Even walking requires leadership

Grace is very vocal when she wants something. It’s obvious when it’s mealtime or when she wants to sun herself on the deck. She is very explicit in her requests, using her voice (persistent whining) and body (sits in front of me, scratches her paw on me, jumps around if the first two don’t work) to let me know if I’m not moving fast enough for her. That’s a lesson I could study from watching her; first being clear in what I want and then asking in a manner that allows the other person to be equally clear in my intentions.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, learning how to best handle Grace’s fearful tendencies has opened up an incredible awareness of my own behaviors. In order to help Grace become more confident, I need to provide strong leadership. That means leading her with a confident, calm, assertive demeanor. I’m almost always calm, sometimes confident, but it’s not always very natural for me to be assertive. I have a strong tendency to “go with the flow” rather than take control and offer her guidance and direction.

For managers, this is a critical skill. We can all appreciate the value in offering clear guidance and direction. Being a leader doesn’t mean you have to be overbearing. You just have to be clear and firm, while being open to other’s input and needs.

Something as simple as walking Grace offers an opportunity for me to practice this almost every day, yet I find it challenging. Common dog-walking etiquette recommended by almost any trainer suggests that the dog should walk beside or behind the human. Think about the symbolic implications of this; the one in front is obviously leading.

When Grace and I walk, she doesn’t tug, but she is definitely in front of me. Yet I find myself being lazy in enforcing best practices on our walks. I dismiss it as unimportant.

It’s not that I’m unaware of it, either. Often I’ll say to myself: “I really should ask her to walk beside me.” But I rationalize that she’s enjoying her walk ahead of me or it’s not a big deal, all placid reasons that I make up as excuses for not taking the extra effort to retrain both of us on a better way of walking together.

It is a constant and ongoing challenge for me to remember to ‘take charge’ in our relationship, especially for those “minor” things that don’t seem to matter too much. How much of a difference would it make if I insist that she walk beside me? Probably a lot.

Because I want to pay attention to lessons I’m noticing, I commit to all of you that on my next walk with Grace, I’m going to have her walk beside me. Wish me luck. I’ll let you know how it goes.

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2 comments

  1. didiwright says:

    Good post, Robin. Leadership is such an important concept, one that we must always remember in our relationship with our dogs, as well as our children. It’s a proven fact that dogs and children who know ‘who’s boss’ and what’s expected of them behave better and are, generally, happier. An insecure, wishy-washy environment in which they receive confusing signals is likely to make them insecure and trigger unwanted behaviour. A child or dog who feels they’re in charge will behave badly or erratically due to the fact that they don’t actually know ‘how to run the show’. At least that’s the theory I’ve read, and it makes sense to me. I try to live by it and be a leader (or guide) to both my dog and my daughter, whilst also being their friend. Is this possible? Sometimes I think I get it right, sometimes I feel like I’ve failed miserably. As you say, exercising leadership at all times is hard.
    I’ve also read about making sure your dog doesn’t walk in front of you. I don’t always reinforce it, either, unless I feel George has developed a bit of ‘attitude’. Normally, he’s walking fast ahead on our way out (he’s always really excited to go for a walk, or bursting to go to the toilet), but he’s always next to me or trailing behind on our way back home.
    Good luck with enforcing your leadership and guiding Grace. I’m looking forward to reading about your progress.

    • Didi, your responses are always so thorough and on target. I really got such a vivid image when you talked about a wishy-washy environment and how much havoc that brings. And I also agree about how this dynamic affects children. There are SO many parallels in life — children, animals, humans, workplace dynamics. Once we open ourselves to explore one of them, it helps explain things going on in all parts of our life. Thank you, as always, for adding to the conversation.

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