Leadership, or Who Let the Dogs Out First?

The myths of canine social behavior, the misused and misunderstood concept of dominance, and building a strong relationship with your dog.


Ask Professor Boo is our recurring, positive reinforcement dog training and behavior question and answer column. If you have a question that you would like to ask Professor Boo, please feel free to contact him.

[dropcap]M[/dropcap]ost social organizations have levels of hierarchy to make them run smoothly.

When we emphasize humans as “Leader of the Pack” vis-à-vis their dogs this does not involve force or physical control.

Traditionally, in most canine and human societies the leader is the one who controls all goods and services – food, play, toys, outside, social activities, etc.

And the leader is the one who takes care of the family/pack.

We hear a lot about showing our dog that we are their leader by being dominant.

The behavioral definition of “dominance” refers to hierarchy in a social organization, not an implicit personality trait or forcefulness.

Example: your boss is dominant in the workplace because he/she is in charge of working hours, your tasks, what you get paid, time off, etc.  However, it could be illegal or just unpleasant if your boss used force to support the hierarchy of the workplace.  The good boss that has a good leadership relationship with his/her employees explains the order of the workplace at the beginning then he/she uses incentives, bonuses, and commissions to reward employees for work well done.  Yet, even with this kindness and guidance this good boss remains in the “dominant” leadership position.

To build a good leadership relationship with our dogs:

We need to teach solid boundaries – like our boss expecting us in at nine – if we’re not, we lose pay.

We need trained behaviors we can request from our dogs – like our boss would ask us to perform our job.

We need to respect our dogs – like the good boss respects that you can’t work 24/7.  You need enrichment time.

In the end, it doesn’t matter if your dog walks in front of you or goes out the door first.

In the end, it doesn’t matter if your dog walks in front of you or goes out the door first.

It matters that your dog is not pulling you because you have taught them it pays to walk on a loose leash = Trained behaviors and boundaries.

It matters that you can ask your dog to go ahead of you because maybe it’s easier for you at that moment = Requested trained behaviors.

It matters that maybe this is your dog’s free time to sniff and have some fun = Freedoms you allow because your dog needs enrichment, too.

To be a good leader for your dog, your relationship needs to be built on understanding, guidance, and respect; and you must take responsibility for Learning, Teaching, and Reinforcing.

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