During all of the leadership trainings, a required activity seems to be the group listing of qualities a good leader possesses. Traits like kindness, fairness, patience, good communication skills, a sense of humor, compassion, humility, intelligence, and courage. I am always intrigued by this activity because “leadership” has come to mean something rather different in dog training. It seems that in the context of canines, leadership is just a more politically correct way of saying that you are dominant or alpha – two words that I have never seen come up when discussing human leadership.
The connotation of leadership in dog training implies that if your dog is not exceptionally behaved or shows any sort of personality, it reflects poorly on you as their leader. Dogs that chase squirrels? Why can’t you control them? Dogs growls at people? Why aren’t you telling him to stop? Dog won’t sit when you tell her? Why aren’t you making her sit? If you're a good enough leader, your dog won't misbehave.
In my opinion, the leadership of canines seems to be less “fun” and more “terrible burden.”
Human leadership workshops rarely (never that I can remember, but I’m not perfect yet) talk about “making” people do anything. Humans seem to understand on at least a logical level that you can’t force anyone to do anything. If only we understood that being able to force dogs – or any other living thing – into a behavior is also just an illusion!
Further, there is an implication that if we can’t use force, then we are powerless over the behavior of others. Try to force me to do something, and you will find out how stubborn and pig headed I can be. But as a professional peon, I am not difficult to lead. The people I follow and respect the most are the ones who know me the best. Who know the situations I will flourish in and who place me in situations were my particular skill set will excel. These are the leaders I trust will not give me an objective I cannot achieve. And if I were to get in over my head, I trust that these people will listen and then do something if I were to tell them that I’m in over my head.
Do you see where I’m going with this?
Leadership is not force or dominance or being alpha. It’s knowing people. It’s understanding that maybe your old dog doesn’t want to sit because her knees are bothering her – but she’d be happy to shake paws with you. It’s not putting the dog that growls at people into a crowded room because “he’s gotta learn to deal with it.” It’s trust and strength and creativity and setting the situation up so that everyone can succeed – without letting your ego get in the way.
Sounds tricky and thankless, doesn’t it?
But leadership is balanced by friendship. Many people, including many great leaders, seem to believe that these are mutual exclusive. I am skeptical. The leaders I follow most wholeheartedly are the ones I can meet with over apple pancakes and discuss dogs and boyfriends and jobs and the nitty-gritty of making the Next Big Thing completely spectacular. The idea seems to be that you can’t reprimand or be critical of people you have an emotional attachment to. And I can see where this would be difficult from the leader’s perspective. As a lifelong follower, though, the people who’s honest criticism I internalize and value the most is that of my friends. The people who know me, and who I know have our best interests at heart.
How terrible to be your dog’s leader, but not their friend!
After all, isn’t that why we love dogs? To open ourselves to their silliness, their devotion and loyalty, their companionship in times of strife, and their joy in times of happiness. If I had to chose, I’d rather be their friend than their leader. To share the couch with them and a good book and a cup of coffee on a rainy day. In short, to do nothing with them but be happy.
In my book, being happy with my dogs is more important than any of that other stuff.
|Photo by Paige.|