“Leadership” Get A Bad Rap


It’s become a greatly misused term: Leader Of The Pack. So many people who are using positive training techniques get a big old hard-on when they hear that term. “Oh, you must be the Anti-Christ, you’re the Leader Of The Pack!”  For folks who are advocating All Positives in training your critters, you sure get All Punchy when that phrase comes up.  Which part is that gets you? “Leader” or “pack?”  Trust me: the phrase was not coined or invented by Cesar Millan. 


On the opposite side, “You MUST be the dominant leader of your dog pack or the entire universe will split on its axis and destroy itself because the dogs will go wild and kill us all!”  That’s pretty stupid too, seeing as how the human-dog relationship has been around for millennia. 


OK, so dogs aren’t wolves. Science has debunked that whole wolf thing.  Thank God they aren’t. Can we please give it a rest?


But suppose you have more than one dog?  Say you have five dogs? What the heck are you supposed to call them?  A Bark of Dogs? No? Then will someone please come up with a word for a group of dogs?  Like a gaggle of geese or a trumpet of swans.  For now, if you have more than two dogs, let’s just face it. It’s a pack of dogs.  It’s a loosely formed group who get their resources from the same source.  If you go to the refrigerator, five dog faces will probably be close by. Anyone who says there isn’t a loosely formed, often fluctuating hierarchy among your dogs isn’t very observant.  You are NOT going to get rid of the word “pack.” 


You are not going to get rid of the word “leader” either. You are not going to change etymology overnight. Would it calm the AP community down if the term Leader of my Group (of animals) or Group Guide were used? The term “guardian” is almost too P.C. for my taste.  A Flock Guardian will kill to protect her flock.  Do you think a Ovcharka* invites the wolf threatening her livestock in for a cup of tea? When I think of being my dog’s “guardian” I somehow envision myself as a slightly overweight Lara Croft with hip holsters over my Spanx and everyone is The Enemy. When I think of being my dogs’ leader or guide, I picture my much skinnier self atop some glorious peak, my trusty canine side-kicks with me.  We’ve hit one of the summits of training.  We’ve taken the beachhead, together.  I taught them and they, in turn, taught me. But it had to start somewhere.  My dogs just didn’t wake up one day, look at me and say, “Today I shall do complicated maneuvers while I stay by your left knee.  Ah, look at the elevated plank.  I know I must always touch the yellow part.”  It began with me deciding to guide or lead my dog to “get” that’s what I want.  I can to do that in positive way.


All Positive advocates wonder why they feel like they’re swimming upstream against the Leader of the Pack theory.  You wonder why more people, especially men, aren’t harkening to your clarion call of click-treat. “We have M&Ms, come hither!”  It’s because the first thing so many of you is get all funky with the phrase “leader” because some poor sod has watched Cesar Millan or was told to do stuff the “old” dominant way. Too many of you trot out the latest article on how dogs aren’t wolves and therefore the pack mentality is debunked.  Fine. Or you spend a while justifying positive training, like it’s some incomprehensible weird cult of the absurd. Or, and worst of all, there is a sense of superiority.  “Ah, you poor misguided, inhumane dog owner.  You haven’t been inducted into the Clicker Clique. I have the magic touch and you don’t.”  People don’t want a damn lecture.  They don’t need the science behind it.  They don’t need Pavlovian theories. They have some crazy-ass dog that is running or ruining their lives and they need help, guidance, foreseeable, hands-on solutions NOW.  They need Leadership. Grab the clicker and show them!


If you really want to attract more people away from the “old” ways, especially men, you have to show results.  That if you do this process consistently, this good result will happen, and often very quickly.  I’m no expert dog trainer.  I don’t have a bunch of letter behind my name.  But I’m not afraid to hand off my personal dog with a clicker and treats and let the person give it a whirl after I give them a few basics. My dogs will help them understand it a whole lot faster than me handing them a copy of Don’t Shoot The Dog


I personally don’t mind being a director or guide or principle player — which are also parts of the dictionary definition of Leadership.  


I think you do have to create, help, guide or direct your dog to have appropriate behavior so s/he can be a nice companion, household member, team-mate etc. That doesn’t mean alpha rolls, leash jerks or other “negative” stuff either.  I’ve got news: if you are click/treating your dog or cat or chicken to create a certain behavior; guess what, Skippy?  You are guiding them, you are the director in this little mini-play of training.  


