I took the above photo while I was walking these 14 dogs right by Prospect Park in New York City with plenty of distractions and other dogs passing by. These dogs are NOT highly trained dogs. They are regular family dogs. Some of them had actually fought in the past against each other and had leash aggression. Without good and benevolent leadership this would have not been possible.
I will first start defining what I mean by leadership.
Leadership means practicing awareness, self control, decision making and accountability when you have to. By that order!
I see leadership as a responsability, a service and a privilege, not as an entitlement.
This is always true with dogs, although in appearance is not always true with humans. And I say in appearance because we humans sometimes get lost in the intricate game of power by manipulating or imposing our way, although this is simply because of lack of awareness. Our egos take over and we make a big mess. Dogs don’t have Egos.
Anyways, dogs don’t play that game. Dogs don’t listen to a leader, they listen to the energy behind the leader. This is a very important concept. It has to do with awareness and confidence. Being a leader is not a title that once you earn it you expect your dog to listen to you and respect you. If you are not up to the task, the privilege will be removed. Kind of like your drivers license. In a way, your dog will tell you if you’re connected to nature or to your phone! I’m guilty to 😉
Dogs live in the moment, so if at the moment you are not in control of yourself or aware of the environment around you, your pup will probably not listen to you. He or she will not trust nor respect you, no matter how much training and conditioning you ´ve worked on manipulating his or her behavior. But don’t worry, your dog will still love you though 🙂 They are truly amazing souls.
Anyways, when your dog is at high alert, tense or fixated, all the training and conditioning you’ve worked on goes down the drain if you don’t have the right relationship. And it´s precisely in these moments when you really want to make sure that your dog is going to listen to you. Think about this for a moment: If danger is coming and you need to make a decision, would you listen to your 7 year old son? Would you turn to look at him for direction? Of course not, because you are in charge. But guess what, if you are not in charge your son will not look up to you either. That’s just simply how it works. You don’t look up to someone who you don’t trust, respect or who is not in control. Animals only trust people that know what they are doing. Being kind is not enough. Trust is a must. In an airplane you don’t trust a pilot because he/she is kind. You trust them because they know what they’re doing.
I see this happening with dogs all the time. If you have it together, is at those moments when your pup will listen to you, because it´s at those moments when he or she really needs you and will look up to you for guidance.
In many ways we all need some kind of leadership or higher power to look up to when everything falls apart. I consider myself lucky that I always had my parents when I was in trouble. It´s funny that it was at those troubled moments when I was really paying attention and listening to them. And I’m not talking about listening to their words. My parents where not big in giving me advice and telling me what to do. I’m talking about listening to the trust, respect and love that they always delivered unconditionally as role models.This is the kind of assets good leaders create. And this is the kind of leadership I’m talking about. It´s an unspoken language.
Leadership is not a skill, it´s a state of mind which you have to know how to turn it on and off. Good leaders are good followers too. Some times you lead sometimes you follow. Both are equally valuable and knowing when to do what makes a big difference.
You don’t have to prove leadership or stablish leadership. You provide leadership. Because if you have to prove it, this means you don’t have it. It’s a calm, collected and confident way of being, even when things go paired. Even when the worst fears show up. It´s a state of mind that allows you to be connected with your environment in a way that you are listening, observing and getting ready to make a decision in a confident manner. By the way, being calm does not mean being slow. Calmness has nothing to do with speed.
Bad leadership is not about making the right or wrong decision, (we all make mistakes), it’s about not making any decision or making it without confidence.
Your presence and your guidance should be more powerful than the sources of stress . When you achieve that kind of leadership you can bring back your dog to calmness no matter how crazy or out of control the situation is around you. The key to achieve this is to remain calm and in control no matter how bad things get. It’s impossible to control a dog if you are not in control of yourself. You can restrain them with strength or tools, but that will only take care of liability which is a human problem not a dog problem.
It´s not about you, it´s about being accountable.
© Gabriel Riesco, Fairfield CT, Feb 21st 2018