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Follow The Leader, Part 3

In Follow The Leader Part 1, I spoke about the importance of being a pack leader. In Follow The Leader Part 2, I did some mythbusting and encouraged you to think like a dog. Now I’d like to talk about what it means you can actually be a pack leader, and what the traits of a good pack leader are.

First let’s talk about how to become a pack leader. There are two basic steps to being a pack leader: obedience training and dog psychology.

Step 1: Obedience Training

The first step in being a pack leader is obedience training. To learn the basics, you need to do is sign up for an obedience course. It doesn’t have to involve fancy tricks, just the basics.

(Having said that, if you and your dog take a liking to training and want to go beyond the basics to doing tricks, there’s no harm in that. As long as the training is always non-violent - eg. doesn’t involve coercion, intimidation, yelling, hitting - then teaching your dog fun tricks is a great idea!)

Be sure to research the obedience school before you join a class. Thankfully most obedience trainers have moved away from the punitive and brutal training methods of the past, but there are still some psychos out there hurting dogs to train them. Not only is modern-day training non-violent, it also works a lot better than the sadistic training that used to be the norm. And (more good news!), non-violent training gives rise to a better relationship between you and your dog.

Step 2: Dog Psychology

The second step in being a pack leader is dog psychology (sometimes called behaviourism). It's a good idea to get help from a professional behaviourist, but this is also a subject you can explore independently, via specialised books and reputable Internet sites.

I’ll give you two quick examples of dog psychology here:

  • Example 1: you eat your meal before giving your dog her food.

  • Example 2: telling your dog to drop/stay and have her to wait until you say free so that she can eat.

If you’ve never read about dog psychology, you might think the above examples illustrate remarkably insignificant actions. In the human world they would be, but in the dog world any behaviour around food is exceedingly important. In fact, that’s why I purposely chose food-related examples: food is intrinsically connected to power in the dog world, which means that any food-related activity is especially significant in your quest to be leader.

That said, there’s more to dog psychology than food, so explore the subject and enjoy learning about the intricacies of a dog’s mind (I assure you that it’s a fascinating place to be!).

Oh, and don’t wait to make mistakes that then need to be undone before you start educating yourself about the workings of the canine mind. Instead, learn as much as you can about dog psychology right now. (Ideally this is something you do you before getting a dog, but if you already have a dog in your family, now will have to be soon enough.)

What Are The Traits Of A Good Pack Leader?

The two foundational traits of a good pack leader are consistency and calm. So it follows that when you’re not consistent and calm, you’re being a poor pack leader:

  • Inconsistency: when you change the rules minute to minute, you’re not only showing weak leadership, but also confusing your dog.

  • Being highly strung: when you fly into a panic or get hysterical at the drop of a hat, you’re not exactly the pillar of strength your dog requires.

  • Being a rageaholic: when you’re a screaming squawking maniac, you’re not being the kind of leader anyone (of any species) would want to follow.

Consistency and calm are the foundation of good leadership, but it doesn’t end there. A good pack leader is also:

  • Compassionate, yet confident.

  • Kind, yet assertive.

  • Gentle, yet strong.

Just Before You Go…

At the beginning of Follow The Leader Part 1, I named the three key needs in a dog’s life as exercise, leadership, and companionship. I spoke briefly about exercise, and extensively about leadership, but I’ve yet to say anything about companionship, so I’ll say a few words about it now.

It’s not hard to figure out that a dog needs company, but I want to make a couple of specific points about it. The first is, your dog needs not just occasional company, but as much company as possible. This means that your dog should live indoors as part of the family - NOT out in the yard excluded from the family.

Second, while your company is great, it’s ideal for dogs to have doggie companionship. If you have just the one dog, it’s nice for her to meet other dogs while out and about, but much better if she has a doggie friend living in the house with her. So if you have one dog, please consider adopting another. Go to a shelter, and ask the staff to help you find a suitable friend for your dog.

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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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