We ate at a Chinese restaurant the other night and when I opened my fortune cookie the little piece of paper had the following printed on it.
“The speed of the leader determines the pace of the pack.” Wow, I thought, how appropriate, and true.
When I walk my dogs I set the pace. Sometimes I walk slowly sometimes I walk fast. Philip and Charlie match my pace and stay right with me. They don’t rush ahead nor do they lag by more than a pace or two.
Most dogs are inherently faster than we are. If we follow or “chase” them they become the leaders in our homes. Dogs use competitions of speed and strength partly to determine their leaders, but the most dominant dogs rarely participate in the competitions. They let the rest of the pack run, chase and wrestle each other while they just keep an eye on things.
We need to slow them down to our speed and not try and keep up with them. This is not always easy.
Every time we lose a race to our dog, whether it’s to the door or to the toy, it tells him we are too slow to be the leader. Leaders are the fastest and strongest and, they always win. I can’t win those races so I don’t race them.
We have to be smarter and understand how our dog views leadership. Part of it is not playing their games of dominance. Wrestling, tug-a-war, and chase are all physical games. Sure with some dogs you can always win, but playing physical games also teaches dogs that it’s ok to play those games with other people. You might be able to win, but what about the child or grandchild or friend or neighbor. Do you want your dog jumping on them or trying to grab something out of their hands?
Philip and Charlie are faster than I am, but I am the leader. They don’t know their faster because I don’t play those games. Knowing how to provide leadership without engaging in physical contests is important to having the relationship you want to have with your dog.
Leadership is about trust and respect; it’s not about overpowering your dog physically. It’s about letting him be a dog and doing dog things, but shaping the context in which he does them. Let me give you an example.
Philip and Charlie love to use their noses. It’s a dog thing to do. While we primarily use our eyes to learn about the world, dogs use their noses. As entertainment we make Philip and Charlie use their noses. They have to “find” their cookies and toys. Dogs in the wild would have to search out for food so it’s a natural behavior.
By letting Philip and Charlie satisfy their natural instincts to search for food. Philip and Charlie have to use their brains. Mental exercise is as important as physical exercise. It’s important to balance both. That is part of the leader’s job.
When you are your dog’s leader you will set the pace of your pack. When the pack is following your lead things are in balance. When the pack is balanced we all know the result…
Happy Dogs = Happy Families