Questions about dog behavior and training? Send them to:

Friday, May 23, 2008

A Tale of Two Teachers

This is a story about you and two of your high school teachers. We've changed the names, however, to protect their identities. We're calling them Mr. McCrae and Mr. Coll.

Mr. McCrae was everybody's favorite. What a great guy! He seemed like one of your buddies from the get-go. He was easy-going, joked around in class a lot, and rarely gave homework. His classes were fun. He didn't put great demands on least, not at the beginning of the school year.

But things changed toward the end of the year. As finals approached, he got cranky, especially when his students weren't doing as well as he thought they should. You and your friends sort of resented his attitude, actually. He'd never required that much of you before now. So why the big change in character? Suddenly he wasn't so popular anymore, and you started to realize he wasn't that good a teacher either.

Mr. Coll was the teacher no one wanted to get. From the first day of school, he was tough. He gave you homework the first week--lots of it--and he required that it be done. There were penalties for not doing it. He never told jokes in his classroom, and you were dead if you were caught goofing off during class. He was all business from the start, and he let you know he expected the same from you.

Later on in the school year, he began to soften a bit. As you got to know each other, you trusted him more, and certainly respected him a great deal. He was still intimidating, but you could see that there was a heart beating under that suit jacket (yes, he wore a suit, unlike Mr. McCrae who wore bluejeans and sweatshirts to work). You had already formed good study habits earlier in the year, so he was actually able to slack off with you just a bit. The A- you received from Mr. Coll actually seemed more meaningful to you than the A you received from Mr. McCrae.

At the end of the school year, you realized how much you had learned from Mr. Coll, and how much you respected him as a teacher. He set the bar high for you on the first day of school. This was quite different from Mr. McCrae, who set the bar low on the first day of school, and then suddenly expected a lot more from you later on in the year.

Okay, the moral of this story, as it pertains to DOG OWNERS: your dogs need, crave and respect the same type of leadership you got from Mr. Coll in high school. Dogs do not follow "lovable" leaders. They follow leaders who make them feel safe, dignified and confident. They follow leaders who instill trust, leaders who are strong, and leaders who themselves demonstrate confidence.

Over the years in my classes, the students who were "tough" with their puppies from the beginning (in other words, they set boundaries, rules and limitations for them) had a much easier time with their dogs later on than the students who let their puppies run wild until they were old enough to get into class. The disciplined puppies had no problem accepting leadership and direction, whereas the undisciplined ones were stressed and bewildered by the sudden change in their owners' attitudes once they started class. It was as if they were saying, "How dare you try to act like a leader to me now, when I've been jumping all over you and running the household for three months!" Fortunately things usually work out if the owners are consistent with the new leadership style. But it's so much easier if you're a leader for your dog from Day One!

If your dog were going to meet you for the first time today, what impression would you make? Would you be a Mr. McCrae or a Mr. Coll?

No comments: