Leadership is the be all and end all of your partnership with your dog. From your dog’s point of view, your relationship determines how she behaves toward you and whether or not she listens to you and responds reliably to your instructions, especially in distracting or stressful situations.
I’ll Be Right With You
There are going to be many times in your dog’s life when you ask her to do something she’d rather not do, or at least would rather not do right now (otherwise known as the infamous “I’ll be right with you, right after I do this other more interesting thing first” phenomenon). Your relationship with her will be the deciding factor in whether she not only hears your command, but also listens and responds to it — no matter what. To put this in perspective, think about how many (probably quite a few) things in your life that you’d rather not do, but you do them anyway out of responsibility to some higher authority (like a boss).
A Shy Dog’s Dream
If you have a shy or fearful dog, you may think babying him and not demanding much of him will make him feel better. It might make you feel better, but it’s not doing him much good. In fact, it’s probably reinforcing his fearful behavior. It’s amazing how much a shy and fearful dog can blossom with calm, confident leadership. You can almost hear them breathe a sigh of relief “Whew! Thank goodness someone took control — I was afraid I was going to have to do it!”
Most dogs don’t want to be in charge. If nobody else steps up to take the job, they’ll do it out of necessity, because someone has to be in charge. But for a shy dog, being forced into a position of leadership creates tremendous stress and can cause fear aggression. It takes an enormous amount of pressure off of them when they know they can count on someone else to make the big decisions.
The Pushy or Demanding Dog
Pushy, confident dogs also need leadership, but for different reasons. Unlike their shy counterparts, they can demand that they get the attention they believe they deserve. Because of their enthusiasm, zest, and flash, this personality makes a great show dog or working partner, but it can be a lot to live with. Sometimes this type of dog is dominant by nature, but being rewarded for pushy, dominant behavior causes most dominance problems.
Sometimes the pushy behaviors aren’t even recognized as such at the time because they appear to the owner to be affection and are rewarded regularly. Does your dog nudge or paw you to demand petting or to get you to throw a toy? Bark at you when you’re on the phone? Are you giving in to his demands? Over time, this gradually increases your dog’s rank, at least in his own mind. Before long, he might test whether you’re in charge of other things, like if you are “allowed” to cut his toenails or take a toy from him or move him off the couch. It’s easy to figure out why these dogs need leadership.