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Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Benevolent Leadership

In my last article, On Leadership and Dominance, I addressed attributes that do not make a leader.. such as belligerence and violence.
While leaders do not command respect by throwing their weight around; they also get very little respect if they let their people run all over them. 

Watch parents at the grocery store. 
Have you ever seen a child throw a temper tantrum because she couldn't get a toy or a candy bar?  What if the parent gives in? What has that child just learned?   In the short term, temper tantrums work.  If the parent continues this type of behavior, the child might grow up assuming that the world revolves around him or she might not even learn the coping skills to self sufficient.

We can love and cherish our dogs and still set boundaries for them. If your dog jumps on you and you pet him, the dog just got rewarded for jumping. You shouldn't get mad at him for jumping on the neighbor's 3 year old.  If you are eating dinner and your dog barks at you to give her some of your food and you comply, you have just taught the dog that barking gets her what she wants. 

Does this mean that you yell at or push around your dog for jumping or barking? No. There are positive solutions to those problems. 

Basically you can ignore unwanted behaviors and reward desired behaviors. Ignore jumping, reward calm.

A friend who loves his dog dearly told me that he practices "nothing in life in free." His dog has to work for everything.  If the dog wants to go outside, he must wait by the door. If the dog wants food, he must perform a trick. 
"[It's] about.. the bigger outlook" says my friend ..."that they have the potential to learn, be good canine citizens, listen and pay attention to their human, etc...  In return, they get food, shelter, social interaction, and lots of activity (and lots of love and attention) - it seems like a fair trade-off.  I look at them like children, no more - no less.  In a lot of ways, they are smarter and better-behaved.  I would expect my child to listen to me and do what I say, just as I expect [my dog] to..." 

A good leader will set boundaries.  But leadership is also about responsibility. You rescued or adopted or purchased your dog so you have a responsibility to take care of her, to protect her. This is also leadership.

If the neighbor's 3 year old grabs your dog's tail or pokes her in the eye, it's your responsibility to put a stop to that.  Even though your dog might be docile, this type of treatment is not enjoyable for your dog.  Ask the neighbor's parents to pull the kid off of your dog or don't let this kid around your dog.

If a stranger allows his off leash dog to come bounding up to your dog, jumping on your dog's head, harassing your dog, don't discipline your dog when she snaps at the rude dog. Ask the dog's owner to take his rude dog away or stand in front of your dog, blocking the rude dog's access.

If your dog gets harassed at the dog park, defend your dog or leave the dog park.

If you take your dog to a training class and the trainer uses unreasonable force on your dog, calmly take your dog away from the trainer.

To quote a popular comic book and movie - With great power comes great responsibility. Use your power to be a benevolent leader.


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