This is from an email I sent to our new crop of pack leaders in training, but it's a question I'm often asked: "How soon should I start working with my dog?" Here's a blueprint!
When Do We Start?
These pictures are from Koa’s first full day with us at 10 weeks old. Starting your work with your dog doesn’t have to be at this age, but the sooner the better. Why? Because they need to learn that you’re the one in charge and in control of how they spend their time on the walk. Remember that this can take place at any age since it is all about you and your energy. Staying calm, learning to come, and learning to walk on a loose leash are skills you and your dog will need for the rest of your time together. Does this mean they don’t get a chance to be a dog?
Supplement Your Work with Play
Of course not! Playtime is affection, and once the exercise & discipline part of the walk has been accomplished it's time for everyone (including you) to play and have fun; to bond with your dog. This is also affection, but affection can also be as transparent as enjoying the walk itself. They don’t need treats, they don’t need petting, but these are powerful tools when used at the correct time. After play time, it’s time to go back to work so that the ritual remains the same and the dog can be comfortable in his/her expectation. And then end your walk on a calm, positive note!
As Pack Leader, YOU Dictate the Time for Everything
Rules, boundaries, limitations, and protection and direction. These are what we true Pack Leaders offer our pack, in a calm and balanced way. Yes, even when our packs do something that “embarrasses” us. Change your perception: Be embarrassed if you don’t make corrections or walk in a calm but assertive fashion. You know that when you watch another dog handler being too rough, frustrated and angry, that person is not a role model for you. At least I hope not!
Be The Role Model
Be the role model for other handlers, and be the role model for your dog through your energy. We also have the power to change other people through our actions and demeanor. When someone watches you and says, “I want my dog to be like that,” it starts with your ability to be a confident Pack Leader and put in the work. There is no easy button, nor magical transformation. Different handlers get different responses, correct? That is due to the different energies.
Until next time, take your dog for a walk and enjoy your time together!