Who is the Leader? Defining Factor #1

The leader is the one who makes the decisions. In dog training we have a saying, “Leaders initiate, followers react.”  If you feel like you are not in control of your dog, you’re probably not.  Literally.

“This is a stickup. Your munchies or your leg.”  I took this shot backstage when working a dog fashion show at Bryant Park for Target . A beautiful Beagle, but manners – none!

Want to know what may be behind the lack of respect from your dog?  Keep track of all interactions you have with him for the next few days.  Every time you do something together, ask yourself, who initiated that?   Was it you or the dog?

Example 1:  You are throwing the ball for your dog.  Your idea or his?  Did he push the ball into your leg while you were watching TV, then you threw it for him?  His idea.  He just gave you the command for throw.  You’re an obedient owner.  Respect-o-meter going down.

Example 2: Your dog is lying quietly on her bed while you are eating dinner at your coffee table, watching TV.  You save a few scraps on your plate.  You walk over to your dog’s food bowl, call her, and scrape the leftovers into her bowl.  Your idea or hers?  Your dog was calmly resting while you ate.  You called her over and she came right away.  Your idea.  Respect-o-meter rising.

Do you see the difference here?  If the dog is initiating the majority of your decisions, you’ve trained her to train you.  You’re a good trainer.  Sort of.

If this is a problem in your relationship with your dog, you can turn it around.  Start ignoring pushy behaviors, and reward polite behaviors. Be patient with yourself – you may find at first that you’re more well-trained than you thought.

8 Responses to Who is the Leader? Defining Factor #1

  1. reezeey says:

    For the past 2yrs My Savaanah, my beautiful, 12yr old American Foxhound.Has developed seniority rights,my way of saying she has become “old and obstinent”.After what I think is a long enough outdor time,when calling her in.She looks at me with that, look over her shoulder glance .Telling me I will come when I am good and ready.She knows no matter what I will be waiting there for her with a “good girl cookie”.

  2. Addey says:

    To comment #1. My dog, Pebbles, got like that around 14 (she died at 16, 4 years ago), there were no treats involved; but we figured after more than a decade of perfection we could give her 5 more minutes (and really it’s the worst thing she ever did). If we needed her right away I had to call her. After progressively stronger commands she would come for me (3-4 calls), but no one else (she was mine, definitively). I never minded but my mother did, because she had to go out an physically get her (yep, was able to be outside by herself in the suburbs, awesome yeah?).

    With the cookies on your side you could probably correct the behavior the same way you did when you trained her, withhold them. Or if a more commanding voice works, still give her the cookie, because she came and after all this time being so good, she can push the envelope.

    For my own question we go to my mother’s dog. She’s two and bears here teeth at me all the time (as in almost every day if not more). She’s also bitten me three times. I don’t want to push to have the dog sent away (I live with them), but I don’t know how to change her behavior. Anything I think will work, or is working, my mother winds up interfering. This last time it was her fault the dog lashed out. I need a better way to correct the dog, since I can’t correct my mother. Any help out there?

    • David Muriello says:

      Addey, Check out apdt.com for a great search of modern, reward-based dog trainers by zip code. Private lessons are the best way to go for behavior issues.

      • judy salamon says:

        I do not entirely agree with the notion that the dog must never be the initiator. Why not? Any good relationship allows for give and take; why should it be different with my dog? I am happy when she brings me a toy to invite me to play. She reminds me that too much work, not enough play is a sad way to live. As long as she doesn’t insist when I don’t want to, I consider such behavior not only acceptable but desirable. Neither do I blame her for coveting my food as long as she waits respectfully for her share.I don’t mind her showing me she doesn’t really want to get out of bed as long as she does so when I insist. I enjoy her personality and don’t want to cramp her style. She obeys when it counts and that’s what counts for me.

        • David Muriello says:

          Way to share your view, Judy. We agree, the article is not saying that the dog should never initiate, but that who initiates must be in balance and you should be especially aware of this if you have a leadership issue. Ideally, there are no such issues. Then, the dog’s personality and style can flourish at no one’s expense! 🙂

        • Doris says:

          I totally agree with Judy Salamon, the relationship with my dogs is a give and take. They respect when they firmily know that I am not playing. Dollar my silky terrier is an equal to me when he initiates play time he is 7 years old and has earned that right.
          My shepherds take advantage of me when they have not been excercise enough by staring me down for me to get them outside.
          I welcome knowing that they are secure enough regarding me, it is a two way street where I am always the alpha. Someone that loves them and respects them not taking advantage of me having the upper hand by being the human.

  3. Bill Cosgrove says:

    My GSD is 11 mos. old he knows all the basic commands, sit stay down come leave it and off. but he has a problem with distraction especially as he is getting older he ignores commands more and it is frustrating me crazy. I have had 2 GSDs and 1 Rottie in my adult life and never have had the challenges I have had with Ranger, he is a wonderful loving dog but I can’t seem to tell if there is a problem or just growing pains. I do think that I have made mistakes as far as spoiling him as I lost my last GSD from cancer at 8yrs and was and am broken hearted so I have been more easy on Ranger than any other in my life. I am treating him like a pal instead of a dog first and letting the friendship grow!

    • cwicknick says:

      I lost my 1st dog to cancer. told myself I was never going to get another dog again. I did. when I first got Dewey, we were lenient, but he was a shelter dog and had very poor social skills. I signed him and I up for dog training classes. Best thing I could have done. out of my 3 dogs, he is the best behaved. he listens the best, and is most curtious. I say, train him. You won’t regret it!!!! neither will he!

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