What does "Assertive" mean?
In my last post I talked about being the leader you need to be for your group or pack. The problem is that many humans make that whole concept hard to apply because they think they have to be something they’re not. Often, when my clients try to do this, the dog knows better than to follow a poser and they rebel. Being assertive is nothing more than being “in charge”. Simply put, if you are not in charge someone will be and if you are thinking in terms of relating to a dog, if it’s not you, it’s the dog.
So let’s see some examples of being assertive and how easy it is to have the dog change when the authority figure is both calm and assertive:
How do you walk with a dog off leash? Leadership, and calm & assertive discipline when necessary. And practice trusting that your dog will follow the leader. Koa always gets reinforcement in this. When he was younger, he was about 70% good about this; then he would go off on a tangent (we used to joke that he was a truancy dog because he would always gravitate toward the kids that skip school in the morning and go to the beach). Now, he is very good at following in a less independent way. Practice takes place when you walk with your dog with a loose leash or even a long leash but you are not having to leash correct your dog. Loose leash is the next best thing to off leash.
This little pack leader is the almost 2-year-old next door neighbor to a client I was working with, along with her energetic 9-month old pup, Sydney. The little girl was so enamored with the dog as they were passing by that she wanted to pet Sydney and then wanted to hold the leash. Usually, that would be a cause for attention and caution, but as Sydney got closer she started licking the little one. When she did the typical human thing (try to shy away from that energy), I told her to just tell Sydney, “No!” in a quiet way. She immediately did it like a true pack leader (pointing at her and Sydney instantly got the message. From there, it was obviously natural for her to walk around the driveway and hold the leash but it clearly wasn’t required. I have 10 more photos or her being followed by Sydney with no further correction. By the way, that’s a 15-foot leash you see in the photo and it wasn’t needed at all. Way to go, new Pack Leader!
One of these dogs I think you know. The one on the outside is Maya, who supposedly had trouble walking without pulling. It never recurred after the first, very light, leash correction. The one in the middle is a Spaniel named Marley. Marley’s long time housemate had died 2 weeks before and it was traumatic for the humans. They began seeing that Marley was withdrawn where he used to be bubbly and energetic but since I was not working with the family and only keeping Marley for daycare, they didn’t get the benefit of having the education about dog psychology. Marley was also supposedly skittish around other dogs and people. As you can see, aside from the fact that Marley was fine around everyone else, the pack – and the power of the pack – helped Marley be just fine, which is why I put him in the middle of 2 very balanced dogs. In fact, the grief and sadness in the human house was affecting Marley and his humans continued to make their reality HIS reality. The very second he was removed from that environment with calm, assertive and balanced interaction he changed. That’s the beauty of working with dogs.
Until the next time, be the calm authority figure your dog is looking – and hoping – for!