Dog Training 101: Leadership

The Basics of Leadership

When I was in grade school, gym class was a torment. Led by a muscular, energetic man with very little knowledge of what it’s like to be a twelve-year old girl, Mr. Dix (seriously, that was his name) would pick the two best athletes in the class and then let these girls pick their own teams…and woe to the slow, the clumsy and the uncool. As the pool of candidates shrank and the choices got more difficult, Mr. Dix would blow his whistle impatiently and shout “Just pick one!” Thirty years later, I’m still a little mad at Mr. Dix. He was a bad, bad leader.

A good leader or team captain is empathetic, supportive and patient, bringing out the best in everyone. As your dog’s team captain, always be the kind of leader you would want to follow. Don’t be a Mr. Dix.

Use the 5:1 Ratio

Consider your dog’s perspective and be patient as you train her. She doesn’t understand the difference between a stick and a chair leg—wood is wood in her mind. She may think it’s her job to protect you from intruders, even if the “intruder” is your 85-year old great aunt. Try to think like your dog and use training exercises to guide her towards a better way of reacting.

A good team leader encourages more than discourages. Aim for a 5:1 ratio – say GOOD DOG five times for each NO you say. By focusing on good behavior, you make your dog feel good about herself, and she will cooperate more. Use food and toys to motivate your dog early on, but never let these rewards take the place of verbal and physical praise.

Tip: It is important to say your commands once, clearly and firmly. Repeating a direction like “Come” or “Sit” is confusing and delays understanding.