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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
While "pack leader" and pack theory has been largely set aside when it comes to dogs, I think leadership still warrants a place in dog handling.

A few Years ago there was a fellow who trained K9's for Police (he has sadly passed on). He spent some significant time in Africa studying Cape Hunting dogs. He noted in a pack situation there was always a leader, but that leader was not always the same individual or even the same gender dog. The leadership changed depending on the skills needed. It was fluid as opposed to rigid.

I think, when doing all sorts of things together with my dog that leadership is more partnership built on relationship. When the chips are down, I need to be the unquestioned leader simply for safety sake.

Other times not so much. Take tracking as an example. Signing in with a judge before tracking, signing out after a completed track, I am the leader. Actually tracking (especially when someone else lays the track) my dog is the leader. I cannot (typically) see the track and I most certainly cannot smell it.. I am 33+ feet behind him and all I can do it watch him and read his behavior. HE is leading. At an article,where he stops and indicates, I come up and for a bit the leadership goes back to me.. then when I restart him I turn it back to the dog.

Obedience routines I clearly am in the position of leader.. but this does not mean he has no input! He does and he shows it. Sometimes it costs points and sometimes it prevents point loss in a trial. The most important part is in training for him to know I am listening and acknowledging his input.

In protection routines the leadership rolls change back and forth frequently throughout. It must be fluid and we both need to listen to each other.

I think that a fearful dog may appreciate turning leadership over to a trusted partner in scary (to that dog) situations. It's like, "Wow, I am really afraid of that other dog over there but I can trust my human to deal with it so now I don't need to be so scared."

If "leadership" is an incorrect name for what this is I am fine with calling it something else. The "leadership" word has become a pariah of late.. probably from TV Dog Trainers and old dominance theory (also largely promoted by TV). That's too bad because I think it is still useful in a different context.
 

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From my observations of relationships in dogs, cats, horses -- and people -- there are always the leaders and the followers. However, I also know that when it comes to dogs some people don't believe it, and it's like religion and politics, better to leave those subjects for discussion with people you know well enough that you're sure it won't cause hard feelings and arguments.
 

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Well said.

This is one of my pet peeves. We have totally cocked up our description of leadership, all because of the misuse of the word in the pack leader, alpha stuff.

If you study leadership in a social psychology or employment context, it's all about empowering, inspiring, encouraging and supporting. Not about dominating and enforcing. But in dog behaviour, it is used the wrong way round, all due to the old dominance stuff you mention. That has a lot to answer for.

Then again, you could open the conversation even wider and ask whether what sort of people are so insecure that they need the validation of being 'superior' to a dog.
 

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I agree: "leadership" and "leader" shouldn't be dirty words in the dog community, but unfortunately are paired so often with outdated and incorrect concepts like pack and dominance theory that they're often misinterpreted. I look at them a bit like poisoned cues for our dogs - the words and concepts themselves aren't bad, but they've been paired with bad concepts, so I avoid them and try using different language for the sake of clear communication.

"Guidance", "boundaries", and "structure" are often my go-tos when trying to explain that it is the human's job to communicate to the dog what the rules and expectations are, and then teach them how to follow those rules and meet those expectations. Unfortunately they're not concepts that easily leave room for circumstances where the dog should have freedom to lead, as in the tracking example.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Well said.

This is one of my pet peeves. We have totally cocked up our description of leadership, all because of the misuse of the word in the pack leader, alpha stuff.

If you study leadership in a social psychology or employment context, it's all about empowering, inspiring, encouraging and supporting. Not about dominating and enforcing. But in dog behaviour, it is used the wrong way round, all due to the old dominance stuff you mention. That has a lot to answer for.

Then again, you could open the conversation even wider and ask whether what sort of people are so insecure that they need the validation of being 'superior' to a dog.
I REALLY like this.
FWIW I did not start this discussion to create a war. I just think we can do better by our dogs and leadership is part of the relationship equation.
 
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