Tag Archive: training a dog


Walking With Dogs Who Pull

As a trainer, one of the most-requested problems to solve is how to get a dog to walk nicely on a leash. Some dogs just naturally want to stay close to the person who is walking them while others are completely oblivious to the fact that there is a person on the other end of the leash. That’s the case with my two foster hounds, Brooks and Zoë. They not only pull hard but they also don’t walk in a straight line. They zigzag to wherever their noses lead them. I needed to find some equipment to help me.

A flat collar or even a Martingale just will not cut it. The hounds will sputter and choke themselves in desperation to get to the next scent or to chase the squirrel that just crossed their paths. And of course, it goes without saying that I would never, EVER use a choke chain or prong collar. If you want to know why, please read my article on the reasons why:  http://www.chrisshaughness.com/why-not-prong-collars-and-choke-chains/

I have successfully used both the Easy Walk harness and the Gentle Leader on other dogs but the Easy Walk does not fit the Bassets’ physique. It slips right off of them. The nose-loop on the Gentle Leader may be dangerous for as hard as the Bassets pull. I’m afraid they may hurt their necks when they do one of their 90 degree zigzag routines.

I asked some of the other Basset owners for recommendations. From one woman, I learned of something new called The Canine Connector. It’s the invention of a woman who lives near Reading, PA and it has helped considerably. The Canine Connector is a thick, long rope that loops around the dog’s chest and under the front legs, then ties on the dog’s back. It takes the pressure from around the dog’s neck and uses the concept that when a dog pulls, something that goes around their chest stops the pulling.

I have found that The Canine Connector has made it easier for me to walk both dogs together and they are much easier to handle. But it’s not a panacea. When they see another animal, they still can pull very hard even with this apparatus. That’s where training enters the picture. I am working on counter conditioning them to look at me when they see another animal. Yes, it’s a challenge! Hounds think with their noses! But it’s possible.

I do recommend The Canine Connector but be warned, it takes a few minutes to put it on the dog and to take it off. If you are accustomed to just snapping a leash on your dog’s collar, you will need to add a little more time to your schedule. If your dog likes to dance around in anticipation of their walk, you will need lots of patience to put The Canine Connector on your dog. Taking it off also takes a little more time because you need to unknot the ends of the rope. With as hard as my hounds pull, the knot is really, really tight!

Check out The Canine Connector’s Facebook page and give it a try!

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Clicker Training for Dogs

Have you used clickers to train your dog? If done correctly, it is an amazingly effective and very humane method. But if the trainer or owner does not understand what they are doing or they do not do it correctly, clicker training can confuse the dog and will not get the desired results.

What is clicker training? It uses the principle of operant conditioning. An association is formed between a behavior and a consequence. An easy example is when you ask your dog to “sit” and you give him a treat. The dog then learns that when he sits (behavior) he gets a treat (consequence). Clicker training uses a clicker to tell the dog that he did the right thing. The clicker is a small plastic box with a metal strip that makes a sharp, clicking sound when pushed and released.  The sound of a clicker is very distinctive. It grabs the dog’s attention. When you pair the sound of a clicker with a reward, your dog will begin to associate the sound with something pleasant. A clicker allows the trainer to mark with great precision the behavior for which the dog is being reinforced.  Paired with something the animal finds very reinforcing, the clicker becomes a powerful tool for shaping behavior.  

I know a lot of trainers who insist on only teaching obedience classes with clickers but I have found that many people cannot master the clicker. It’s tricky.  Here are a few pros and cons of clicker training:

Pros:

1. When used properly, a clicker tells the dog precisely that he did the right behavior. Therefore, timing is imperative when training with a clicker. The trainer must click at the exact instant that the dog performs the desired behavior. A click can be delivered much quicker than a treat or a “good dog.”

