Pack Leadership: Reward, Refocus

Posted on September 28, 2009


Kai, flat-coat/chow mix, and Rustle, miniature poodle

Kai, flat-coat/chow mix, and Rustle, miniature poodle

I’m sure it’s clear by now that I walk my dogs almost every day. As with any activity, some days are better than others. I recently had a very good day, and it reminded me about rewarding good behavior and refocusing bad.

What happened was this: We arrived in the parking lot of a park. I opened up my hatchback and called out my dogs. Kai jumped out first, because he’s dominant and because he’s big. Rustle doesn’t want to get landed on. He’s a dog, not an idiot. I had to rein Kai in to keep him from wandering into the parking lot. Rustle jumped out and immediately headed for the sidewalk, and the grass beyond. As soon as I praised him, Kai whipped around and followed Rustle. By rewarding Rustle’s good behavior, I reinforced it. Kai saw what he was supposed to do, and he did it.

Some people, seeing that, would think that Rustle was in charge – even of me. The truth is, the best leadership is invisible. All I had to do as pack leader was choose which behavior was correct, and reward that. I didn’t punish Kai. Except for protecting him in the parking lot, I ignored his behavior.

The trick, for me, is refocusing. For example, Kai likes to bark at people passing our house. He’s territorial and dominant. We can call him away from what he’s looking at, but I need to get better at giving him a different focus, like a toy or a job. I need to find a way for him to expend his energy in an approved way, instead of causing a ruckus.

It’s easy for us to be critical. We see everything that needs fixing, and we spend all our teaching and training time focused on fixing those things. Too often our reward for good work is more work. As leaders, we need to truly reward, and praise, the good while redirecting or refocusing the bad.

Posted in: dogs, Leadership