Showing Pack Leadership in Dog Training
By Martin Deeley
Like children, your dog is often watching you and learning from your actions and reactions. Training is not just a formal five, 10 or 15 minutes of your day. It is all the time – your dog learns from everything you do. You shout at your spouse or the kids and guess what? He picks up on that energy and may think it is directed at him. You feel irritable and under the weather? He knows it. If you make a mistake with your dog, he will remember the body language and repercussions. Of course, the opposite is true too.
It is important when we are with a dog to realize that they are always learning. They are watching our movements, listening to our sounds and, I am certain, ''scenting'' our emotions. Sometimes we may even take our feelings out on our dog. He did not create the feeling but we have to vent somehow and he happened to make a small mistake. Therefore when you are feeling a little under the weather or are getting a little frustrated – put your dog somewhere he cannot get into trouble and will not be the recipient of your mood. Or, if he is the one that can calm you, sit nicely with him, breathe deeply, and let each of you find calmness together.
Many times I have gone outside and into my paddock area just to sit with my dog and let the world settle around me. Just having my hand on his shoulder, feeling his energy, can create a feeling of contentment, helping me to forget some of the pressures of the world.
When showing your dog what is required, or when initiating a dog training session, give yourself time. Be patient, stay calm and be clear in your instructions and guidance. One loss of temper can create a lifetime of a bad behavior. So if you feel the temperature rising – and it does with all of us on occasions – count to 20 and only when you can be calm and assertive, are you ready to start again. Even if you have to simply sit there with your dog during this time, do it. It is not only you that will be settling but also your dog. The stress level will drop in both of you and then you can move forward together with clear minds.
Your dog will be uncertain, confused and even resistant at times to what you want to show him. Because of this you need to be confident, positive and clear in showing him. And persistent too. If you are not confident he will realize this and become unsure – you need to show him that you have things under control. Think through what you want to do, how you are going to achieve it, and what level of competency you will accept at this stage. You may be quite happy initially that he simply waits and stands at the door a second before being invited out, and then move on to sitting and staying for longer periods in the future.
A dog cannot be confident unless you as a dog trainer are confident. Be positive in all you do, be clear, and create understanding. Carry yourself with confidence so the dog believes in you and wants to follow your guidance. Leaders lead, followers follow. Be a good clear leader. Practice some of the moves without your dog. Think of it as teaching dancing where you have to know what the steps are and show someone else by leading them. This is what your dog is looking for. And, he will perform much better if you make the right confident steps. Consistency comes from your practicing to make them routine – so why not practice some of them without him. Then they come naturally and you don’t have to think about what you are doing – only what he is.
It is always a big temptation to go one step too far and that can result in three steps backwards. Stop on a success stage with each session. Set targets but always be aware that you may not be able to achieve it that day. Train step by step with approximations to achieve behaviors, leading to the final result you desire. A university degree was not achieved with one lesson.
One thing to keep in mind during dog training is that even dogs have off days, like we do. Don’t make excuses for him but if he has been out for a long run, or has been playing with the kids or other dogs, tiredness may be having an effect and he may be less focused. Sometimes, however, tiredness can work to your advantage! In addition, an upset stomach, muscle strain, or even a local female in season (if ''he'' is a ''he'') can take his mind in other directions. These and other influences can create dog training ''off days.'' If that happens, put your dog in a position to do the least potential wrong – just spend time with him on a leash or give him more time in his crate. Not only do we need to dog train when we are being our best selves, we need to read our dog and ensure he is being his best self too.