2. The sound of the clicker is distinctive and eliminates ambiguity for the dog. When the dog hears the sound of the click, he knows that he is being rewarded. Humans’ voices, on the other hand, can be loaded with uncertainty. Our tone or volume can be confusing to dogs.

3. Clicker training is an excellent way to train dogs who participate in sports such as agility. Because timing is so critical when training, a clicker is invaluable with shaping a dog’s behavior.

Cons:

1. One of the biggest problems with clicker training is the lack of understanding of why and how to use the clicker. I recently met a novice trainer who didn’t know that the clicker needed to be “charged,” that is, before any training can begin, the dog must learn an association of something good when he hears a click. After all, the sound of the click by itself is meaningless. “Charging” the clicker involves simply clicking and immediately giving the dog a high value treat. Click and treat, click and treat. Do this about 20-30 times. The dog is sure to learn that whenever he hears the click, it’s a good thing!

2. The other issue with lack of knowledge of clicker training is timing. If the click is not delivered at the exact instant that the dog performs the desired behavior, then you may be reinforcing a different behavior.

3. Some people think that the clicker is used to gain the dog’s attention. I’ve seen people clicking when dogs bark and clicking when dogs aren’t paying attention. This is not clicker training.

4. The use of clickers in group training classes can be confusing for dogs. If you have 6-10 people in a class and everyone is clicking, the dogs may not know which click is meant for him.

5. Many people find that they cannot handle a leash, treats and a clicker in their hands. It can be too much to juggle.

6. In my work with puppy mill dogs, some of them are afraid of the noise of the clicker. Instead of it being rewarding, it creates fear.

From the above list, it appears that there are more cons than pros for clicker training. Don’t let that dissuade you!  Try it. Once you learn how to do it properly, you may never want to train dogs any other way.

When NOT to Use “Leave It”

One of the most useful, versatile and even life-saving cues to teach dogs is “leave it.” If it is taught and used properly, dogs can learn not to pick up dangerous items off the ground, not to eat the slice of pizza you just dropped and even not to touch your dinner when you place it on the coffee table. But when “leave it” is not taught correctly or used for other purposes, “leave it” can be ineffective or even detrimental.

A few years ago, I watched a novice dog trainer as he taught a dog how to “leave it.” He first put the dog into a sit-stay then he threw a couple of treats on the ground and told the dog to “leave it.” The very smart dog did as told – he didn’t touch the treats, however, it was not because he was told to “leave it.” It was because the man had placed the dog in a stay! I asked the man to try “leave it” again but this time, without a sit-stay command. As predicted, the dog did a nosedive for the treats.  He had not learned how to “leave it” and in a real-life situation when the dog’s owner needed to use the cue, the dog would not have responded. To learn how to teach “leave it,” read my post from January 14, 2011

I’ve also seen people use “leave it” for the wrong reasons which can and will have detrimental repercussions. I worked with a young couple who had a dog that liked to lunge out the front door and bark at anyone who walked by. The couple had worked with another trainer before calling me. This trainer put a choke chain on the dog and advised the couple to shout “leave it” to the dog and yank on the chain whenever he saw a person. As predicted, the dog’s behavior did not change and in fact, it grew worse. The dog was not originally aggressive to people but because of the negative association of getting yanked and shouted at whenever he saw a person, he became more agitated and tried to bite passersby. The better advice would have been to work on getting the dog to calm down and associate good things with seeing other people. And skip shouting “leave it.”

“Leave it” is best as an emergency command, that is, only use it when you really want to get your dog’s attention. If it is overused, the dog will become desensitized and may ignore you.  But used correctly, it’s a beautiful thing.

In the previous two posts on barking (June 6 and June 13), the important points were: 1) Barking is a natural activity for dogs, 2) some breeds bark more than others, 3) people can inadvertently reinforce their dogs’ barking by inappropriate methods such as yelling, scolding, laughing and punishment, and 4) dogs can also learn to bark by imitating their “friends.”

