Sunday, June 23, 2013

Mindful Dog Leadership

Are you the mindful leader or an alpha-wannabe?

Mindful Leader: Your dog offers a lot of eye contact. The emphasis is on offered. Especially in conflict situations she should look at you, wanting reassurance or a cue as to what she is suppose to do. With her eyes she is asking you for help. Or she tells you that she is attentive, or asks you to work and interact with her, or for you to share a piece of that chicken you are eating.
(Alpha-wannabe: your dog looks away and ignores you, especially in conflict situations, or watches you fearfully with a lowered body, folded back ears and tail between his legs, or challenges you with hard-eye stares.)
You can train eye contact. The "watch me" command is often taught in a training class. Prompted attention is okay in the beginning, but eventually your dog should offer to stay connected voluntarily, not be cued with a command every time there is conflict or you want her attention. Or worse, is lured with a treat to look at you. The same rule applies regarding the popular little poke to get the dog's attention, or as I read recently recommended by a positive trainer, the subtle vibration of an electric collar.
The fact is, that as long as you have to cue, prompt, bribe, or remind your dog to connect, the relationship is NOT as it should be. The connection is not voluntary and therefore not reliable.
The rare dog CAN be connected without eye contact. There are dogs that signal with a subtle twitch of an ear or an ever so slight shift of their body, that they are "with you". It is the involved dog parent who can tell if the pooch is attentive. Most dogs though, once they feel safe offering eye contact and know that it elicits a response from you, "speak" with their eyes.

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