My Furry Guru Series : The Gentle Leader

The more days that I enjoy waking up on this side of the grass, the more I appreciate the wonderful teachers in my life. In My Furry Guru posts, I will share some thoughts on how the non-human teachers in my life have taught me to recognize, and appreciate, the value of their teachings.

Appreciation, I have learned, is the first of the Elegant Arts. Appreciation is the foundation of the rest – attributes like kindness, honesty, trust, patience and gentleness. There are many more. In order utilize the many attributes that lead to an elegant life, we must first appreciate their value.

What we value appreciates.

I’d imagine you have heard of the saying, I couldn’t see the forest for the trees. In this example, let’s consider that sometimes we cannot see the pack for the dogs…in other words…we couldn’t see the universal application of the experience.

Dogs have so much to teach us. Each dog that has graced my life has been loved the best…quite literally, the best I could at the time. One of the many benefits of maturing is that now I can see what was right before my eyes. It was being presented to me all along! I simply had to slow down, relax, and cultivate the eyes with which to see them clearly.

I am training my 18-month old dog, Skipper. We adopted him through Hearts of the North, a rescue group, at 8 months.

He is a wonderful dog – one of the sweetest, most cuddly, and smartest dogs I’ve known.

When Skip came to live with us we soon learned that he had a few “challenging” behavioral issues that needed to be addressed.

One of his “skills” is that Skip is a Surfer Dude…a really great counter surfer. I had plenty of dogs, but I had never “en-countered” this kind of behaviour before with my dogs.

I must admit I was lazy with my training…at first. As a newly published author trying to gain some traction in the competitive publishing world; an Area Director, President of one club and member of two others, and mentor with Toastmasters; and running my Express Yourself Coaching business as well as our lawncare business, I was busy.

Translation: Skip got away with some things…annoying things.

A loaf of bread went “missing.” So did my whole bag of fig newtons – I had one out of it! Additionally, I had to get new plastic spatulas because they would turn up as “chewies” in Skip’s crate/den/bedroom.

When I was making dinner Skip would position himself on the mat by the kitchen sink. Food that hit the floor wouldn’t last long enough to be covered by the 5 second rule.

I swear that dog has a tongue like Kiss’ Gene Simmons…or maybe a chameleon…

Yep. I began working around the issue…quite literally stepping over him and pushing all food items out of the way…instead of addressing it. As a result, Skipper read me…he had my number! And he grew slyer and sassier.

This spring, when our canine family grew to 6 dogs (my son adopted a 1-yr old Pittie/Lab mix), I realized that I had to get off my butt and train my doggos…or let chaos reign at family get-togethers.

Years ago I trained my own dogs and had some success in the local Obedience ring with my Doberman, Sheba. Over the years my husband and I had done the basics with our dogs, but I soon realized that I needed to learn the new techniques that have been developed since those days.

What I’ve learned in the past few months has been very interesting…

I was the problem, not the dog. Clarity, consistency, and follow-through was the remedy.

Leadership is Leadership

As I began an intensive “train the trainer” period of learning how to train dogs, I realized something – leadership is leadership.

In order to be a leader, I had to begin acting like one with my dogs.

Toastmasters is an organization that teaches communication and leadership skills. In Toastmasters’ personal development program called Pathways, there is a part that asks you, How does this project apply to your life outside Toastmasters?

I had to apply what I have been utilizing as a leader of humans with Toastmasters, and adapt it to my life with dogs.

Are you a gentle leader? Do you lead your life doing Everything Gently?

Do you feel you have what it takes to be a leader? Or have you been put into the role of a leader, in your family or at work or in a volunteer organization…a role you really didn’t want but felt you had to take on?

Did you assume a role that you feel doesn’t fit your personality?

When the human in the dog-human relationship does not know how to be the leader, the dog must do it. For dogs, this is instinctive. Thre is no other choice for them.

Dogs are energetic beings. They understand and communicate energetically. A human may be able to bluff their way through something with other humans (we all do it at times!), but they cannot do it with dogs.

