5 Traits That Will Make You A Good “Leader” For Your Dog

Photo by Kevin Duggan | http://www.dogstokevin.com

Photo by Kevin Duggan | http://www.dogstokevin.com

Dogs are animals. Without proper training, (teaching) a dog will act, for lack of a better way to describe it, like a dog. This means that they will jump on counters, run away from home, eliminate where they please, bark, chew things, and the list goes on. When we bring dogs into our homes, we expect them to fit in and act in an appropriate way. For most dogs, this takes a lot of consistent direction and reinforcement from the humans. When I say most dogs, I am talking about 99% of them. Once again, this is because they are animals and we are ultimately trying to get them to have human-like manners.

So the question is, what traits make up a good leader for a dog?

1. The ability to clearly communicate.

No, I am not referring to speaking sentences clearly. Dogs do not speak English and adding in extra words can cause confusion. What I am referring to is using a marker word when the dog is doing something the human likes. For example, “Yes” or “Good boy.” By consistently using marker words after the dog does a correct behavior, and also following it with something the dog enjoys, the dog will be more likely to repeat the behavior that led to good things from the humans. Additionally, words can be used to tell the dog to stop doing something. For example, “Leave-it.” By teaching a strong “Leave-it” cue, you can successfully stop your dog from doing things by giving him a simple instruction.

2. The ability to reinforce wanted behaviors, and prevent reinforcement for unwanted behaviors.

In a nutshell, when a behavior is reinforced, the behavior is likely to happen again. If we ask our dog to sit 5 feet away from the dinner table, and reward him for doing so, he is likely to hang out 5 feet away. If we allow our dog to stand right by the table and lick things off of it, the dog is likely to continue that behavior. The good stuff the dog receives serves as the reinforcement. Basically, the dog realizes that a certain behavior leads to good stuff, and does it again and again to get the good stuff. A good leader makes sure that only the wanted behaviors lead to reinforcement, and not the unwanted behavior.

3. The ability to control access to “everything good.”

Naturally, being the human gives you the, “upper hand,” so to speak. By being human, we can naturally control everything the dog enjoys. (E.g. Food, Water, Play, Access outdoors.) What I am not saying is to rob your dog of the things it needs to survive. What I am saying is make your dog work for it. Does he want to go outside? Ask him to sit at the door until you release him to go out. Does he want to eat? Ask him to wait patiently in a “down” while you prepare the meal. Does he want to play? Ask him to participate in an awesome structured game of tug. It is natural for us to be in control of all these things for our dogs. If we weren’t, most dogs would be very overweight and running amuck. A good leader uses these things as a way to make the dog a little more dependent upon the human, which can result in a better-behaved dog.

4. The ability to follow through with what was asked.

One of the human’s roles is setting rules and following through with them. It is important that this is done the correct way. It is a must to teach the dog what is actually wanted and the emphasis should be placed on reinforcing the wanted behavior. The wanted behaviors should be practiced over and over in a lot of different environments with a lot of different distractions. With all the practice, you will set your dog up to do the behavior every time you ask. With all that being said, if the dog doesn’t do as you ask, you need to “take a step back” and show him what you’d like him to be doing. (For example: If your dog will not lie down and stay where you’ve asked when you’re trying to eat dinner, you’ll want practice teaching him how to stay in one spot for longer periods of time by working on increasing “duration” and “distance.” (Click here to see how to increase the duration and distance.)

5. The ability to keep calm and practice positive training.

Sometimes your dog will test your nerves. It’s inevitable. (Thank goodness they’re cute, right?) In situations like this it is important to keep your cool and learn from it. If you get home and your dog got into the garbage, it’s important to remember to either safely secure your garbage or your dog the next time you leave. (This is just one example.) The point is that if you lose your cool and yell or harshly punish, it will affect your relationship with your dog. This can result in a dog that doesn’t trust humans, which can make training very difficult. The result of keeping calm and practicing positive training will lead to a trustworthy dog that is ready to learn.

By following these 5 recommendations, you will end up being just what your dog needs to succeed in life. Remember to stay calm, practice positive training, clearly communicate, “control everything good,” follow through with what you ask, and reinforce the wanted behaviors. It will make you very happy in the short term and long term.

Also, check out this video to see how I am being a good leader to this shelter dog named Chase.


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Positively Expert: Kevin Duggan

Kevin is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer through the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers and is a Canine Good Citizen Evaluator through the American Kennel Club. He currently resides in Ohio , where he operates All Dogs Go To Kevin, LLC.


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