwanted behavior. Setting up his environment so that he has access to rewards for desirable behavior is important; we want to look closely and make sure that we identify how unwanted behavior is reinforced and change that. Many unwanted behaviors are positively reinforced by us or unforeseen things in the environment and these things will maintain the dog’s unwanted actions. We need to identify these things and stop them by changing what we do or changing what is going on.