Okay, I know all of you are waiting eagerly for the solutions! Like I said in the other posts, teaching a dog to stop barking after it has become a habit is very difficult. And also as important, changing the way you react to your dog’s barking is just as challenging.  Your dog has habits; so do you. And the reasons why your dog is barking also play a huge part in resolving the problem.

In this post, I’ll discuss alert or excitement barking. The next post will address territorial barking (usually outside) and the final post addresses fear and play barking.

Alert/Excitement Barking – In the House

I’ll bet that everyone who reads this post expects a magic solution to stop your dog from barking when he sees someone walk past the house or if someone comes to the door and enters the house. Sorry, there is no quick, easy and effortless solution that does not involve punishment (which jeopardizes the mental health of your dog and your relationship, so please try to avoid it). My first suggestion involves managing the dog’s environment.

Dogs bark because they get excited; their adrenaline rises. The very best way to prevent barking is to prevent the adrenaline from rising in the first place. How do you do that? If you have a dog who likes to bark at windows, ensure that he cannot be perched at the windows. Keep him away from the windows when you’re home, and when you cannot be home, close the curtains or shades.  Pair this step with some training, which will be discussed below. So, that’s tip #1, remove your dog from the source of barking.

Same thing goes if you are expecting visitors to your home. Keep your dog away from the door, the scene of repeated excitement. Place your dog in a quiet room or outside, preferably with another person and even better, have the other person distract your dog by doing some obedience training or engage in play. You can even go as far as placing a sign on your doorbell asking people not to ring it – at least while you are in the process of re-training your dog! 

Once your visitors are settled in and the initial excitement has ebbed, bring your dog out on a leash to greet them and have some treats handy. Calmly take your dog to your guests and reward him with treats and praise as he remains calm. If he gets excited, remember not to fuel the excitement by barking with him like so many of us tend to do: “Sit!” Down!” “Off!” We all try to get our dogs to obey but if he is in a state of excitement, you are just wasting your breathe and getting your dog even more jacked up. Instead, remove your dog from the room. Take him somewhere else and give him a Kong filled with treats. Sorry, I digressed… We’re discussing barking.

If you are not expecting guests and the doorbell rings, your dog is sure to bark. Stay calm and quiet and before opening the door, escort your dog to another room and close the door.  The idea is to keep your dog from the excitement that happens at the door. Once you have worked on the training tips below, you can keep your dog with you as you open the door.

Okay, those are the management portions of controlling barking. Here are the training tips. And this will take time and work.

One of my all-time favorite commands to use for many situations where you’d like to get your dog’s attention is “Watch!” This word tells your dog to look at you. Some people also use the word “Look!” When I teach dog training classes, this is the very first thing I teach. It’s a basic foundation for getting your dog to listen to you.

For barking problems, you may want to employ the use of “Watch!” Or pick another word. It could be “Quiet!” but ensure that you’re not already using this word when you are agitated.  Okay, begin training. Get some high value foods – canned chicken, cheese, hot dogs, liver bites – and work with your dog when you have some quiet time. When your dog is paying attention to you, say your cue, if it’s “Watch,” “Look” or whatever, and immediately feed the dog a small bit of treats.  Continue doing this until you see that your dog is showing lots of interest as you give the cue. This is classical conditioning at its best, pairing a cue with a response. When your dog hears the cue, he immediately thinks, “Yum!” With enough practice, your dog will be conditioned to stop what he’s doing, look at you when you say the word and know that good things are coming his way.

Of course, this cue will work like a champ when there are few distractions once your dog gets it. That’s why it’s important to practice this exercise by gradually increasing the distractions. In other words, if you only practice when there are no distractions it’s not realistic to expect your dog to respond to you when the doorbell rings!

The trick to getting this combination of tips to work will be to keep your dog’s level of excitement low so that he does not bark. And  if he does start to bark, you catch him in time to stop him with the practiced interrupt cue.

Any questions? Next time, I’ll get into outside territorial barking.

