Dog’s Eye View: Leadership/trust relationship
After each Family Dog class, teaching assistant Clancie Guinn and I sit down to talk about how the class went and who might need help in a special way. We always are concerned that the lesson we intend to teach is actually demonstrated by our students’ growth with their dogs. She works with horses as I have in the past, and we have a common bond there. This will come up later.
Before teaching the dogs to walk with us on a loose leash, our students teach them the location next to their side has a high level of reinforcement with treats. We call it the location that we have defined as heel. The dogs are learning to come to that spot. Now, after getting their dogs attention by saying their name, they can step forward together.
Last evening we both noticed that, when our students were beginning to practice walking on a loose leash, sometimes they would step off and leave their dog sitting there. To me, it’s part of learning about the human-animal bond that, in many ways, we tend to treat dogs as objects rather than highly social and sentient animals.
I understand that learning in a class environment can be a little stressful. Trying to put together new behaviors for ourselves and our dogs can be hard at first, and being aware of their needs is part of the process.
This is when the conversation came up between Clancie and me. We both have learned from wise horsemen about the effect we have on a horse when we are interacting with them. We say by our behavior that our horse should trust us and that we are the leader.
However, we may not always truly feel that wa,y and that uncertainty travels right to the horse leaving him to decide about how he should respond. Is he feeling safe in our hands? Does he need to take charge and save himself?
Clancie then told me this story that she heard from a horseman that changed her understanding of our human role as leader and maintaining trust in the relationship.
“If you are driving to a new location, and the person in the passenger seat says they know the way, you trust that they know what they are doing. Soon you are approaching an intersection, and your friend says to turn left. Then they say that maybe that’s not right, that you should turn right. Okay, this happens a few more times and you realize that they don’t really have a clue about where they are going. You decide that you were wrong to trust them and now need to decide how to help yourself,” she said.
I believe we don’t mean to, but sometimes we just thoughtlessly walk away from our dog,s leaving them to wonder what is happening. We know where we are going but forget to say their name to let them know we are walking on, and maybe jerk on their collar.
It may seem like an insignificant thing, but as we say to our students, “Everything matters.”
Trust is a two way street.
Sandra Kruczek is a certified professional dog trainer at Total Teamwork Training, LLC with more than 30 years of experience.
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