Training your dog? Here’s how to establish yourself as a positive leader!
In my experience as a dog trainer, many of the people I work with have assumed that solving behavioral problems between a dog and a family is as easy as a one time visit from a dog trainer or behaviorist. Unfortunately it’s not; it would make my job a lot easier if it was the case! In my experience, it’s not just about training the dog but the owner as well.
Being an effective leader is essential – the dog needs to understand that you and your family are in charge. Every second you spend with your dog it is taking in vital information; you want to make things as clear to the dog as possible. Behavioral problems in most cases stem from the misleading behavior from the owner and family. It’s not about being aggressive or domineering, but simply letting the dog know that it doesn’t have to stress about protecting it’s family.
In this article I will go right back to basics and explain very simple methods of communication you have to be aware of to make sure there is a good line of communication between you and your dog.
Absolutely essential – and that’s why I’m putting this first. A great deal of leadership comes down to body language. Much communication between pet and owner is expressed without saying a word. Dogs can easily read body language that may seem weak, tentative or quiet. However, a dog can also detect aggressive postures and body behavior which, rather than helping control the animal, may make things worse. That said, a dog will recognize a projection of assertiveness and authority.
To assert your authority to relax rather than threaten the dog, these are some of the positive actions he will recognize:
- Keep your head upright and posture high.
- Avoid any sort of direct eye contact until you are ready to interact, especially if the dog is showing signs of fear and anxiety, as eye contact can be perceived as threatening.
- Avoid things like direct finger pointing, which can again be threatening.
- When rewarding your dog make sure you express your appreciation clearly. Smile and open your arms; he will read your welcoming body language positively.
Decision-making and action
When you make a decision on anything, it must be firm, final and immediate and your dog must know this. This is often easier said than done and it won’t always work, especially during the puppy/adolescent stages. Dogs often protest with gesturing or barking; try and avoid this as much as you can and if they behave this way, make sure you ignore it at all costs. Having lived with mischievous Beagles most of my life, I know this behavior all too well!
Again, ensure you are being firm, but not violent or aggressive, as this will only make things worse.
Tone of voice
This is perhaps the most obvious step but often a problematic area. Dogs are just as good as humans when it comes to detecting the tone of voice. The reason I mention it last is because it works alongside the other two steps and they must be consistently used or your dog will become confused.
- Make sure your tone of voice and commands are clear
- Use short phases and commands: sit, stay, paw, dinner (their favourite one, obviously!)
- Try to make sure all commands are used in with conjunction with the dog’s name, especially when you have more than one animal in the house!
- When praising the dog, along with body language, deliver it with a smile and a soft, welcoming, reassuring voice. He may not understand what you are saying but will recognize the tone with which you say it!
Mark is passionate about animal welfare. He's a Dog Handler, Blogger, Treasurer SE Basset Hound and currently working in Dog Law. Mark has lived with dogs his entire life, and after realizing that you can never get enough of a good thing he decided to work with them! He managed a boarding kennels for five years and has worked with a number of rescues such as Beagle Welfare and Basset Rescue. He is involved in events and shows such as Discover Dogs, London Pet Show, Windsor Championship Show and Crufts.