Friday, March 14, 2014

Why a leadership state of mind.

Hello! How are you all?! I can't believe Home2K9 Dog Retreat was so full in February that we didn't manage to share a single blog post that month. This is so fantastic and horrible at the same time because there's SO MUCH we have to share with you! Here's to more blogs in March, April and May... speaking of which, welcome Spring! Also, if you haven't done so already, be sure and follow us on Facebook where the day-to-day action takes place.

A consistent cry for help:

I receive daily inquiries for tips on modifying dog behaviors and repeatedly find that the overarching theme is a lack of leadership from the handler. We're going to start by addressing your perspective on your need and ability to lead because truly, you don't have a choice. You must lead, especially if you love your pup, want to enjoy him and have others enjoy him too. 

Training clients come in all shapes and sizes, their problems equally as diverse as they are and yet, typically all stemming from the same root cause. Owners apply emotional aspects of human psychology to their dogs, they apply concepts of memory retention or logic that are not a part of the dog's predominantly instinctual process. In doing this, owners "follow" in a billion subtle ways while their dogs "lead" and nearly all of those dogs do so in a terribly unqualified manner. Most dogs I receive calls on are sitting in the 'President's' seat and should be fired immediately for the poor running of your company. It's time to move you back to the top of the chain of command where you belong, taking charge of your company vision and success. I promise you will be amazed at the results your shift in thinking can achieve. Dogs are present, living in the now and looking to sort out the roles of the pack, having a respectable leader is their full time concern. Your dog is wondering, "are you my leader?", but he will instinctively fulfill that role if you won't.

How leadership connects us and them: 

People are generally more comfortable when their temperament or personality type is met with the right amount of freedom or information, flexibility or direction. For the sake of argument anyway, just allow me to state that we are essentially active or passive, introverted or extroverted, "leaders" or "followers," right? We know dogs are leaders or followers too. This, this, is the number one thing you are allowed to view as similar between dogs and people. Much about humans and canines is entirely different, but this is transferable. Stop thinking of them as "poor babies with a hard past" because you still carry the pain of yours. They don't think that way. Stop projecting, "he might not feel it's fair to wait for food when his brother eats in front of him. I don't want to hurt his feelings." Your pup doesn't think that way either. What a well-led dog actually thinks when you show "preference" for another is, "what do I need to do to earn that too?". All of those prior, emotionally-based statements make YOU the (weaker) follower, not the (confident) leader.

Dogs will lead if nobody else will because a leader is essential to a dog. People can shy away from leaders and be ok. Heck, often better than ok! They can be followers and follow very little, or even leaders who lead almost nothing. A lack of leadership for a certain personality type doesn't mean they are automatically at risk of being damaged like a dog is when he lacks a behavioral 'compass' to guide him. Without a leader, the world feels topsy-turvy to a dog. Without a leader, the world presents more threats rather than invitations, it becomes overwhelming or even aggravating. Every dog seeks a leader. In order to fulfill that role in your pack, you need to shift your mindset about what you are capable of. You need to start empowering yourself to expect and enforce the exact vision you have for your dogs. Stop allowing them to make decisions (break the sit-stay, run away when called to come, chew your things, soil your carpets, bark at your neighbors, tell you what time it is and what to do next), and start being the confident, stable alpha they want to follow, the leader they respect and admire.

Some need it more than others: 

Like people, not all dogs are natural-born leaders. This is a key fact to recognize and apply to your problem solving of troublesome behaviors. Some dogs are more naturally content than others. They won't struggle so much in the absence of solid leadership, but will adapt instead. Sometimes this will change with age, activity level or training and pack exposure. If you have a natural follower who is also insecure, allowing him to lead by giving him too much freedom, control and/or dominance will result in failure. He will be so uncomfortable that he will begin to meltdown. Meltdowns look like insecurity, instability and chaos. Meltdowns manifest themselves in barking, digging, jumping, defending, demanding, marking, whining, fleeing, destruction... all of those lovely behaviors I receive calls about. Unlike a successful, trained, and intuitive leader, your follower pup in a leadership role will not gain respect, others will not enjoy his vision nor will they want to support it. Here is where those of you with multiple dogs may experience two or more regularly fighting with each other because they're arguing about which of them will fulfill the leadership role. This argument won't exist if you are the leader. A poorly leading dog will be challenged by its peers because he is not believable, just, or calm in his directions. Sound familiar? A "dominant" dog in your home that routinely goes after a "weird" or "submissive" dog in your home? Your dog is looking to you to provide the role of calm, assertive leader and to do so in a way that causes him to respect you, and want to follow and support you. Leadership needs to be your job because you can better anticipate the world and navigate him through all of it's man-made craziness. You are the bridge between his naturally balanced state in the wild, and the confusing, inconsistent people and things around him in our modern lives that throw him off track. You have the ability to provide assurance to the "strong" dog that the unstable dogs are under control too, and you don't need help directing them.

Put yourself in their paws:

Think of a job you've been asked to do, did you need to know the expectations of the customer, department or business you're performing for in order to make the right development decisions? Did you need rules, boundaries, limitations, deadlines, goals, visual examples? Was it easier to do your job, and did you feel better about what you put forth, when you had clear and concise communication from your higher-ups or team mates about what was needed? It feels good to please people, right? Boosts your confidence! Did you find working with others who were distracted, unsure, frantic or lazy was helpful or hurtful to your ability to create and produce your work? Think about this as you visualize what you want from your dog. How can they be what you want them to be if they don't know what you want? Take that vision of what you want and then empower your dog by sharing it with him so he can experience the joy of meeting or exceeding your expectations. Loving your dog without structure and direction is like asking a person to start a company with zero details on the product, services, finances or marketing plan, then expecting them to make billions in the first year. Let's shift the mind set, recognize the requirement of leadership, and then begin to see yourself a that leader. If it's not natural for you, stay tuned and we'll dive further into what it looks like to fully steer in your relationship with your dog. 

Step one:  

Leaders anticipate, address and confront. Don't run from the problem. Prepare to start challenging your fears! Share what they are here and we can tackle them specifically. Are you afraid of your dog meeting other dogs on leash? Are you afraid of your dog jumping on guests who enter your home? Do you avoid taking your dog in the car because you're afraid of the scene he/she will make when they bark at strangers? There are THOUSANDS of fears out there, yours is not the only one. Lets tackle it head on and tell your pup what you want him to do instead. 


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