Leadership versus Dominance

Leadership is a grossly misunderstood concept. Leadership is often associated with words like “dominance”, “alpha”, “authority”, “respect”, and “challenge”. Rarely, if ever, is it associated with the word “trust”. Which may explain the tremendous lack of demonstrated leadership present in today’s human society!

Leadership is a role that requires the earning of trust from followers. Trust cannot be demanded. Force (the tool of the Dominator) creates resistance. Trust can only be given, not taken. Leadership, unlike "dominance", requires followers to CHOOSE to follow. Trust is broken in a heartbeat, but repaired, re-earned, only over a long period of time--not hours, but days, weeks, even months or years. Sometimes, it's irreparably broken.

An individual dog always has the right to choose whether to follow another dog or not. Even the most severe aggression will not force an individual dog to follow a leader it does not willingly choose to follow. It is only the benefit offered by the leader that encourages a follower to follow.

Whether we are referring to corporate management, family structure, or canine management, the basic principles of effective leadership remain the same:

To lead is to set the example. To design structure of activities. To plan. To create expectations. To minimize conflict. To intervene and mediate conflict. To consider the best interests of all parties when creating boundaries or structure. To listen as often as speak. To compromise your own ego, your immediate interests for the benefit of all parties, putting the needs of your followers before your own. A good leader builds willing cooperation.

To “dominate” is to bully. To ignore the needs of your followers when it conflicts with your own personal interests or desires. To repress free will. To have one-directional conversations. The product of domination is conflict, since only one party’s will or desire is considered, but all parties have needs. The “dominator” forces “cooperation” (compliance).

Among households with canine family members, lack of leadership is a common cause for serious problem behaviors. Failing to plan is planning to fail, they say. Responsibility for leadership issues is often shifted to the dog, calling the dog "dominant".

While a dog may have strong leadership tendencies or even capabilities, it is the yielding of follow that creates a leader. When a human or another dog reacts, rather than initiates, that individual is following. Interestingly, this "reaction" is the very hallmark of application of "dominance" techniques-- wait for the dog to screw up, then intervene. Who is leading who?

Waiting for the car to run off the road before steering is obviously a bad idea. But somehow "because dogs aren't like us", this approach is often attempted.

Sadly, I've seen a well-intentioned "positive" approach used in the same way. The dog jumps up, THEN the person asks for a SIT. This is ineffective for so many reasons, now "positive" training has been misidentified as the cause of ineffectiveness.

The key to leadership for your canine pals is developing the ability to read the current situation, anticipate what behaviors come next, identify "crossroad" moments when steering is needed, and a toolbox full of ways to elicit the behavior you want BEFORE an undesirable behavior emerges.

I'm often asked by folks with dogs displaying aggression toward other dogs what to do if the dogs get into a fight, again, reflecting the "follow the dog" backwards approach. Some people are looking to use the fight to "teach their dog a lesson". Others are simply trying to prevent injury to the dogs.

Returning to our model of leadership as steering the car, PREVENTION is the key strategy to address accidents. Maybe there's that 1-in-a-million race car driver out there who can adeptly intervene WHILE the car is crashing--maybe. But if you were that 1-in-a-million dog owner who could effectively intervene while your dog was in a fight...your dog wouldn't be in a fight to begin with!

Once you've "crashed the car", once you've missed the "crossroad moment" where you needed to steer the behavior in the correct direction, once the dog has jumped or barked or lunged -- the dog's learning is out the window. You may be able to use the moment to learn how to handle such a circumstance, but the dog's learning for application to future interactions has ceased.

By learning to lead effectively, you will not see the "crashes"!

LOOK FAMILIAR? This article is a reprint from a post on my blog "that dog whisperer lady" http://mswhisperer.blogspot.com  Drop by!