What if people told you to shut up every time you tried to speak?  As you run up to a friend you haven’t seen in a while and exclaim, “I’m so happy to see …,” your friend shouts, “Quiet!” Doesn’t feel so good, huh?  Well, that’s what we do so frequently to our dogs when they bark. Barking is a natural behavior for dogs and it’s very unfair to ask them never to bark. Our job as dog-parents is to teach them when it is appropriate to “speak” and when to stay quiet, no different than guiding a child who is just discovering his voice.

We frequently are the perpetrators in teaching our dogs to bark and making it worse.  I recently watched a 4-week-old litter of nine puppies and the alpha male whimpered persistently for attention. His whimpering escalated to the cutest little puppy bark I’d ever heard. I also watched the natural human reaction as my friend picked up and coddled him, thinking that he would stop once he received attention. Not!  It made him worse – the behavior was reinforced and no doubt this puppy will grow up to be an attention-seeking barker.

My first dog would bark when she saw a car going down our sleepy street, and she went into a frenzy when our next-door neighbor turned into their driveway.  But I was a novice dog person back in 1988 and I encouraged her. I would run to the window when I saw my neighbors coming home and shout their names. My dog would come running, sounding the alarm. Very quickly, my dog would come on command when I called my neighbor’s names excitedly.  She barked out the window even though nobody was there. I thought it was funny and made it a game.  Her barking at anything out the window was fine because we lived in a quiet country setting. However, when I moved to an apartment a few years later, her barking was not so funny. We had a lot of activity around us and her barking brought complaints.

Barking is a complex problem and not easy to correct.  Sadly, for that reason and because many people don’t want to bother investing time into training their dogs, several punishment-based collars have been invented.  Shock collars, citronella collars and collars that emit a tone can be purchased.  I found a very distressing web site that claims to help people stop nuisance barking.  They sell these kinds of collars and advocate methods such as shouting “NO!!!” when the dog barks and spritzing him in the face with a water bottle and even smacking him on the nose with two fingers.  Ack!!  I not only don’t advocate any of these methods, I abhor them and the people who sell, recommend and utilize them. Talk about destroying the trust in your relationship with your dog

Dogs bark for various reasons and to address the problem, we need to break it down into situations. Not all barks are the same.  Before we can address how to stop barking, the source needs to be understood. Here are a few general categories of barking.

Excited or Alert or Fear Barking: Many dogs bark when they hear noises, see people or other animals. I don’t know of very many dogs who will not bark when they see someone out the window or hear the doorbell or knock on the door. This barking is often driven by cortisol and adrenaline which are emitted as the result of the classic “fight or flight” response. Or the dog could simply be excited to see someone, which also creates an adrenaline response.

Territorial Barking:  The dogs who are behind fences, physical or electric, can easily develop the habit of barking at anyone or anything that passes by. This type of barking is self-rewarding because the object they are barking at often is walking by the property and will eventually disappear down the street. In the dog’s mind, he is thinking, “I bark to get them to go away…and they do!” 

Attention Seeking: I covered this often-annoying habit that some dogs have of barking to get attention in a post on May 2.  See that post for solutions.

Boredom and Separation Anxiety: In my post on separation anxiety, I discussed how it is a sad fact that so many of our dogs have to be left alone for hours every day due to our busy lifestyles. They don’t get the exercise and mental stimulation required to keep them happy and bark-free.

Play Barking: Some dogs express their delight by barking. And we humans can inadvertently reinforce this habit when we laugh at them and encourage the behavior. Unless the barking annoys you too much, I would hate to squelch your dog’s happiness by trying to eliminate the barking during play.  This is a tough one to tackle!

In my next couple of training tip posts, I will discuss methods – all positive! – to help extinguish nuisance barking. Woof!

