Whole Dog Journal Tips March 7, 2014

(Help For Your Fearful Dog #2) Leadership

A dog who regards his humans as a strong leader will feel more secure in threatening situations.  For example, Shiloh the Shetland Sheepdog is nervous when strangers approach on the street.  Without confidence in his owner, Shiloh might feel the need to take matters into his own paws, barking and lunging furiously to drive the stranger away.  But if he sees his owner a capable leader, Shiloh can relax and let her handle the situation.  Leadership has its benefits for you, the owner, as well.  If you feel that you have more control over your dog, you will be able to remain calmer when confronted with potentially anxiety-producing situations. 

Good leaders use psychology to lead and teach.  There is no need to prove to your dog that you are in charge by being physically overpowering. 

The Language of Leadership

The unruffled, self-assured manner of a strong leader is reflected in the tone of voice and body language.  Speech is succinct.  Instructions are clear and direct.  A good leader is fair, consistent, and patient.  Although it might ne difficult to define a good leader by listing personality traits and mannerisms, the aura of a true leader is unmistakable.  Even if you do not naturally exude leadership qualities, you can learn to approximate them well enough that your dog will be convinced that you are in charge. 

Here’s how:

-   Maintain an air of calm confidence.  Whenever you feel yourself becoming tense, take a few deep breaths. 

-   Give verbal cues once in an even tone of voice.  Do not repeat cues with escalating volume!  Your dog can hear a potato chip hit the carpet in the next room-she heard your request the first time. 

-   Keep verbal cues simple: do not surround them with extraneous chatter.  It’s not, “Hey buddy, come on, come here now!”  It’s “Buddy, come!”

-   Be clear in your hand signals and body language.  Do not use unnecessary movements.  Stand tall and communicate calmly and clearly. 

-   If your dog does not respond to a verbal cue immediately (assuming it is one she understands and has practiced), count to 30 silently.  If she complies during that time, reward her.  The time between the cue and the response-known as latency-will get shorter with repeated attempts.  If your dog does not comply, a consequence should follow.  The consequence might be your walking away and ignoring her for two minutes, withdrawing a potential reward (like the treat you were about to give), or gently placing her into the requested position. 

-   If you must interrupt a behavior, use a soft but sharp “Eh-eh!” rather than a frantic or whining “No, no, noooo, stop doing that right now!”  Once your dog has ceased the inappropriate behavior, calmly redirect her to another activity such as chewing an appropriate chew toy.  (Ask for a sit before giving her the chew toy so she is being rewarded for the sit rather than for the inappropriate activity.)

For more on owning and training a fearful dog, purchase Help For Your Fearful Dog:  A Step By Step Guide to Helping Your Dog Conquer His Fear by Nicole Wilde, CPDT.