Here is a box.  Now I shall click-treat when you do something to or near the box that I like or want to capture.  I will build on your interaction with the box until the final result is something I like.” It’s like improv theater in some respects.  “Here is your prop. Make something up and I will laugh or applaud when I like it or get what you’re trying to convey.”  You are, in a word, a leader.  Dogs (and cats) are watching you, reading your body language all the time.  Is she happy, sad, tired, mad?  What is the Human Food Provider up to?  


Yes, even cats are observing us as they plot to take over the world.


I seriously don’t want my dogs to be wild heathens, going wherever they want; not house-trained, biting everyone left and right, not coming when they’re called etc. I have rules: no toys on the furniture, teeth do not touch human flesh, chasing the cat is not in the Fun Program curriculum.  That’s not unreasonable, at least for me.  I want my dogs to look to me somewhat for “Is this ok?” (thinking and a form of trust) or “Hey, mom, I’m nose-butting you because there’s something up,” (alert) instead of going off half whacked. It’s like kids: you don’t give them some kind of rules and structure, they are going to turn into total obnoxious brats. Any adult with two brain cells to rub together has witnessed that. 


I like to think of myself as a kindly, benevolent, loving, providing Lady of the Manor. “I adore you but there are some things that shall not be tolerated.  I will give you alternatives to undesired behavior, encouragement and guidance as to what is good and acceptable in my little corner of the universe.  I will seek wise and kindly counsel to help you achieve.  I will not starve you, beat you, mistreat you although I might holler at you now and again because I’m human and imperfect.”


Why does the All Positive dog training community go off like 1960s anti-war protesters at an Abby Hoffman rally when people bring up “rules, structure, leadership?”  


“Hell, no, we won’t go!” 


Come on, seriously, what would happen if you used any of those words? You’d be immediately sucked into a Cesar Millan-induced vortex and never be heard from again? Please.  Get a grip. Being a “leader” does not automatically make you a bullying, string-’em-up-high Hitlerian dog person. Calling your bunch of dogs a “pack” does not make you stupid, behind-the-times, unkind or unaware.  


Work with the words people know and kind of understand. Don’t theorize. Show them, hands on. You’ll attract a lot more folks to the kinder, more humane way of training and interacting with their dogs if they see the light at the end of the tunnel.


*(I bet some of you looked that up….)



Artie’s First PetSmart Foray

Art, Nov. 12, 2013

Artie says: Auntie Martha took Mom and me to the dog park on Bath Rd. There was another cattledog/BC cross there, a female, named Cookie.  She doesn’t like people, her dad said, but boy, she wanted me to play with her!  She barked at me and play-bowed at me and chased me and THEN (when she was pooped) I chased HER!!  Mwah!  


There were some other doggies there too, we were all about the same size!  I had fun! 


The black doggie’s owner was really freaked out because she thought I was hurting her dog, but the black dog jumped on me hard and grabbed my tail!  Ouch!  She was very bossy!  She also had a toy which Mom told me I could NOT have.  I didn’t grumble, I just put my mouth on her neck by her face then she stopped being stupid and we were friends.  I think she might have been more like the puppies we had.  


Mom is pretty smart and she listens because she can’t always see stuff. She whistled for me the minute she heard the other dog’s barking and noises become different and I ran to her.  Mom told me I didn’t need to fix it. But the black doggie’s mom must not know doggie language as good as the other dog parents did!  So she took the black doggie away. 


Mom kept walking around the park’s edge so I would go and check on her and bump her leg with my nose. That’s how I tell Mom something or let her know that I’m there. It was too cold for the humans to stand still but some of them were.


Then Auntie took me and Mom to this store with lots of smells!  OMG!  Mom said it was called PetSmart.  I’ve never been there before!  I got cookies from the people that worked there.  I took them very nicely!! There were other dogs there but Mom kept telling me how good I was (with her Happy Voice) even though she didn’t have ANY treats with her!!!  I didn’t even get silly with that one dog that screamed-barked when it saw me!  Wow, what a noise!!!  


