Dogs and the fine art of discipline: Consistent rules, boundaries and discipline are imperative for any leader/follower relationship to function properly. Lack of such rules, boundaries and discipline can all too easily end in chaotic behaviour – and sometimes it takes a dog to let us know what’s wrong…

Discipline is a Fine Art

Whether you are a parent, a teacher or a boss, being in control over others means you are a figure of authority. How you use that authority will communicate to those ‘under you’ whether you know how to properly lead them. Asking anyone what constitutes a good leader, you will most likely hear ‘good leaders’ being described as calm, fair, self-assured and confident.

Many people struggle to get their children, employees or dogs to listen to them because they simply do not know how to communicate leadership properly to those they are required to lead.

Talking to me about his business, a close friend told me that he was struggling to get his small group of employees “on the same page” and that, unless things improved, he would have to let people go. Having known this man since childhood, I knew he had always over-reacted a little when faced with stressful situations, while at the same time being somewhat of a ‘pushover’. He is subsequently dreadful at enforcing rules, yet highly emotional, reactive and a real blowhard when he thinks you are ‘doing it wrong’.

My response to his worries was to liken him to some of my clients. These clients will insist that just because they “shout” their dogs whenever they fail to listen to them, the dogs know the rules. This somewhat forceful approach is, however limited – because leadership does not come from making members of your pack afraid, it comes from making them feel safe & secure.

Looking at your family or business like a pack can simplify your leading role. Good leaders gain their pack’s trust and respect by enforcing rules with energy and discipline, not intimidation and fear.

I get my pack to follow me by ensuring they are fulfilled – not once-in-a-while, but every day. My pack repays me for that fulfilment with respect, trust and loyalty. Their fulfilment partly comes from enforcing the rules correctly. I must enforce rules with assertive, calm energy – because if I use threats or am angry, frustrated and/or tense, I am using (and projecting) unstable energy – and a dog will NOT follow an unstable leader. The only species prepared to follow an unstable leader are humans.

Dogs and the Fine Art of Discipline

Children need their parents to be good, stable pack leaders. They need proper, consistent discipline just as much and for the same reasons dogs do. Without proper guidance, children and dogs become confused and overwhelmed. Is your dog’s behaviour giving you trouble? Look at your parenting style: are you structured and consistent with your children AND your dog or only with the children? If the latter is the case, you have the answer for your dog’s problems right there. It is also not uncommon for parents who fail to enforce rules with children to have behavioural problems with their dog as well. Allow me to relate a story to you that is a prime example of this happening…

Some time ago, I was asked to deal with a case where a dog had seemingly ‘out of the blue’ aggressed towards a young boy. As the dog merely “mouthed” the child, no real damage was done – but sadly, in cases like this, the ending is rarely happy for the dog.

As I entered the house, the reason for the dog’s aggression very quickly became all too apparent. The little boy at the problem’s core was THE most badly-behaved child I have ever, EVER, had the misfortune to meet. You know the children you see on T.V. “nanny” shows? Well, the worst of them had nothing on this kid! This child yelled, screamed, kicked and controlled his parents every single moment throughout my visit. Whenever he couldn’t get things his own way, he would immediately throw a tantrum. It was astonishing!

The energy of the parents was totally defeated and drained, and the boy’s mother admitted making a fundamental mistake – a mistake made by many parents: believing the use of discipline would communicate that she didn’t love him to her son, she felt the best way to show him her love was to always say yes. She was a pleaser and Dad – well, I could tell that he had “checked out” many months, if not years ago. Children are just as sensitive to our energy as dogs are – and this boy could sense his parents’ weakness, but he could not understand it. He was aware that they had no control – but who did?

This boy felt exactly the same within his parents our dogs feel within us – and the outcome of the situation was the same as the one I frequently see in dogs. The boy was taught by lack of discipline that he was the one in charge. When this happens, a child’s mind descends into chaos. When a dog feels chaotic, he will destroy things, dig, act nervous, get separation anxiety, aggress, etc.

Have you worked out yet why this dog went for the child? He was trying to tell the boy’s parents what they needed to do. Easily recognising their inability to properly lead the child, he took charge and took it upon himself to discipline the boy. That action they interpreted as aggression was, in fact, how dogs will enforce discipline on each other. A pack’s leader will muzzle punch, growl at and occasionally nip at pack members to enforce the pack’s rules. This dog weighed in at 85 lbs. If he had intended to seriously injure or even kill that boy, he could easily have done so.

So, why didn’t he? The answer is simple: he had no intention of hurting that child. He was simply trying to communicate what the child needed to the parents. The boy’s own out of control, crazy behaviours are equally a communication that something is very wrong to the parents.

If you have problems with any of your leader/follower relationships – be it with your child or your pet – your dog may well have the answer. Good old Rover wants (and needs) you to be stable and balanced – and he continually tells you how well (or not so well, whichever the case may be) you are doing. Make sure to listen to him.