Take Me To Your Provider Of Consequences

Language is important. The words we use to convey ideas matter. Times change and language changes with it. It is helpful to know that when someone is describing something as fat, they mean it’s phat. There’s nothing wrong with being gay and happy, or gay and homosexual, but using the word gay as an insult, as in that’s so gay, should be discouraged, even if the kid saying it does not realize its implications.

Frequently I am asked for my opinion on trainers who I have never met or have seen working with dogs. When someone with a fearful dog is going to consult with a trainer, often a coup in itself, the skills of that trainer matter. With nothing other than a website to go on I have to make assessments as to whether or not that trainer has the ability to help a dog struggling with what may be extreme fear based behavior challenges. And helping the dog means helping the owner understand and work with the dog. I am well aware of, and share with owners, the limitations that exist with my long distance appraisals. One of the things I take into consideration is the language a trainer uses to describe the relationship between the owner and their dog.

toddler feeding treats to a cocker spaniel and small black dog

This toddler doesn’t need to know anything about being a pack leader in order to get these dogs to behave in certain ways

Years ago, some of the best trainers in the world used the term pack leader to describe that relationship. But times have changed and like a poisoned cue, the term has become outdated and potentially dangerous. There can be endless debates regarding the different definitions of leadership and how we implement that leadership, however one need not have a shred of leadership ability (whatever the heck that means anyway) in regard to dogs in order to effectively look at and come up with ways to change their behavior.

A trainer who advises dog owners to act as leaders may do no harm, and even some good, when dealing with dogs who are only lacking in basic skills and manners. But once you move on to dogs who need more help in changing their emotional and behavioral responses, the leadership recommendation is often sorely lacking and frequently misleading. Owners don’t need to be better leaders, they need a better understanding of what is setting their dog up to behave the way s/he is and the steps to take in order to change that behavior. Even the parent model, or otherwise benign leader model does not give owners the skills they need to effect the changes they want to see.

Dog owners don’t need to become professional dog trainers in order to help their special needs dogs, they need information about behavior and what ends or maintains it. It’s a much simpler and safer solution than encouraging owners to come up with ways to be respected as pack leaders, which is something even dogs don’t have a definition for.

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8 comments so far

  1. justthreadtwiddling on

    Well written!

  2. Lizzie on

    Four years ago when Gracie came into my life, she was a mess, not to put too finer point on it!
    After a few months of trying to understand her deep seated fearful behaviour I consulted a trainer who had been recommended by my vet. He duly came, could not even get near to Gracie let alone interact with her, told me that she would probably never get better and that the best that I could do for her would be to manage her environment and not put her innot situations where she

  3. Lizzie on

    Apolgies for the above Debbie, finger trouble. Perhaps you could delete that and I’ll try again……
    Thanks Lizzie

  4. engineer chic on

    I can see one positive connotation for owner-as-leader … As a leader, it’s your job to be sure your team isn’t put into situations they are not equipped for. A “leader” who shoves their underling out onto a stage in front of a hostile audience, without preparing that underling (with practice runs, simulations, strategy sessions) is a crappy leader.

    Sort of like putting a dog in a situation they aren’t prepared for. Now, sometimes things happen that are beyond our control, we aren’t perfect. But if an employee (or dog) is going to need to be able to manage stressful situations that you can predict then its our job as leaders to prepare them for it. And if that employee (or dog) cannot accomplish that task, we need to manage the situation. “Task” could be “present to the board of directors” or “accept strangers into the house”.

    • fearfuldogs on

      It is true that we can come up with definitions of leadership and how it can be appropriately applied to our interactions with dogs.

  5. Heather Hatt on

    Yes, yes & yes! Can’t agree with you more. I don’t consider myself a leader in any form and somehow I manage to work with fearful dogs and see awesome progress. Working with dogs should be fun and helping them overcome obstacles by using information about behavior. Instead, people believe they must be a stern, authoritative figure and demand results from their dogs one way until the dog complies. But who likes to hang out with people like that? Not me, and my dogs wouldn’t either, especially my shy dog.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thanks for reading and commenting Heather. You’ve got lots of experience with this without a doubt!


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