Then I got some french fries and when we got home home, Mom gave me and Elke a half a hamburger.  Why ELKE got part of the hamburger for staying home is beyond me.


No pictures (Mom forgot her phone) and no food…except the hamburger!

Mom said I was reallllly good!


(Mom adds: I have this dog for almost 2 years and just now I’m taking him to PetSmart??  He WAS realllly good. I’m glad I’ve been learning about dog body language.  All of the other owners seemed really nice and savvy, which is very pleasant. There was the black mix, the cattledog cross and 3 tan mixes.  I’m thinking that bumping thing Artie does might come in handy and that I could reward that behavior.  I’m just not sure how that would come in handy.)

Artie’s Day, July 5th, 2013

Artie: I had a huge day yesterday. I’m still exhausted!
My Auntie Gayle took us to the shelter yesterday where I was adopted from. I don’t remember being there. I was there only a day maybe and then I went to live with Momma Jen, the Rotten-weilers and Uncle Shay the collie.  Then I went Mom and Dad’s house. 
There is a doggie day care there, so Mom to me there to have play time while she messed about with shelter dogs. She had lots of smells on her when she picked me up. The place is called Hattie Larlham (In Twinsburg, OH) and employs people with mental disabilities. But I don’t care!  
The head guy told me and Auntie that I did really well and they said, “He can come back ANY time!” Mom was really happy, because as a Cattledog Mom she hasn’t heard this a lot cuz it doesn’t happen all the time. The Others who came before me could be real bossy with other dogs. Some of us cattledogs are pretty bossy!

Then we went to my cousins’ house Oreo, McKinley and I hung out there for a couple of hours.
Waiting for Uncle Ray to come home…..I don’t need to lay on no stinkin’ towel!


Kinners really likes his butt scratched! 

I play with Oreo and then I play with McKinley!  This is how it goes when I am there…..

Then we all went (along with other doggie friend, Dudley) for a very hot, humid, muddy, slippery long walk (6-8 miles) through the woods. Up and down hills, lots of roots and rocks and slippery stuff, through streams and mud.  I don’t care because I’m a dog!  I like the water part. I was a little worried at the pond where the Bad Thing happened but I went in and out with Kinners so eventually it was ok. 
I think Dudley got stung by a skeeter; there were a lot of skeeters. All the humans were sweating a lot.  Dudley won’t go into the water like Oreo, Kinners and I do.  He doesn’t like it but that’s ok!  Oreo dips himself, it’s funny!  I know Mom was really tired but it’s GOOD for her.  We went back to O&M’s house and I got a BATH!!!!!!  Eeeeuuuuu! 
(Yawn…) Ya know…..I…think…I might….be….a little….bit……Zzzzzzzzzzz…….

Mom: Can you believe it, I think he’s STILL tired!


Artie getting some loving from Honorary Mom, Auntie Gayle.


I truly hope his sweet, goofy, social nature continues as he matures. I really love his temperament!

When you adopt a dog, even one as young as he was (3.5-5 months), It’s a crap-shoot. You have no idea where he came from. How he was raised. A lot of it IS nurture (I think) but nature is definitely in there. I’m thrilled beyond measure at what a nice boy he is and I think we’ve “done right” by him as owners/trainers. He does get the occasional verbal “Hey!” and “What the he– are you doing?” and “Knock it off!” but all the rest of his training has been “all positive.” Praise, clickers, treats, tug/fetch rewards, luring, shaping etc.

He’ll be 2 in September.

Choosing A Puppy: What’s My Motivation?

Before people get all inflammatory and weird and slam me for “not getting a rescue” and “contributing to pet-over-population,” just stop right there. Halt.  Cease,  Desist.

Almost all of my dogs have come from pure-bred rescue, a shelter or were “found-puppies.”  I’ve had 3 re-homes from reputable breeders and therefore I had a lot of information, good or ill, from those breeders. I had a bit of an inside track.

I was talking to a friend who has a handsome, rescue dog who has such extreme issues that he may never, ever live a normal life.  But she’s committed to helping him live the best life he can. But even she, a drinker from the Rescue-Rehab Fountain admits she’s looking into getting a good, sound, correctly raised puppy from a great breeder.  Rescuing a dog or cat is one of the noblest things you can do.  But it seriously is the luck of the draw.  I’ve been pretty lucky with my rescues.  But a lot of them have had Huge Issues too.

