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How to be a leader

7 months old Ludde trying to get Lovec to play.

7 months old Ludde trying to get Lovec to play.

This post will be somewhat short, yet important. It’s about something I see almost daily and it applies to all dog owners.

Today, on my way home from the dog park, I met two women in their late 50’s. They were good friends and one of them had adopted a rescue dog a few months back. It was a mix of Jack Russell and Chihuahua. A small, protective and high energy dog. At first, the owner was hesitant to let her dog meet and greet my wolfdog Lovec. The owner explained that her dog had been attacked and bitten by a German Shepard in the past, and that he now was very aggressive towards ALL larger dogs.
I said that it would be just fine, and that her friend would just step back a little and give them some room to greet.
And sure enough, my Lovec approached cautiously from the side and smelled him very gently. Then he laid down, as he usually does to show that he’s friendly. Her Jack Chi smelled Lovec and then walked around a little and finally laid down about a feet away. The owner was amazed and said that this have never happened before. A few moments later, Lovec tried to initiate some play and the Jack Chi jumped back and started barking.
I told them that he simply was not comfortable enough just yet, and that he just told Lovec that he was too straight forward. That he invaded his space.
Then the owner’s friend took a couple of steps forward, and said that she was still nervous that the Jack Chi would snap and start to bite. And yes, that was exactly what happened next. But Lovec only sat up and took a few steps back, giving him his space and the situation calmed down.

Lovec at 1 year, 4 months and 2 weeks old.

Lovec at 1 year, 4 months and 2 weeks old.

So what just happened? Well, the reason I first told her friend to “give them some room”, was simply to get her out of the way. I could see that she was thinking of previous events, which made her nervous and afraid of what could happen. And dogs, like most animals, communicate by body language and energy. They can read you as an open book. And she would have transferred her nervousness and fear to the Jack Chi. While the owner was somewhat calm, giving the dogs more space and letting them approach each other more slowly and on their own terms defused the situation. And this is also the reason why the Jack Chi snapped once the owner’s friend stepped forward and showed her fear of what could happen. And at the same time, the owner got a bit frazzled and pulled the leash in a stiff and fearful way. The Jack Chi picked up on it and read the situation as dangerous. So he went into his protective mode again.
Luckily it only lasted for a few seconds, as both Lovec and I didn’t care or showed any emotions. I simply remained calm and watched while Lovec took a step back and stood next to me.
As I explained the situation, I told them that their dog was just fine. He was only in need of some socialization with other stable dogs. The problem were simply the tension and nervousness of the two ladies, which the Jack Chi picked up on and made him switch to an alerted protective state of mind. I invited them to the dog park for some socialization and hopefully they’ll stop by.

Now, the message of this story is simple. If something bad has happened to your dog in the past, you must let it go. Your dog will probably have no memory of it. But he or she will pick up on your energy. You are your dog’s leader. If you show fear in a situation, your dog will read the situation as dangerous and will probably act accordingly. That’s why you must always be in control, always be calm – but still be confident and in charge. You must show your dog what is right and what is wrong, but not through the wrong emotions, just through calmness and assertiveness. If it helps, picture yourself as a Karate or Kung Fu master, teaching his students simply by his presence and body language. And that kind of cool, calm assertiveness is exactly what a dog is looking for in a leader.
Be that leader!

 

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