How many of you dig your dogs but don’t dig it when they dig?  It’s spring – almost summer – and your flowers are blooming, your vegetable garden is planted. And your dog is thrilled to have so many new, fun places to dig up!  Some dogs simply love to dig and could care less about how much time and tenderness you spent creating your beautiful oasis.

There can be several reasons why dogs dig. One primary reason is genetic. Certain breeds such as Dachshunds were bred to dig. Believe it or not, humans actually created this dog for the purpose of finding critters way, way back when. And when some people get this kind of breed and the dog digs up their yard, they get mad. DUH!  It’s what the dog is instinctively supposed to do.

 “Just doing my job, mom!” the dog says when scolded.

And even if the dog was not bred to dig, many dogs are curious creatures. With the excellent smelling abilities of their noses, some dogs like to dig to find out what’s happening down there. My first Golden Retriever, Caper, dug a hole in the drywall of our kitchen. To this day, I still wonder what she was going after. Mice?  Old chicken bones left by the builder? Yeah, could be. 

And the two most prevalent reasons why dogs dig: lack of exercise and boredom. So many of our poor doggies live their lives according to our rules and are forced to conform to our schedules and lifestyles. For dogs, that can translate into lying around the house waiting for us to come home. Or for some dogs, it could mean being put out in the yard all day with no one to play with. Without the proper outlet for their energies, trouble is bound to follow.

And finally, many dogs dig under trees or bushes in order to find a cool place to lie, and it’s no wonder on days like these when the temperatures are in the 90’s.  (I hope that you’re bringing your dogs inside when it’s this hot!)

There are solutions to the digging problem, and many of you may not want to hear them. First of all, a tired dog is less likely to get into mischief. I recommend that you walk your dog at least once a day. The length of time depends upon your dog and the outside temperature. If your dog is young and healthy, as much as an hour or two of exercise may be necessary. My boy, Gizzy, needed several hours of daily exercise when he was younger.  But if your dog is older or not in the best of health, or if you have a brachycephalic breed (Pugs, Bulldogs, Boxers, etc.), limit the exercise time. Regardless, all dogs need time to explore their worlds. I wrote an article several years ago, Mind, Body Spirit Fitness for Dogs, that addresses a dog’s need to get out.

In addition to physical exercise, your digging dog needs to do something that he digs – other than digging, that is. If you have a dog who was bred to work (collies, shepherds, retrievers, spaniels, pointers), he needs to have an outlet for this instinct. You don’t need to buy sheep and have your dog corral them! But some training time every day gives your dog something to focus on that uses his brain. Brain work is just as tiring as physical exercise.

Next, if you want to stop your dog from digging, management of his environment is key. First, start by placing a barrier around the area where your dog likes to dig. Prevention works wonders!  If that works, great. If not, then you will have to do some training. As difficult as this may be for some people, dogs require guidance to do the right thing. I know, I know, you just like to open the door and allow your dog to go about his business.  But if his business is digging your yard, he must be watched and trained.

Catching your dog in the act of digging may be the only way to stop the behavior. If you see him beginning to dig, do not scold him. (Remember, if you are a regular reader of my blog, when you call attention to a behavior, it rewards the behavior.) Instead, call your dog to you and when he comes, praise him lavishly. Get a toy or a treat and motivate him to do something else that may be more fun than digging. Move away from the area where your dog was digging and either play with him or do some training. Repeat this every time your dog attempts to dig.

One final way to stop you dog from digging – keep him on a long leash. You can quickly interrupt the behavior and redirect your dog.

Sorry, sometimes there just aren’t easy and convenient ways to correct inappropriate behavior! Our dogs like to do what comes naturally and makes them happy, and often the behaviors are in conflict with living in a human world. They need to be kindly and compassionately shown what we expect of them. We owe it to the ones we dig!

A recent reader’s comment saying that anyone can be a dog trainer is absolutely correct.  There are no governing bodies to control it. I visited my local pet store and saw business cards for almost a dozen trainers hanging on the bulletin board. It’s become a very popular profession. But are they good trainers? I’ve heard people say that they want to be a trainer because they were able to teach their dog how to sit. Is that enough? What are the attributes of a good dog trainer?