My friend would like to start it “right” and do it right without a bunch of unknown crap coming up.  She’s looking at a couple of different breeds too.

We hoisted a mental glass of wine because I know whereof she comes from!

For me, and this is just for me because I’m starting to think about a puppy in the fairly near future……I’m researching breeders.  I’ve got my short list.  But I need to ask myself the hard questions.  I know the breeders will ask me the hard questions.

One of my questions is one of Motive.  We don’t often think of Motive as a reason for getting or adding a dog to our home and life.  But it’s huge!  Do I want unconditional love, companionship? Do I want ribbons? Do I want accolades, recognition?  There is very little that is “wrong” with Motive.  Unless you’re some sicko, of course.

I think anyone who is adding a dog to their life needs to honestly look at their motivation for making this step!

Of course there is the obvious:

Health concerns?

Have both parents been tested?

Can I meet both parents? (Sometimes Dad is just frozen semen).

Do I want a male or a female?

Intact?  Or Altered?  Am I willing to take a lifetime of responsibility for an intact dog?

I’m up in the air on the sex but that’s just for me. I know, if I (we) put my mind, ability (and money) into it, I (we) could finish a female!  I have no worries about that but I’m also a “if I’m going do this damn show thing again, I’M doing it my damn self again!” kind of person.  Any professional handler can finish a decent dog. I’d rather do it my damn self!  As much as I enjoyed that part of our lives, I might not want to do it again.  Not in Conformation. And I really don’t think I want to raise a litter either!

When it comes to Motive, I guess you have to ask yourself: what is my goal for this purebred dog?  Do I want a happy, balanced, in-my-house dog or can I go higher maintenance?  Do I want him to win Westminster?  Am I willing to do a life-time of crate shuffling to have that dog in my house because s/he’s that exceptional but doesn’t get along with everyone?  Or do I want everyone lounging on the sofas and hanging out in the car, on a trail?

What is my goal for what I WANT TO GET from this dog? (Performance, Westminster, perfect hiking companion, herding, therapy?).  I think many people never face this, ever.

If you know it, you can say it out loud.

Face it, dogs love us.  They need love, food, proper care, a safe home, training so they’re not complete jerk-offs, etc. The titles, ribbons, accolades…they are cool. I won’t deny it.  But in the end, for me personally, they need to be our dog, our buddy. I really love the idea of a dog that does something cool and/or useful, and it can be performance, work, service, therapy.

My dream dog could help kids and adults learn about proper dog care and safety and bite prevention  He and I could educate together!!  I confess, I love the interaction and applause!

How much am I willing to put in? (time, money, training etc)  Is he going to be “my” show (performance) dog or is someone else going to do it?  In my case, Hell-NO.

What kind of personality can I live with and what can’t I live with?

As I get older, and less “able,” do I need an easier-going yet less “showy/driven” dog?

Can this puppy get along with Artie AND Elke??  Could he be OK with the cat?

Do I need to research other breeds?

What’s my lifestyle like?  It’s pretty busy, crazy with huge moments of “chill-out-sofa-time”.  My neighbors shoot off firecrackers in the summer.  Kids come in our house. We ride bikes and take hikes in the woods.  Kids play softball in the street.  I live in suburbia!

What will my lifestyle be like in 2, 5, 10 years.  Etc. etc.

To me, if the puppies are all pretty nice-looking, I really have to trust the Mommy Dog owner because she’s with those puppies day in, day out. But kennel-blindness can come into play.

I surely would get another opinion from someone, (even if they “do” another breed) on the litter because correct structure is structure!  I”m lucky that I could call in some cards and get someone from another breed to look at the litter. Most people that I’ve seen make a successful match do seek another opinion from outside that particular breed.

I need to see them interact with their siblings, other dogs, people. other animals if possible.  I’d drag along a dog person (like a trainer or behaviorist)  I trust to look at the litter because maybe the one that appeals to me most might not be the right dog for me, for us, for all of us!

I will definitively take the breeder’s advice; she should know that litter inside and out.

But I’ll also send it up to the Gods, and ask that the right puppy come into my life and be a blessing for its whole lifetime.

©2013 Mia Hess