How could this be? Could it be that our ability to communicate with another human energetically has been skewed by our conditionining? I think it is. I think we have become so confused with what is right and wrong and appropriate and inappropriate and that we have so much opinionated interference in our families, societies, and world that, many times, we really cannot tell up from down.

It is not enough to “trust your intuition.” If your intuition is colored by fear, you will not see clearly. And you will not feel clear enough to know when your intuition is saying, Steer clear of that person because they are not good for me, or if it’s saying, I’m afraid of that person because they trigger me.

Dogs show you to yourself in ways that humans cannot.

Dogs call you on your personal caca every step of the walk! If you are unsure of yourself, your dog will know it. If you are afraid, but pretending you are not, your dog will react to your fear. Your leash-line, your lead-line, is your line of communication with your dog.

The interesting thing is this: You may not even know that you are unsure or afraid. It may seem so natural that it feels like you.

It has been said that, Nature abhors a vacuum. In the natural world there are no voids. If something is removed, something will move into the void.

If a naturally submissive dog feels they must assume the leader’s position they will do so.

Trouble ensues.

If a naturally dominant dog feels they must assume the leader’s position, they will do so.

Trouble ensues.

Dogs don’t lead humans. Humans lead, dogs follow.

It’s interesting to realize that in order to lead other humans, the human must first learn to lead themselves.

What is it, truly, that you are a-voiding?

That is where our Furry Gurus come in! This is where you can practice learning to lead yourself! It may not be a role that you have ever played in your life. It may not feel natural for you to be the leader of dogs, let alone humans. This is where baby steps can work wonders for you!

Leadership is learned behaviour. So is subordination. You may not aspire to lead anyone but it pays to learn the skills. Our Furry Gurus are there to elegantly assist us.

Sometimes you don’t get the dog you want, but you get the dog you need.

Cesar Milan, #betterhumansbetterplanet

Energetically, their behaviour will reveal your skill level and understanding of not only your dog’s behaviour but also your own.

There are many effective dog training tools available. The Gentle Leader is one of the best. As a dog training tool, Gentle Leader Canada states that the Gentle Leader is a “non-punishing headcollar designed to humanely assist in training and managing your dog’s behavior.”

After a period of familiarizing Skip with the headcollar (don’t use one without a period of gentle acclamitization for the dog) I have begun utilizing a Gentle Leader on walks, and the results are amazing. When he reacts to something or a car drives by, the gentle pressure I apply is a deterrent that causes him to turn his head and break his focus on the object of his attention. I then ask him to focus on me.

Then he gets rewarded – sometimes with food but always with praise and “Good boys.” He really likes that. You see, Skipper can read my approval energetically.

Clear. Gentle. Effective.

This post is not meant to be an instructional article in how to use a dog training tool. If you are so inclined, I invite you to research the Gentle Leader so you understand how it is used. As I stated above, the Gentle Leader is a training tool. I will not utilize it forever, but for now it works very well. What I have found is that it assists me in my training and allows for much better walks..and a deeper, more rewarding relationship with Skipper and my other two dogs, but the gentle leader, as a concept, is universal.

Leadership is leadership. Clarity, consistency, and follow-through…leading by example, whether in your personal or professional life or in a volunteer organization, is always the most effective and satisfying course of action.

If you have a dog that could use some training, I suggest becoming a gentle leader of your dog. Leadership is a learned skill. Get the tools you need to do it well. Allow your Furry Guru to assist you. He or she will bloom under your clear, consistent leadership, with effective follow-through. And so will you.

If you do not have a dog, but would like to become a gentle leader in your personal or professional life…perhaps you want to ace that next interview, or speak with less fear when presenting at work, or just feel more confident or wish to express yourself with courage and greater clarity…I suggest joining Toastmasters.

Better skills, better life…

We may not choose to lead by example, but we are all an example for someone. Consider it “training the trainer.” It is always the most effective and satisfying course of action.


Published by Paula D. Tozer

I am a writer, poet and singer/songwriter. I am a Toastmaster, motivational speaker, personal creativity coach, and workshop leader. My most sincere wish is to share my words with others, and that we both benefit from the exchange.

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