Cesar Millan trains a dog to be a pack leader

In February in the U.S., we have two holidays in a row celebrating presidents’ birthdays — Abraham Lincoln and George Washington. They are two of the country’s most famous and highly regarded presidents. Both of them appear on our money — coins and paper — and they make up one-half of Mount Rushmore.

Any time there’s a list of “10 Best Presidents,” whether voted on by the public or created by historians, these two are at the top, usually along with Franklin Delanor Roosevelt. It really says something about their legacy that very few people who were adults when FDR died are still alive and no one was alive when Lincoln and Washington were, and yet these men hold onto their places in history.

What was their secret? Exactly the same thing that will help you find balance with your dog.

Leadership with Dogs

By definition, a president is supposed to be a leader. That’s the job they’re elected to do. Some of them excel at it, while others do not. But whether they’re good at it or not, they’re still the leader. The same thing is true of people and their dogs. Whether you’re good at the job or not, your dog is still looking at you as the leader and will behave accordingly.

It’s easy for a president to be a leader in times with a good economy and no big wars going on, just as it’s easy to be a dog’s Pack Leader when that dog is well-behaved. The real test, and the thing that elevated the three presidents I mentioned above, is how they handled things in a crisis, and each of them had three of the biggest in U.S. history: the American Revolution, the Civil War, and World War II. FDR also got to deal with the Great Depression.

A dog owner’s problems are certainly much smaller than wars and economic downturns, but they can still be huge tests of leadership. And, like war and the economy, the problems can be either external or internal or sometimes a combination of both.

For example, if you have a dog that’s afraid of loud noises and a thunderstorm or fireworks come along, the cause of the problem is both external and internal: cause and effect. Your job, in that case, is to be the calm source of protection for your dog — not giving affection, but rather demonstrating that there is nothing to fear. Leadership in this case shows itself as not reacting in any unusual way to the noise.

Your dog may suffer from separation anxiety, which is an internal problem. Again, it’s up to you as the leader to set the tone by teaching your dog to lie down calmly in his place before you leave home, not making a big fuss when you go or come back. You provide the leadership by making sure your dog associates your departure with a calm and relaxed state of mind.

If your dog has developed an obsessive behavior, like chasing her tail or excessive licking, then the problem is internal. In this case, your job as a leader is to determine the cause of the behavior, as well as to figure out how to redirect or stop it.

Always keep in mind that just as a good president guides a country through crises, a bad president can cause them, and a poor Pack Leader can cause a lot of misbehavior in their dog. Your dog can’t vote you out of office if you’re not doing a good job, but he can certainly protest in his own way.

Remember: a big part of the way a president guides a nation through a crisis is by providing a  calm, reassuring voice. The president sets the tone and this can have a huge impact. After all, humans wound up on the moon as a direct result of a speech by one president, JFK. The same is true with us and our dogs. We set the tone through our energy, and a good Pack Leader knows the right energy to send.

So in this time between Lincoln’s Birthday and President’s Day, take an approval poll by looking at your dog’s behavior. If there are any issues, it’s up to you to deal with them. And if your dog is perfect, pat yourself on the back. You’re number one on their top ten list.

Stay calm and lead on!

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