I started my career working with animals as a pet massage therapist and I am glad that I did because through that training and experience, I learned how to read dogs’ body language and communications signals. This was important for two reasons: I needed to see where the dog was experiencing pain so that I could focus on that area but not hurt the dog, and I had to avoid getting bitten. Because I did a lot of my practicing on shelter dogs, I had no idea if they had behavior issues or not. It was a quick and invaluable lesson on reading dogs. Every dog trainer needs to learn how to read dogs. That’s probably one of the biggest criteria for making a really good trainer.  It’s not something you can learn in a classroom or by reading a book.

The next attribute of a good trainer is obviously being able to work effectively with the dogs using humane and scientifically sound techniques. This too cannot be learned in a classroom.  Every dog is unique, and getting to know the various breeds and their characteristics comes with practice and experience. For instance, teaching a Golden Retriever to “come” is quite different from teaching an Akita.  It also involves staying current on the latest research about behavior and learning theory.  Reading books, blogs of experts and attending seminars or conferences is advisable.

Most trainers teach classes and provide one-on-one consultations with clients. It is not enough to have excellent training skills with the dogs if the trainer cannot convey information to the clients; a really good trainer has great people skills as well. I’ve seen some really talented trainers who work wonders with dogs but they lack the personal communications skills to help the dogs’ owners learn how to work with the dogs once they get home. As we know, most dog behavior issues come as a result of things that owners do or don’t do.

And finally, probably the least important skill is writing ability although I do believe it’s still necessary. If trainers want to teach classes, they will need to prepare written handouts and a curriculum.  This information must be conveyed clearly and accurately to the clients. Also, many trainers who do private lessons or consultations will follow up with a written behavior plan. It will be useless if not written well.

So, yes, anyone can say they are a dog trainer but do they have what it takes to be a good one? Can you think of anything else that makes a dog trainer stand out from the “pack”?

Easy to Slip

Is it human nature to go for the quick fix, the shortcut?  I guess it is, but the easy way may not always be the best.  I wrote about dog training methods in my March 2 post and after reading a column called Puppy Diaries in the New York Times on May 3, I feel I need to revisit the topic because of what the columnist wrote. I’m as passionate about positive dog training methods as I am about eliminating puppy mills.

Even the most well-meaning and informed dog owners who know all about positive training methods and have implemented them successfully can still be lured to slip to the easy shortcuts.  As I read Puppy Diaries, the 1972 Little Feat song was playing in my head:

“It’s so easy to slip, it’s so easy to fall…”

The author of the column bought a Golden Retriever puppy and took the dog to a positive rewards puppy class.  She did the right thing from the start – yay!  But…now that the dog is a year old and pulling hard on the leash during walks, the columnist decided to take  the shortcut and hired a ex-police dog trainer.  This “trainer” who is nicknamed Cujo (that should have been a clue!!) placed a choke chain on the dog, instructed the owner to scold “No!” when the dog pulls and then jerk the dog back in place.  Forced submission.  Punishment.  I was so disappointed to read that this columnist, an influential New York Times editor, slipped and is now jeopardizing the relationship she has with her dog.

Nothing evokes more emotional reaction in the dog training world than the polarizing topic of positive versus punishment.  Positive reinforcement can require more time and patience as dogs are motivated to learn.  The end results are a happy dog, a better bond between person and dog, and a trusting relationship.  Punishment methods in general take less time because the dog is forced to perform behaviors, then punished for doing something wrong.  It’s a devisive topic because the end results may seem the same for each method – a trained dog.  But that’s only part of the picture.  Your relationship with your dog and the psychological health of the dog are what really matter.

