Dog Behaviour Advice - Dog Advice Articles
Canine Leadership; Pretend you know what you are doing using your eyes
In the last article, I covered the need for our dogs to see us as leaders of their human/canine pack using food. The use of our eyes is also important and we can put this to very good benefit.
I read many canine writers telling us that the first most important thing we do with our dogs is to teach them obedience. Often this is to use some form of enforcement training using choking collars with aggressive body language like pushing our dogs into position or leaning right over them etc. Such methods are teaching leadership using pain and domination. This has been one of the biggest hindrances to those wishing to teach or learn using non-painful methods because pain works. What we have is a dog that obeys because it has to instead of wanting to.
The first and most important thing we must do with our dogs is show leadership to them so they respect us, follow us and wish to work with us happily.
The use of food as I described in the last article does in human terms sound like teasing them. For our dogs, such actions are normal leadership skills. For those of you who have more than one dog in your home you will probably know what I mean. Most dogs will do exactly the same thing if they were in charge of the food and they will do something similar to those it considers lesser in the hierarchy.
In the wolf pack, the leaders eat first and they rarely make eye contact with the others unless they try to move in to take some of the food. For such attempts, the leaders immediately repulse with a show of full eye-to-eye contact and aggressive body language until the offender retreats.
When the leaders have finished they will still show full eye contact with an aggressive stance as if to say do not touch the food just because they are not eating. To us this seems odd but what is actually happening is that the leaders are confirming that the food always remains theirs. After a few such face-to-face gestures, they will stop the eye contact and will walk away. At this point, all the other wolves dive into the food in order of seniority.
If the leaders wish to they can and will on occasions approach any wolf that is acting above its station and retake the food even if just for a moment. Such actions are again necessary to show the leader is always in control and food always belongs to the leaders.
When Kathryn Hollings fed her puppy Osito his first of two meals a day my dog Winston was hoping for a share. Even though Osito had eaten as much as he wanted to and left some food in the bowl he still went up to Winston and growled at him to keep off his food. Eventually he walked away and Winston dived in to finish the remains of the meal.
Osito was a dominant as a puppy and did try to become dominant even over humans if given the chance. Fortunately, Kathryn was aware of this and now as well as him being a very friendly dog, he can still remember and shows the normal wolf language of control towards Winston.
We do not teach dogs this as it is just there in the list of genetics survival rules. Again, the learned rules can inhibit such control where there are no other dogs in the home but if one does come in then often you can watch the same language in action.
Our use of our eyes is important for all sorts of day-to-day influence over our dogs. Many people will say they would not use food in such a way and yet will complain their dog will not do a recall or other obedience commands. Why should it?
I use to use the word control until I saw a training film for Police dogs in America where a European instructor used control as if it were some form of torture. It was then I opted to use the word preferred by John Rogerson that of influence. We need to be able to influence our dogs so that on most occasions they do as we request respecting our commands for the good of the pack. Any commands not followed only reduce our standing as leaders.
If we are unable to influence our dogs by being reasonable leaders this will often create a dog that would appear, in human terms, out of control. In some respects, it is because it certainly cannot go to the supermarket and purchase food but it will often steal food or roam for it. Often a food stealer can be because of lack of leadership skills or it can also be that there are good leadership skills. It is necessary to look and the interaction to determine why the dog is stealing.
It is necessary we make sure our dogs do abide by our wishes but it is not necessary to appear perfect leaders. Many owners do achieve suitable leadership looking skills because of the way they interact with their dogs simply because they will not tolerate such non-compliance. Sometimes this will take the form of loud and gruff negative commands that many dogs understand, as they look and sound in some ways similar to the wolf language.
Where owners are wishing to be kind and lenient they still achieve excellent influence over their dogs because they teach their dogs not to do this but do something else. It is where the owners allow dogs to think there is no leadership then they must automatically take on that roll in order to control all recourses for the good of the pack. They do not do this out of spite or being simply a bad dog they do it because their genetics tell them to in order to survive.
We can use no eye contact to good effect in very many ways. As in cases like separation anxiety, no eye contact helps them learn to survive on their own. Where a dog keeps jumping up if we do not look at the dog at all as if it were not there, then jumping does not achieve the attention satisfaction it craves. If I go to see an aggressive dog by not looking at it then it does not attack me because I am not a danger to it. Licking my lips also tells the do I mean it no harm.
On returning to the pack leader wolves do not look at other members of the pack for some time even though the other wolves crave to greet them to confirm the order of hierarchy is still the same as it was before. Again, this reinforces the leadership.
In the next article, I have a case where the use of eye contact is very important. Complementing this with other leadership skills has produced excellent results where a previous behaviourist failed to make any improvements at all.