“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.)

“I’m thinking about breeding my 2 cattledogs….”

Think again, please.

Unless both dogs are registered with either the AKC and or the UKC (preferably both) and have had all their health tests (BAER, CERF, PRA, etc. etc = around $800-1000 per dog) and you have 3 times as many people (with deposits) as you might have puppies (8 puppies = 24 owners with deposits) and are willing to take back any puppy you produce throughout its entire lifetime (and that can be 15+ years) and will guarantee the health of all your puppies and microchip them etc etc. Can you provide and have the money for pre-natal care, vet visits for mommy dog, ultrasounds, a possible Cesarean delivery etc. etc…..If you can’t or even balk at doing this because well, you might think it’s unnecessary…..I would strongly advise you not to breed

A good breeder, a responsible one spends hundreds if not thousands of dollars on both the stud and bitch. It wouldn’t be fair to the puppies if mom and dad weren’t in the peak of health and had all their eye, ear, hip, elbow, heart tested. If you can’t or won’t do the health testing or you think it’s unnecessary, I would strongly advise you not to breed.

Are you willing to find the perfect home for your deaf puppy (and that happens more than you’d think)? Are willing to do home checks or have a trusted dog friend do them for you? If you don’t think you need to check references or are unwilling to do so, I would strongly advise you not to breed.

Are you financially prepared for seeing the puppies get all their puppy health exams and shots? Will you have a mandatory spay-neuter contract with a held deposit until they new owners have proof of it? Will you get all the puppies microchipped so if (god forbid) at some point in its life that puppy ends up dumped at a shelter, you can go and get it, anywhere? If not, or you think that’s a waste of time or money, I would strongly advise you not to breed.

Are you going to be there for the new puppy owners 24/7 for the rest of that puppy’s life? Or yours? Phone calls in the middle of the night?  Helping them find a good, kind trainer, urging them to take their puppy to class?  Are you willing to keep track of all your puppies for the rest of their lives?  Are you willing to track down them down? Are you willing to deal with the owner who is embarrassed, ashamed, avoids you? If you’re not willing to be your new puppy owner’s mentor I would strongly advise you not to breed.

If you are unwilling or unable to do all of the above: Please Don’t Breed Your Two Dogs.  Please. 

Folks with intact dogs have to be extra vigilant. You can’t depend on your dogs to “be good” when Nature comes calling her siren song.

You have to look at the big picture here. 


You breed a litter and you haven’t done all your homework.  Your puppies make puppies. Your puppies end up in shelters.

Too many cattledogs end up in shelters and are tragically euthanized every WEEK. Rescues are overloaded and many good cattledogs die. I volunteer at a very low kill shelter, visit a high kill one. Everyone who is thinking of breeding should visit a “regular” shelter at least once in their life. If it doesn’t affect you at your very core, and make you swear you’ll do damn near ANYTHING to avoid having any of your babies end up there, Please Don’t Breed Your Two Dogs.  Please. 

We need to be the guardians of our dogs and this breed in particular. A lot of people might want a cattledog for a wide variety of reasons but most people don’t “get” cattledogs. The see a smart one, a loving one, a well-trained one, a good worker with a cool “look” to them and they think, “Cool dog! I want one!” The don’t see endless hours of devotion, work, frustration, worry on that dog’s owner’s part.

A Good Cattledog takes some doing.  Nature and Nurture.

There are tons of cool, fun things to do with your dogs that don’t involve breeding!  The options for fun with your dog are endless. Puppies are undeniably cute but the breeder MUST be responsible about bringing these new lives into an often cruel world. They are noisy, messy, need to be raised with love, kindness, socialized properly.  Etc. etc.

This isn’t being mean; it’s being real, fair and honest. You are your dogs’ guardian, now and for always, until the day, old and gray, their bodies leave this world for the Rainbow Bridge. That goes for any offspring you produce.

Of any breed or type.

Please Don’t Breed Your Two Dogs.  Please. 

Sorry about the color of the text. Stupid Word Press won’t let you change it.

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.

It’s Not Just a “Pit Bull” Thing. Cattledogs Get It Too.

OK, OK, I know. A lot of my friends have or work with or volunteer for Pitbull type dogs.  Two of Artie’s bestest friends are pit-type dogs.

The Spousal Unit with Kinners: two guys hangin’ out.


Oreo: he’s down with that!  Artie loves him!


The boys check out Co
usin Artie

So yes, we have contact with many “big heads.”  And we love our pit-type friends.  We hear the stories, the misconceptions, the comments about them.


I’ve been a lot of places where there are dogs and now because of my exposure to pit-types, I don’t have any pre-conceived notions.  It’s a dog with a (usually) square head, period. I ask if I can pet etc. just as I would with any dog.  And I’ve done events with a pit-type on my arm, so to speak, and have educated and advocated for them for years now.


I think I’ve heard darn near every comments a person can make about pit-type dogs and I’m here to tell you, it runs the gamut from “Awesome” to “Satanic.”


I’ve heard, “You can’t trust ’em, not one of ’em,” to “Best damn dog my family ever had!”


What is fascinating to ME, personally, is for as many bad or  fearful stories that people tell, I’ve heard an almost equal amount of curious, respectful questions to misty-eyed memoirs to powerful stories of love and loyalty.


I can honestly say (if the locale is pretty neutral) that the nice comments or questions run about anywhere from 40-75% of what I’ve heard if the dog I’m with is a nice, mellow dog or goofy, happy dog.


