We all love and adore our dogs! They are so sweet, have such great personalities and do amazing things. They give us companionship and love. They do not judge us and will always listen to us talk to them. And we all know, our dogs are the best looking, coolest dogs around, right? It is easy to play with, pet, treat and hug our dogs. It is easy to buy them nice beds and fancy kennels. It is also easy to forget what our dogs really need; Leadership!

Dogs require fair, firm and consistent leadership. What is leadership? Leadership is built through a strong relationship of trust and respect from your canine in a way that a canine understands. Dogs interpret their world and make decisions on four basic mental codes. These “codes” are ancient and ingrained in the dogs mental thought and decision process.

  1. Forward Energy. I call it forward energy, as opposed, to fight drive for a reason. A dog can move towards something to smell it, play with it, mate with it, or just investigate a new person or animal. They do not always go forward to fight. The instinct and drive (energy) comes from the same mental place. If a dog is in forward energy to control or intimidate it can lead to a bite or aggression. In all the dogs I have seen over the years, most of them are not aggressive. They are demonstrating a forward energy with a lack of control. This is what leads to a bite. For instance, a happy Golden Retriever, can be in a forward energy to go and play or investigate, if intimidated by another dog, they can decide to bite in a defense mechanism. Another example is a dog that always barks or growls at a new person or another dog. This dog is demonstrating a controlling behavior to get the potential threat to leave the territory or person. This is where many people think they are “protective”. It is not protective, it is dominance or controlling behavior. Here in lies the Leadership role. Dogs with high energy states, need to look to you for decisions. This balances the mental state of mind between fight and flight. It teaches the dogs to control the energy. This helps them to calm down long enough to be re-directed to a more productive choice. Structural, attention-based training is the tool. I call our training method “Balanced Training” not meaning proper corrections for behavioral modification, but to describe the process of mental balance for control! This is true leadership where you will make choices and your dog will actually listen to you out of respect and trust!
  2. Retreating energy. Again, not flight drive. This energy is a result of lack of confidence. The dogs are intimidated by environmental and physical stimulus that they trying to retreat from and avoid because it is a natural choice. This mental state is one of the hardest to help a dog with. We have to spend extra time motivating and building trust. Many of these behaviors develop from poor whelping, isolation, lack of environmental conditioning and traumas. Obedience and structure is still the tool. For instance, in many cases when we take a dog to the Veterinarian, the dogs get nervous and look scared. They are insecure and experiencing anxiety. It is not necessarily fear. Our first inclination is to start comforting or petting the dog saying, “It’s okay baby, you will be okay” This is human talk and does not work on a dog. We are actually adding to the anxiety and rewarding the wrong behavior. Again Leadership. Tell the dog in a calm way to sit or down. This will greatly reduce the anxiety because they will know you have their back!
  3. Feed Drive. Food is not only a requirement for survival but is one of the strongest canine motivations. Many folks will say, “My dogs do anything for food”. This is because it is very natural and easy for a dog to eat! Many dogs think they are starving. This comes from a strong ancient instinct to hoard, hunt and find food. In the ancient days, and when dogs are wild, the alpha controls the food. They eat first, and when they walk away, the others eat. This is the way of the wolf; genie-Canis Lupus. These animals survived on their own. Now, in modern times, through much evolution, we have Canis Lupus Domesticus Familiaris. FAMILY DOG! They require us to provide food and shelter but still have the “old code”. When we feed our dogs, we are becoming the alpha. Use this as a training opportunity. Make them wait for food in a sit until you put the food down. Don’t let your dogs free-feed (unless recommended by DVM). It is not natural and you are missing many training opportunities. This is especially important in dominate dogs. Hold the bowl under your chin, teach them to focus, then wait until you set the bowl down. Release them to the food. Leadership!
  4. Breeding Drive. Mating instinct.  We all understand the strength of mating mentally. However, what can this lead too? In family dogs, this will usually means dominance and a very strong willed dog. This is where you will see another dog trying to mount another or posturing with their head over the shoulders. They are trying to control the other dog. These are very strong canine signals and can lead to dog fights if not accepted by a female in cycle. Male dogs with high mating drive and high testosterone levels can be very driven. This lack of mental control will eventually lead to a problem behavior of some sort. Either dominance, aggression, or lack of control. These types of dogs, as with others, require a very firm, fair and consistent Leadership style so they remain in check! Remember to recognize the signals, step in and lead with a re-directed behavior and take control as a Leader!

Remember, all dogs make decisions based on the four “Canine Codes” – Fight, Flight, Feed and Breed. Consider this when trying to understand what your canine is thinking. Apply the proper Leadership for structure and control and you will be on your way to a great relationship of understanding and trust! And always, BE TRIUMPHANT!

Dan McCarthy-Triumphant Canine