Thursday, January 14, 2010

Reader question: how do you establish leadership?


That's a good question, Adam, and the answer is so long that a guy named Cesar Millan is making a good deal of money answering it, in books and on TV. I highly recommend him. If nothing else, read Cesar's Way. It explains exactly how to be the pack leader.


Just because he's famous, doesn't mean he's wrong.

Ok, so as for me answering the question briefly and for free, let me ask you this: how did your boss establish leadership over you?


With mine, it went like this: the phone rang one day, and I pick it up and this guy says "hi, I'm The Boss from The Company." And you know what, he totally sounded like the boss.

So how he "established leadership" is that he told me he's the boss, and I believed him. That is all. And so it is with dogs.

Like I said before, leadership isn't something you "do", it's something you have. And it's especially not something you do vis-a-vis someone else, such as your dog. You, Adam, wrote:

"NOs" with the dog, pretending to be a dog and throwing your dog on its back and showing ur teeth while growling may do it for some things.
Well, you're right about that. It "may" do some things. It's got nothing to do with leadership, though. Seriously. How often does your boss say "NO!"? Does that work? Do you learn anything from your boss walking around saying "NO!" every so often? Do you even listen, or do you think he's a crazy jerk?

Well, probably your boss doesn't say "NO!". Because it doesn't achieve anything.

Rolling your dog onto her back? Either the dog thinks it's a game, or she realizes you're just throwing your weight around. Dogs aren't stupid; they know that a person eight times their weight and with opposable thumbs can put them on their backs. That doesn't mean they're giving anything to you psychologically. And in my work analogy, it would be kinda like the boss coming to your station and saying to you. "I'm bigger than you and you have to obey me! Because I'm the boss! Bahaha! I'm important! I have a big penis! My paycheque is huge! Kiss my ass, you meaningless grunt!"

Not really helpful.

As for showing teeth... I can't imagine why you'd want to show teeth to your dog. Showing teeth is a threat and it's serious. Tinky-Winky and I show teeth when a loose dog approaches our pack. If he keeps coming, we attack. And I do mean "we" attack. Tinky-Winky with her teeth, me usually just feinting at the dog, although I have in the past kicked a dog who had Tinky-Winky pinned to the ground and wouldn't let go. At least I was nice and kicked him in the hip, not in the belly, but I'm certainly not gonna back down from a dog fight if the other dog starts it. Showing teeth, usually, should prevent dog fights by adequately communicating "get out of here or you're gonna get messed up." If the dog doesn't clear out, it may become necessary to mess him up. So why would you show teeth at your own pack? I would never show teeth at Tinky-Winky, and she'd be in a world of trouble if she showed her teeth at me. But of course she doesn't. She has to be seriously mad to show teeth. Like I just said, it's the last thing before she attacks. And there isn't a lot of time between the warning and the attack, either.

Showing teeth is serious business. I wouldn't do it until you really mean it.

So... What do you do? You don't do. You are. You are the leader.

Being the leader means first of all one thing: you make decisions. As long as you're not making decisions, you're not leading anyone. So in your pack, you have to make the decisions. You, not the dog. If the dog tells you when it's time to feed her or walk her or play with her or where she's gonna sleep, she's making the decisions. She's the leader. You should be the one deciding all these things.

Now you might think that because your particular dog is a puppy and you're housetraining her, she has to tell you when she needs to go out.

Except she doesn't.

If you walk your dog often enough, she won't be giving you orders, and it will make her housetraining easier. My neighbour's basset never housetrained properly on three walks a day. She was two years old when my neighbour adopted her and not properly housetrained. So, I told the neighbour to walk her four times a day at regular times. Immediately, the dog was housetrained. It's not that she hadn't grasped the concept of holding her bladder, she just didn't really bother because she didn't believe she'd be walked before it was too late. Once she knew what time she was getting walked for sure, she'd wait for her walk. Likewise with your puppy. Take her outside regularly before she asks, so she knows two things: 1) there is a bathroom break coming before it's an emergency, and 2) YOU decide when the walks are.

Likewise with feeding. One book I read said "never ever free-feed a dog, or you won't be able to use food as a reward." First of all, that's nonsense on the reward part. More food is always welcome with a dog. And second, while it's not necessary to free-feed a dog, if you're not doing it, then you have to make sure you feed only on your own terms. Tinky-Winky gets a dish of home-cooked food once a day, after her evening walk, and she knows that. She's long since given up asking for an extra dinner by staring at the fridge. However, if she's hungry between meals, she always has Iams kibbles. She eats a little bit from her bowl of kibbles every day, and so she never bothers me for food. On the other hand, with our last set of roommates, there was an older woman, Barb, who was Tinky-Winky's slave. Tinky-Winky would lead her to the fridge, and when Barb opened it, Tinky-Winky would stick her head in and pick out whatever she fancied. Then Barb would grab whatever it was, unwrap it, and give it to her. Tinky-Winky never did that with any of the other roommates, and certainly not with me, but she knew it would work with Barb. Between the two of them, there was no question that Tinky-Winky was the leader.

So clearly, an important aspect of leadership is that in order to retain it, you have to make sure your pack's needs are met. As long as the pack has a full stomach thanks to you, they'll follow you. This is almost word for word in the Tao Te Ching, by the way. Keep the people's bellies full and they will be peaceful. More generally, make sure your dog has food, water, walks, chewies, beds, structure and affection, before she has to ask for them. Then she's not having to make her own decisions about when to eat, pee, fight another dog, anything.