The negatives just seem louder than the neutrals and positives.


Now folks who have pit types wail and gnash (rightly so) about how misunderstood their dogs are.  They are.  I’m not saying they’re NOT!  BSL, extreme prejudice, unnecessary killings and incarcerations. Pit type owners have every right to feel, nay, be paranoid, vigilant and on guard. If you’re on a Pit Group on Facebook or you know folks who have them or work with them, this is nothing new. It’s an exhausting round of educating John Q. Stupid-Public.


However, you’re not the only ones.


We have (for those of you who don’t know us) a lovely female mix and an Australian Cattledog (ACD). He will be 2 in Sept. 2013 and his name is Artie or “Blooby” as he is most often known.  (Blame the S.U. on that.)


Artie is my 7th (including fosters) ACD. This is my 20th year with cattledogs.


Brief synopsis for the uninitiated: An ACD (sometimes known as a Blue Heeler, Queensland Heeler or Heeler) is a medium sized herding dog breed, originating in (who’d a-thunk?) Australia!  They come in blue or red (plus blue or red speckle).  They were bred to herd and guard feral cattle in the outback.  They are also used on sheep and other stock, including reindeer! They are very smart, pretty biddable (I think) and tough. They have teeth (scissor bite) which they use to herd stock with, often nipping at the heels of recalcitrant cows. Thus the name “heelers.” They are often called “velcro” dogs because they want to know what you’re up to at any given moment.

They are athletic and sturdy with a weather-resistant coat. They should have upright ears and tight “cat feet.”

They are loyal to their humans but often diffident to down-right suspicious of strangers. They often are not tolerant of other dogs.  They need a ton of positive socialization. They have a lot of energy, although I have had a few that were pretty laid back. (That’s not the norm.) They are a “busy” dog but I think there are many dogs that are far busier.  They love brain and/or body work and excel in a wide variety of dog sports.  At 17-20 inches, it’s an easy size to live and travel with.


Artie has some of the best qualities of his breed and of a companion dog in general.  We’re very, very blessed.


ACDs are also an extremely unusual LOOKING dog. Once you know what a cattledog looks like (or SHOULD look like) you can honestly say, “Yep, that’s a cattledog!”   They are pretty unforgettable!


(I have to preface this by telling you I live in the Midwest.)


Here are some of the “usual” comments who someone has met Artie (or any of my other cattledogs.)


“Wow, what kind of mix is THAT?”

“Man, how old IS your dog?” (This only seems to happen with blues; must be the grey hairs in the coat.)

“Does that dog have WOLF in him?”

“Is that a little German Shepherd?” (I never know where people get that from.)

And startlingly close to the truth) “Is that a (part) Dingo?”


Once in a while (and it’s getting to be more commonplace than it was 20 years ago) you hear:


“Is that one of them blue heelers?”  This is often said in the same semi-suspicious tone as many a pit type owner has heard.  “Is that one of them pit bulls?”


Now, OK, all right, call me grammatically biased but the minute someone (no matter what city or state I’m in) says “them heelers” or “them there heelers” or even ‘them cattledogs,” (yes Virginia, some people DO get it right), my intellectual-snobbery-hackles start rising up.  Even when someone say “those cattledogs” with the emphasis on “those,” I inwardly cringe.  I’m sure pit type folks do too.


“Oh, God, here we go. And it’s not going to good.”


Here’s where the pit type folks and the cattledog folks diverge. With a pit type on the other end of your leash, you COULD ostensibly B.S. your way through that query especially if your dog is black, brindle or fawn colored.  I’ve heard lab-boxer mix, hound-boxer mix, poodle-terrier mix (yes, we had one of those of the Humane Society) etc. etc.  John Q. Stupid couldn’t pick out a pure-bred American Pit Bull Terrier out of a line-up!  Many experts can’t either!


But if they’ve identified your ACD as a heeler or cattledog, yeah, you’re pretty much sunk.  Here it comes, I think.  The Bad Cattledog Story. And it almost always begins with “My cousin” or “My friend had one of them.”


It’s usually a cousin. If it’s a cousin, you know (9 out of 10 times) it’s going to be bad.


Let’s say, on a good week, you and your friendly, social dog meet 20 pretty neutral-to-nice people, all men.  In a good week, the pit type folks  might get 40% – 60%  neutral to positive reactions.  The rest, admittedly, are going to suck.


In that same week, the cattledog owner, meets 20 people (men) who guess (correctly) what he is. 17-19 of those people will say the following:


“Cool looking dog. You know….my cousin (insert other friend or relation) had one of them (there) dogs.  Meanest damn dog you ever saw. Bit everybody.  Loyal as hell but damn, was he ever mean!”  


Your heart does a little downward spiral because you know that yet another jerk owns an out-of-control, untrained (or badly trained) cattledog and is doing a huge disservice to the breed. Your brain goes slightly postal and you think with in inward sigh:


Educate. Again. It’s a training exercise for my dog, meeting new people. Again.  I bet Lab/Pug/Fluffy Dog people don’t go through this sh*t.


So, Pit type dog owners and lovers, you are not the only ones.  If you’re out in public, cattledog people get this all the time.  All. The. Tine.


So do Rottweiler people.  And Doberman people. And German Shepherd people.


Perhaps it might comfort you folks with pit type dogs to know you’re not alone.