27 Dec Dominance and Leadership
Dominance and dog training
I am not supportive of dog trainers that advocate punishment and aggressive behavior towards our 4 legged friends. Anything from ignoring commands to destructive behavior, jumping up to pulling to on leash are incorrectly deemed as an attempt to be leader of the pack. Owners are then instructed to act as the more dominant being and put these animals in their place. The fallout for following through with such advice for the more defensive behaviors such as growling, snapping and biting can be catastrophic.
While there can certainly be consequences for the pet owner who reacts this way, it is usually the poor pup who ends up loosing in this scenario. Due to his innocent dog-like reactions or attempting to communicate he is not comfortable with a situation, he is punished in such a way that would be deemed abuse if he were a human child. If he fights back, he is then labelled aggressive, if not dangerous. Bewilderingly, such abuse has remained socially acceptable when dealing with our pet dogs.
The style of training I advocate and strive to teach
Surprisingly, I’m neither a fan of the dog trainer who mindlessly rewards correct behaviors with food, without teaching their client how to use motivational training correctly. For it is this type of trainer than gives “Positive Reinforcement” a bad wrap.
Instead, the style of training I advocate and strive to teach is motivational leadership. The kind of leadership a well adjusted parent would provide. I recently read a book titled: The Five Roles of a Master Herder, (a book so compelling that I completed it in two days, and am about to re-read for the second time). Through this book, I realized what I have been unknowingly describing for all these years. A sophisticated herding technique that has been used by African Tribes for centuries.
Observing a true leader
A true leader is often what I describe as an, albeit rare, “Alpha Dog”. However similar behaviors can also apply to humans. True leaders exude an air of confidence that is unmistakable. Sophisticated in their communication style, intimidation is not required to get their point across. They are nurturers that build trust and visionaries that take their group into pastures new. Leaders certainly do not abuse this role for their own gain. Instead, they embody it for the greater good.
Kind and calm in their demeanor, such individuals take time to listen to what others are trying to say. Fantastic at solving problems and naturals at motivating others, they rarely have to increase their assertiveness to get things accomplished. But if necessary, are willing and capable at doing so in a non-predatory manner (that is without causing harm).
Why does dominance occur?
Regrettably, what many have come to assume as effective leadership, leans more towards the dominant role. More of that of a bully. People and animals that demonstrate behaviors that include power plays to get demands met, do so from a place of insecurity. They view motivation as weak and prefer to offer punishment as a consequence. You may have heard me talk about behaviors that dogs can demonstrate such as posturing, charging and controlling resources as “bully tactics”.
Such beings are afraid of appearing weak in the group, because they are actually feeling powerless themselves. They are fearful of change and prone to emotionally falling apart during stressful situations. In short, they strive to control the environment and anything in it with fear. But we should not become them to change their behaviors. Instead we need to lead by example. If we want an individual to act calmly, we must first act calmly ourselves. If we want an individual to act with confidence, we must first be confident ourselves.
The misuse of dominance
Trainers that misuse the dominant role often resort to being the aggressor. They endorse the use of electric shocks and prongs, leash pops, ear biting, pinning, hanging etc in an attempt to communicate to the dog who’s boss. But they are missing the point. They have mistakenly observed a dominant (insecure) animal attempting to control a situation and not a leader. Probably because the true leader of the pack is often overlooked due to their quiet demeanor.
While these forceful tactics may work short term, they are not effective long term. They do not promote trust or a relationship built on willingness and respect. No being willingly follows a “leader” behaving like this, unless they are severely weak themselves or in a situation where they have no choice.
Is there a difference between dominance and leadership?
While often perceived as the same, the difference of dominance and leadership is actually night and day. When I imagine a world where leadership is truly understood and employed, I see one of peace and happiness. That is my vision for all future human/dog relationships. And this remains my motivation as a dog trainer serving my community.