Now with your particular case, Adam, because you have a puppy, it's somewhat necessary that she make her own decisions some times, as part of her development. So, she'll have to challenge you some of the time, as a teenager would. I'd say, just keep your cool about it. Be like a cat: pretend that was exactly what you meant to do.

And therein is another important point: be cool. Cesar calls it "calm assertive." You can call it whatever you like, but be cool. Always be cool. My neighbour with the basset used to be almost in tears whenever she opened her fridge because the dog would shove her out of the way, stick her head in the fridge, and refuse to be removed. I told her, just tie up the dog before you open the fridge. It won't teach her anything, but it will take away her power to make you cry.

So, don't let the dog get to you. And don't let the dog see other things get to you, either. If you're walking the dog and someone comes toward you with another dog, and you're getting all freaked out because there's gonna be a fight, the dog is gonna figure there must be a threat, because you're all freaked out, and he's gonna want to do something about it. Such as fight the other dog. So, if there's a dog coming, be cool. There won't be a fight. You can handle it.

Oh yeah, handling it. Because you're the leader, you have to handle things. With Tinky-Winky, quite often she'll want to put a dog in its place, and I think she's right. But because I'm in charge, I don't let her put the dog in its place. I have her sit, I put my arm around her, and then I tell the other dog where to go. Likewise if there is someone at the door, it's not for her to bark and defend our territory. I handle the person at the door. I'm the leader. It's my job.

Now one thing about all this leadership is, with dogs as with people, there is a big difference between a leader and a control freak. You don't need to control your dog's every move, you just need a generally obedient spirit, and to be in control of the situation. Between Tinky-Winky and me, some things are non-negotiable, such as barking at the door. We live in an apartment, so it's absolutely not an option for her to bark. Therefore, she does not bark at the door. And she was an absolutely obsessive door-barker when I got her. On the other hand, if I tell her to jump up on the bed at bedtime and she doesn't want to, I don't insist. It's not really important whether she sleeps on my bed or on her bed, so I don't get all controlling about it.

An aside about the door thing: again the "who's in charge" aspect has a role in that. If I'm home with her and someone comes to the door, Tinky-Winky says nothing, because I'm in charge. But if I'm in the shower and someone comes to the door, Tinky-Winky will give some warning barks, because she's figured out that I don't handle the door when I'm in the shower. So, being the good pack member she is, she has to make sure I know. And so I always make sure to answer her, so she knows I know.

Finally, an important trick I got from horse trainer Pat Parelli: "make the right thing easy and the wrong thing hard."

It works with people, horses, dogs, anything but cats, I think. Cats don't have a problem going way out of their way to do the wrong thing. But with dogs, it works. For example, about chewing. Many people leave their shoes on the floor and then have a fit because the dog ate them. Ok... Put your shoes in the closet, then. The dog isn't gonna take the time out of his day to grow thumbs, open the closet, find your shoes, and eat them. He'll just find something more convenient to chew on. And this is a particularly important one with puppies, as I found to my chagrin when I had puppies. I had two husky puppies, Scotland and Willow. When I got them, they were tiny and cute. They never ate a shoe, but they ate everything they found on the floor, such as the Yellow Pages. So, I learned to put everything up on shelves that the dogs couldn't reach. Sadly, I didn't account for the fact that puppies grow, so one day, the shelf where my leather wallet had always been safe came within the reach of Scotland, and so she ate my wallet and all my credit cards. Oops...

So yeah. Make it so it's inconvenient or impossible for the dog to do what you don't want, and easy to do what you do want. If you don't want the dog on your bed, have her sleep in a crate. If you don't want her to go into the bathroom and eat the toilet paper, keep the bathroom door closed (it's good feng shui anyway to keep bathroom doors closed). If you don't want her in the garbage, put your garbage in something she can't open, and take it out promptly when you've put something especially tempting in the garbage. Like say, the remains of a rotisserie chicken. You can't blame your dog for fighting her way to a rotisserie chicken through every door in your house, really.

So that's pretty much what I can think of about being the leader. In summary:
  • Make the decisions.
  • Ensure the pack's well-being.
  • Be cool.
  • Don't be a control freak.
  • Make the right thing easy and the wrong thing hard.
And read Cesar's Way.

I hope some of this helps... Feel free to ask more questions, I'll do what I can to answer them.

1 comment:

Adam said...

Thanks for answering my question so thoroughly! It's funny how sometimes something so obvious, such as growling and showing teeth, can be such a dumb thing to do. It helps to hear it directly from someone :)

Other things too that I haven't been doing to, like leaving my shoes next to the baby gate so she can eat the laces, or not watching her for a second while she chews up my charger, are so obvious. I think your suggestion about making the right things easy and the wrong things hard is one of the best suggestions I've heard.

i've read a few puppy books and understand a lot of the concepts and to think like a dog when you're giving commands, correcting, etc... I think it just helps to have experience and learn from someone with that experience. So this post really helped! I'll keep you posted how things are going. Just this week, things are much better! She's starting to listen more, and it makes for a much more enjoyable experience. I'll continue to do my best to establish that leadership!

Thanks again!