Yesterday my sister emailed me something about "A Conversation with a Horse," written by some horse trainer. This guy is supposedly asking a horse what perplexes him about humans. The horse responds, saying things like,
"I don't understand why people pay a lot of money to buy me, and then don't pay any attention to me. Then, when they want me to do something for them, they expect me to act like a machine. They expect me to willingly work for them when they haven't taken the time to bond with me. They don't take enough time trying to teach me what they want...and then they get angry at me when I don't do the right thing. I'm an animal taught to be fearful in order to survive. When a human yells at me, it only makes me more fearful. I'll do anything for a human if I understand and TRUST him, but it's hard for me to trust someone who makes no effort to understand me, and then gets angry when I don't understand HIM."
I read these words before I went out and worked with a horse that I hadn't ridden since last fall. He was excited, confused, fearful and stressed. Yes, he needs a lot of riding right now to get him back to where he was last summer. But he does NOT need yelling, whipping, or temper tantrums. He needs time, stability, and negotiation in his language, not mine.
Our dogs are the same. While they're more "human" than horses, they still operate by the same general rules of leadership. Remember that strength is a good leadership trait, but anger is not. The two are NOT synonymous! Strength can be shown through perseverance, concentration and calmness. Our dogs need this from us PROactively (i.e., all the time) and not REactively (i.e., only when they do something bad). After all, it's hard for any of us to trust someone who has temper tantrums and other wild emotional swings.
Ask your dog what surprises him most about humans, and you just might learn something if you listen closely!