I want to talk about leadership. This is one of those concepts that a lot of people realize they need to do better, particularly in relation to their dogs. Unfortunately, some of these people end up practicing that only looks like leadership. Some of them just try to look tougher, some say things in a deeper voice, and some attempt to appear meaner or “more alpha.” These terms that come to mind when people think about leadership.
But that thinking doesn’t push you toward solid leadership with your dog. I’ve found that leadership comes from one main component: setting clear expectations and following up on them. That’s what leadership means to a dog. It’s not about how you talk.
I was recently working with a client of mine, showing her how to get her dog to wait at the door. When her turn to try it out came, she said, in her own high tone, “Wait!” And then she jokingly said, trying to mimic my deeper voice: “Oh, I’ll say it like you: wait!” A lot of people, whether in jest or reality, think that toughness is leadership.
But I would recommend thinking about how you show leadership to your kids. Is it by being tough and mean? There’s a place for firmness, but it falls under the umbrella of following through on your expectations. Leadership isn’t about being bigger and stronger, especially if you’ve got kids. When they grow up and leave the house, you might not be bigger and stronger than them anymore!
Whereas discipline and correction have a place in leadership, it’s more about clarity and sticking to the rules. You don’t need to be tough or strong or have a deep voice. You may need tools like a training collar that give you leverage when you need it, but you don’t need to have an inner toughness that people associate with leadership. That’s actually a facade that many dogs see straight through. What makes sense to them is being clear about the rules and outlining them.