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Follow The Leader, Part 1

Besides the survival basics of food, water and shelter, there are three key needs in a dog’s life:

  • Exercise
  • Leadership
  • Companionship

As your dog’s guardian, it’s your responsibility to fulfill all of these key needs, but this Dog Blog trilogy will focus on the second key need: leadership.

Before Leadership Comes Exercise

As important as leadership is (and, have no doubt, it is important), the first thing on your list of things to do is to increase your dog’s daily exercise. With regular exercise your dog gets to expend her energy, and is therefore more amenable to obedience training (which, as you’ll see in Follow The Leader Part 3, is the first step in developing your leadership role).

The Importance Of Strong Leadership

You may have heard the saying “a tired dog is a happy dog”. But there’s a little more to it than that. The saying should be: "a tired dog with a strong pack leader is a happy dog who feels safe and secure". Such a dog feels protected in your company, and is more willing to listen to you than if she perceives you as weak and ineffectual.

Occasionally dogs do okay with weak leadership. Some dogs have a soft and gentle personality, and there are few negative consequences if their guardians are not strong leaders. But those dogs are in the minority.

Just as most children will take advantage of feeble parenting, most dogs will take over the leadership position when the person who is supposed to lead the way (that is, you) proves to be inept. And when dogs seize the leadership position, they let their teeth (eg. snarling and snapping) do the talking when reminding everyone who’s boss.

Using teeth to communicate is natural to dogs, and while it’s acceptable behaviour within a dog pack, it’s undesirable during interactions with humans. At best, a scenario where your dog is in charge will result in your dog nipping you. At worst, your dog can bite you in earnest and do serious damage. But any way you look at it, when your leadership is weak, trouble is just around the corner.

Now I don’t want you to despair if you’re already in that situation. The saying “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” is absolute nonsense - in my experience, dogs of any age are much more open to learning than most humans. So if your dog is the boss of your household right now, she can be trained out of the leadership role she’s assumed. Seek professional guidance to help you do it right, and remember that you’ll need to be consistent and patient.

The Consequences Of Poor Leadership

I really want you to understand how crucial being a strong pack leader is, because I’m not exaggerating when I say that poor leadership is a potential disaster.

Dogs shouldn’t control their guardians for similar reasons that children shouldn’t control their parents: neither dogs nor children have a broad understanding of the world or its dangers. So having either kids or dogs in charge is courting catastrophe.

I’m sure you’ve seen how monstrous some children become when they don’t have the benefit of good parenting - dogs also develop behavioural issues without good leadership. The difference is that when a child misbehaves by showing aggression to those around him, society doesn’t seek to immediately kill that child. In contrast, when a dog shows aggression, it’s often the case that many want to see that dog dead. This happens even in cases when a normally gentle dog is tormented to breaking point and shows even the mildest aggression (like growling). And this is especially true if a child is the recipient of that aggression - even if that child was the dog’s tormentor!

This is a stark display of human arrogance, and a double standard that's completely unfair to dogs. And many people hold this attitude. I’m sure the last thing you want is for those people to be screaming for your dog’s blood after she snapped at someone, because you’ve allowed her to assume the position of leader. I do hope that you see very clearly why I say that it’s best for your dog that you establish yourself as the pack leader.

Read On

This is a three-part Dog Blog, so continue reading here: Follow The Leader Part 2.

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Adopt a homeless animal instead - they all deserve a second chance

It's estimated that 130,000 dogs and 60,000 cats are killed every year in Australia because there are not enough homes for them all. And the global numbers amount to millions upon millions every single year.

Puppy mills are a major contributor to the terrible problem of overpopulation. Puppy mills are essentially 'dog factories' where dogs are forced to churn out litter after litter, with no thought for the welfare of the dogs and all thought for profit. The dogs live in appallingly dirty, cramped conditions all their lives, and when they no longer serve their purpose they're killed, dumped or sold to vivisection laboratories.

Petshops fit into the picture because puppy mills are generally where petshops get their animals from. Furthermore, having animals in shop windows encourages impulse purchases, and adding an animal to your family should be a conscious, careful decision - NOT one to be made while shoe shopping.

Breeders contribute enormously to the tragic statistics above too. And it doesn't matter whether they're professional breeders or backyard breeders, and whether they breed for profit or not, because while there are homeless animals sitting on death row in shelters, any and all animal breeding is utterly irresponsible.

Now, here's where you come in. You can either be part of the problem or part of the solution. You can either buy animals from puppy mills, petshops or breeders and be part of the problem. Or you can adopt from a shelter or rescue organisation and be part of the solution.

If I haven't convinced you, visit your local shelter to see the homeless animals. Let their innocent faces convince you that adopting is the only responsible choice to make.

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