Many times, we hear people say “You need to show your dominance over the dog”, “The dog needs to know you are in charge”, “Show the dog you are the ALPHA” but what we would like to say is “Be the leader the dog wants”. Every dog is different; even the most experienced pet parents are flummoxed when they have a more challenging dog on their hands and the reason for that is that we have only done what has worked with other dogs, but not necessarily what works for our *current dog*.
Then there is an alternative theory circling around about ignoring the bad behaviour and that will lead the dog down the right path. This is only half the truth...the other half is the importance of showing the dog what alternate thing they have to do to gain our attention instead. With no such guidance, dogs will learn to live with impunity and you are stuck with a lot of frustration and angst.
Why be a good leader?
If we lived in an anarchic world, we would probably have lived in states of heightened stress & constantly in a survival mode. Similarly, when dogs do not get a sense of their rules, boundaries, they tend to start getting anxious, nervous, assertive or even aggressive and this is only because they know of no other way to survive. As pet parents, if we can show them what is OK, what is not, then the two species can learn to cohabitate in peace. You maybe able to relate to a few common misbehaviours in dogs when they lunge on walks (perceived danger or excitement), jumping (no etiquette), excessive barking at the door (perceived danger) and these can be corrected by learning the best ways to show our dogs that we can keep them safe & would appreciate calm behaviours.
So what does one need to know to be a good leader?
Being a leader does not mean showing dominance over the dog through harsh methods i.e forcing them down or pinning them on the ground, but it is about communicating effectively to your dog on the behaviour you want to see more of, understanding their emotions and correcting any canine misbehaviour with confidence and consistency.
Communication: By calm, confident communication using marker words like “Yes!”, “Good job”, we can start communicating with our dogs that we like some behaviour of theirs. Similarly by learning how to correct properly with words like “A-Aaah”, “Cut it out”, etc we can communicate with the dogs that we are not approving their current demeanor. When we work with the dogs and teach them the right behaviours, we show the dog that we are guiding them on what makes us happy and that is all they will want to do; they want to be our best friends after all!
Calm, fair, consistent training: Keeping one’s cool when we see destruction or annoying behaviours is contrary to human instincts. But we need to understand that dogs learn through our emotions too; these animals have a keen eye to see what we are going through and if we lose control over our emotions, they will lose the confidence that we can lead and keep them from harm’s way. It is not enough to do it once or twice, remember like children, dogs too need guidance, reinforcement and patience during the learning process. The biggest reason for most pet parents to regress in their dog’s training is when they fail to stick to the guidance and training for a long period of time, assuming their dogs have picked up the right habits, which isn't being fair to the dog. Practice makes perfect, regardless of species.
So, in short, our dogs need parents who are in sync with the dog’s emotional needs, who have learned through consistent practice, a sound way of communicating with them and never hesitate from reinforcing the right behaviour with patience and deliberate practice.