Authority travels down the lead by Peter Lewis
When I was ten years old my father suddenly announced that during my school summer holidays my mother and I would be looking after two black Labrador bitches named Pat and Judy. The former was the mother, the latter her daughter. We lived in the suburbs of London and dad’s office was in Fulham to where he commuted daily.
He would pop into the pub for one small drink and a pie at lunch time and had become good friends with the landlord who owned the Labradors.
This landlord must have been one of the early summer holiday visitors to warmer climes so he asked dad’s advice about what he could do about the dogs for a fortnight. Dad volunteered me, and I shall be eternally grateful that he did for it was the start of me becoming a dog man.
I was thrilled to bits for I had long been looking with envy upon those families that had dogs, but when these two came I was instantly enthralled by them.
They had wonderful temperaments and were well behaved.
For that fortnight I was constantly with them and when they had to return home I was heartbroken. From then I badgered my father not for a dog but for a Labrador.
"No, No," came the stern reply: "dogs have to be looked after, walked daily, groomed etc. and it will be another of your five minute wonders.”
To no avail I promised I would care for him, trying to change my father’s mind again and again over the coming weeks and months, but it seemed he would not change his mind. However on my 11th birthday he placed a little black bundle in my hands and told me to look after what was my first Labrador. His registered name was Black Eagle of Glengower and we called him Major.
Dad was a pretty straightforward guy but he wouldn’t let me train him, not that I knew how to do so. He insisted I carried out my promised duties to the dog, which I did, and Major and I became great friends. This dog actually taught me to love the countryside for we had such a walk just across the road alongside the Hogs Back river that eventually fed into the Thames.
He grew up to be a strong dog and at about 18 months he started to escape from our enclosed back garden by scaling the six foot high back garden gate. He would go off we knew not where and eventually tracked him down in a police station where he was being held. He did this regularly and I would ask my father why? And he would tell me that Labradors have the wanderlust. Looking back I think I am sure that lust was the pertinent part of the word but in those days I expect I was still considered to be too young for further explanation. No doubt his breed’s exceptional noses told him to get free as soon as possible and follow up the scents that aroused his mating instinct.
Why do I tell you all this? Well, as you know, all my life (except National Service) I have had dogs and to be sure I started to train my next dog, a yellow of the same breed.
Living in Woking then I took him to the Surrey Dog Training Club, a society of great distinction. I joined 20 or more young dog owners in a pet dog class and thought my dog was well behaved compared with some. Little did I realise I knew nothing.
A lady had an extremely exuberant Golden Retriever youngster leading her a merry dance through the whole session.
The instructor eventually asked her if he could handle her dog and she readily agreed. He took the lead, seemingly did nothing other than place the dog in the sit, but instantly the dog behaved himself. I stayed behind to ask why the transformation of the retriever and his reply was, "I believe dogs know when they are being handled by authority which travels down the lead.”
It did not mean much to me then, but before long I knew what he meant. Of course there might have been some apprehension of a person unknown, but when other members of the beginner’s class tried handling him his behaviour reverted to the uncontrollable.
Of course the dog had instantly recognised that his current handler was a higher ranking dog than he was and that is the greatest factor of dog training, for if a dog does not accept his handler is higher ranked then that handler is going nowhere with whatever method of dog training they employ. Also, opposite to most parental instincts of letting the baby get away with it when the dog recognises that his love and devotion to the higher ranked owner will be greater.
Dogs are great creeps, always sucking up to the higher ranked animal or, in our case, human. The lower ranking dog also sees such people as the one that will protect them, but even a naturally high ranking or potentially dominant dog will be your greatest friend if you can convince him you have been born higher ranking than he is even though you pretending something that is not true.
So for those academics who have never properly trained a dog and who currently believe that rank does not exist, if they had real practical experience of working with dogs as a handler they would soon understand that they have got it wrong. There is a hierarchy in a pack of dogs or a family including dog(s) and the dogs will work out where they fit in.
Do not despair if you think I am saying you must be physically hard with your dog to achieve high ranking recognition by your dog, for you do not even need to touch him. Pure psychology will do the trick, particularly snubbing, which will mean no eye, hand, vocal, or movement contact when the dog seeks interaction. Remember when he does that he is seeking to manipulate you but when you refuse it with a snub you score big brownie points in his mind. After he has gone away, fed up with your refusal to co-operate and you are upset with your cruel dismissal of a pack member you love, salve your conscience by calling him to you and then interact in the way you suspected he wanted when he tried to initiate contact.
This time it is you who has manipulated the dog but he will be happy and love you all the more.
Well it was my intention to go on to the subject of the dog jumping over the garden back gate but I will save that for another occasion, for part of the answer to that problem is being seen as the higher ranking animal by your dog. But it is just a piece of the jigsaw puzzle.
Visit me for training and behaviour books on www.adviceaboutdogs.co.uk.