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The Dog That Taught Me About Leadership

Reilly, the Muse for “Pack Leader Psychology”

As I say in “Pack Leader Psychology,” a growl instantly moved me from pack member to pack leader with my dog, Reilly. But if I hadn’t had a dog that understood how to be a pack member, I might never have learned this lesson. And I might never have made the connection that being a pack leader to people might also be a good thing for my interpersonal relationships as well.

The story begins when I got Reilly as an eight-month-old dog. She had grown up in an outdoor kennel with her birth pack and several adult dogs. Living for so long with this normal dog pack taught Reilly how to recognize and honor the pack leader or leaders — probably her mother and father.

When I adopted Reilly she had no “people” skills — she had never worn a collar or leash, didn’t know how to climb stairs and she even walked into windows. We were, essentially, from different tribes and speaking different languages.

I read a book that mentioned some people growl at their dog to establish dominance. One day, in frustration, I impulsively growled and it was magic. Reilly became much more obedient and respectful. I had used dog language to signal that I was the alpha in her new pack.

Most pet dogs, however, are taken from their birth packs so young that they never learn dog language. Then they are thrust into human families who don’t know how to be pack leaders. No surprise — anxieties and misbehaviors ensue. How would you feel if you were transported to Ghana and didn’t speak the language?

Those early lessons from Reilly helped me listen to my primal instincts, helped me react more instinctively and helped me be more honest in my communication — lessons I took into my interpersonal relationships. I’m thankful that I had a dog that could recognize and honor a pack leader, because this not only helped me manage a high-energy puppy, but helped me learn to become a stronger, more assertive person. I now have healthy relationships of all types in my life.

With humans we generally don’t growl at each other to show our social status. We’ve complicated things just a bit — perhaps to our own detriment.  But communicating social status goes on nonetheless, although many of us fail to recognize it.

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