When it comes to dogs, it is common to hear people speak of dominance….a dominant dog, a dominance problem, maybe they have been told that they need to be the dominant one in the household, pack, or their relationship with a dog. Often people think of dominance when what they need to focus on is leadership. These two terms are not the same. They are not interchangeable. Dominant does not mean leader.
To understand why dominant does not mean leader, we need to understand the natural dynamics of a healthy, functional group of social animals. Dogs, like horses and many other social animals, are designed by nature to live in groups. They are designed to seek out and bond with company that will help facilitate their survival. Within any given group, you’ll likely find a wide range of personalities. These can range from calm and confident to dominant, pushy, and bossy to meek, cautious, and reserved….from laid back and easy going to uptight and high strung. The structure within a group is maintained through highly ritualized exchanges of behavior that keep order. These exchanges almost always revolve around the give and take of space and resources. Group members vie for rank within the group by engaging in these highly ritualized exchanges of behavior involving space and resources. Simply put, the more dominant personalities take and try to control space and resources. The higher the rank achieved literally means the more comfort afforded. This pecking order is not fixed/static…it changes based on things like health, vigor, and age….it is maintained through many subtle everyday displays and exchanges of behavior.
By nature, group social animals are designed to vie (compete or push) for rank. This is where dominance factors in. Good leadership isn’t about that. At all. Good leaders keep the group safe and fed. With good leadership in play, group members feel safe and secure. The group as a whole functions as a community. Group members are able to draw confidence from their steadfast leader. In times of stress or distress, group members look to the leader and then follow its lead.
Within every group animal is a potential group member, but not necessarily the ability to be a naturally good leader. Good natural leaders have and develop in those they lead a sense of community. They are socially agile and often kind, fun, and flirtatious. They are sensible and have a natural awareness of the needs of the group and even individual preferences. They are smart, confident, and have excellent problem solving skills.
Don’t vie for rank, bond and LEAD.
“The challenge of leadership is to be strong, but not rude; be kind, but not weak; be bold, but not bully; be thoughtful, but not lazy; be humble, but not timid; be proud, but not arrogant; have humor, but without folly.” — Jim Rohn
Good leaders inspire others to follow them. Given free choice, would your dog nominate you to lead him? Does your dog view you as a leader? If these questions make you hesitate, keep reading to find out how to improve your leadership skills and become a better leader for your dog.