Need to find a good dog trainer?  I recommend the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT).  On their web site, you will find a trainer search feature.  Enter your zip code and you will get a list of trainers in your area.  But just because a trainer is a member of APDT doesn’t guarantee that he/she uses all positive methods.  It’s best to call and interview several trainers.  I wrote an article several years ago for the Delaware Valley Golden Retriever Rescue (DVGRR) called Is a Good Dog Trainer Hard to Find?  Included in the article are some questions to ask trainers when interviewing them.

Six Words

I must have slept through 2008 when a very cool book was published, Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six Word Memoirs from Writers Famous and Obscure.  It is exactly as the title states, a compilation of memoirs from writers describing themselves or their lives in just six meaning-packed words.  No, we’re not talking about those silly abbreviations popular with texters.  R U 4 real?  It’s about the ability of the writer to express who they are or what they do as concisely as possible.  The origin of the short-short biography may have come from Ernest Hemingway: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn”  Now that’s powerful writing.  The words are chosen perfectly and evoke emotion from the reader. Another great example comes from  Steven Colbert: “Well, I thought it was funny.”  Great stuff!  

The book seems to have taken on a new life in 2010 because everywhere I turn, I am hearing someone describing something in six words.  The descriptions are meant to be thought-provoking and deep, or whimsical and funny, or just the plain truth. I don’t think it’s as easy as it looks to create something meaningful and clever because a lot of the six-word descriptions are pretty boring.  I tried to write mine and quickly felt defeated in my lack of creativity as well.  My first pass was: “Always Loved Animals, Wanted to Write.”  Snore!!  But true.  Or maybe: “Old Dogs, Best Dogs, Bring More;” “Puppy Mills Suck, Tell the World.”  I like those. 

I felt the same challenge when I tried to give my book a title.  A book title needs to grab the potential reader but not be so obtuse that the reader doesn’t know what the book is about.  That’s why I really like my book’s title: Puppy Mill Dogs SPEAK!  Short, concise and hopefully conveys what the book is about and compels you to read more.  We’ll see when the book comes out in a couple of months! 

How about you?  Will you share your six-word memoirs with the world? Please leave a comment with your clever creations!

Dogs and Egos

If you’re reading this blog, I’m betting that you love dogs (and other animals too). And I really doubt that you’re reading this because you love menopause! Thank goodness, there are so many people who put their passion for the animals into action by working or volunteering for animal-related organizations, shelters and rescues in particular since they tend to be the most cash-strapped.  These incredible people are so needed because there are millions of homeless pets in this country who need care and help in finding new homes.  In my 10 years as a volunteer and employee of several shelters and rescues, I have found that most people approach this work with selflessness, to help the animals and derive a sense of satisfaction that they are of service.  But there are a few – and I’ve encountered them at every organization – who believe that they have a “gift” with animals, dogs in particular, and that they know more than anyone else.  Instead of getting satisfaction just from being of service, they need to have their egos stroked by being viewed as something better than everyone else.  They come in various forms – the credit-grabber, the bossy know-it-all and the “I can do it all myself.” I can’t tell you how many people tell me, “I’ve been told that I’m a dog whisperer.”  I just chuckle inside.  That may very well be true but so are the other 50 people who are volunteering here! 

People who really know about dogs (and other animals) are humbled by them and understand that we always have something to learn from the animals.  In my work with dogs and their owners, I have learned that every dog, every person and every situation presents different interractions.  I found that when I started to get cocky, a situation presented itself to me that smacked my ego back in check – I didn’t know it all and I never will. 

I try to remember and appreciate every lesson and be an example as a leader.  A good leader allows others to learn and thrive without needing to force their knowledge and position on others.  So, even if I am not in charge, it’s a good practice to allow others to learn – be it from their own mistakes or successes.  Each and every day, I tell myself that the satisfaction from working with animals must come from within.  And I have a great opportunity to be an influence even if I’m not the boss.

Check out the blog of Michael Hyatt for a great post about being a leader and letting go of pride (also known as ego!).