Do You Want to Be a Strong Pack Leader? Dance With Your Dog.

Humans believe all kinds of crazy things, like

  • sharks are more dangerous than cars,
  • the Kardashians are actually interesting, and
  • being a good leader for your dog means acting like something out of a werewolf horror movie.

But what if people who want to be strong pack leaders for their dogs learned about leadership from dancers? Instead of from misunderstood and outdated research about wolves? What would that look like?

A pair of ballroom dancers pose.

If Pack Leaders Led Like Dancers

The leader’s first responsibility is to keep his following partner safe from harm. A dancer who drops his partner when she slips will lose her trust.

The choice of leash and training techniques must not hurt our dog partners. If they do, our dogs learn that we cause pain. And if they’re smart, they’ll learn to mistrust us.

The leader and follower are always focused on each other, even when they’re not touching.

I’m a big fan of off-leash walking. When my dog Honey isn’t connected to me by a leash, I’m continually calling her to me, running away to encourage her to chase, and introducing games into the walk.

We’re continually aware of each other, even if we’re not attached by a leash.

The leader sets the path and energy for the movement while the follower actively continues it. Dancers who drag their partners around the floor don’t win prizes.

Leashes aren’t handles we use to pull our dogs away from things we don’t want them to sniff (although they may work that way in an emergency).

As leaders for our dogs, we guide the momentum of our relationship. And our dogs respond to it as our partners.

Honey the Golden Retriever plays with Mike.

Watch your position. When you block my view with that tug toy, I can’t make my moves as well.

The leader remembers the constraints his partner is dealing with, like high heels and complicated costumes.

Our dogs are brilliant. But they don’t have human intelligence. They don’t speak English (honest). And they spend much of their life relating to people’s ankles, knees, or hips.

Dogs have to work very hard to fit into our world. It’s important for us to remember that every day.

If a leader and follower are working together well, the result is beautiful.

After Honey and I crossed the hotel lobby, a stranger walked up to us. He asked if I knew a particular dog freestyle champion team (I did not). He said the way Honey looked up at my face while we were walking reminded me of the winning pair.

I’ve never felt more proud in my life.

Honey the Golden Retriever is a beautiful dog.

I feel like a dancing queen.

Lead Dancer, Not Pack Leader

Dancing, of all kinds, is getting more attention than ever.

If we could change the popular model of leadership for our dogs from alpha wolf competitions (which don’t actually exist the way popular dog trainers imagine them) to ballroom dance competitionsย (video link), we’d have happier dogs.

And, even if we occasionally miss a step, the results would still be beautiful.

Your Turn:ย Is dancing a good example for your relationship with your dog? Or do you use another analogy?

photo credit (ballroom dancers): peptic_ulcer via photopin cc. Click image to learn more about the photographer.

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  1. What a wonderful analogy Pamela. I really enjoyed this!
    Very cool that the guy at the hotel thought you were one of the freestyle teams too.
    I’m not a dancer by nature, but some of those routines are really cute to watch, and the dogs ALWAYS appear as if they are having fun. ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. I’m a notoriously poor dancer. Which explains a lot.

  3. We are the same as Jodi but we’d say we were worse like real rubbish dancers. Ho hum! Have a super Saturday.
    Best wishes Molly

  4. All those years of ballet I took…maybe I should have taken ballroom dancing instead.

    Actually Poodles seem to be born knowing how to make humans look good on their leash.

  5. DeDe is a stalker- she follows Jen everywhere she goes. I am a dancer….. a solo dancer!

  6. Nice analogy. I don’t think Maya, Pierson, and I quite fit into it. Both look to me for direction, but sometimes they get distracted and want to do a solo dance – Maya does a little boogie and Pierson does disco, John Travolta style. ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. Interesting concept…I never thought of it as a dance before…have to mull this over on our next walk

  8. I lke to dance — when NO ONE is watching — but I would never have come up with your analogy. It’s great! Dancing with Ducky is like a series of mis-steps, but sometimes it’s not as noticeable. Callie & Shadow like to dance solo but will humor me on occasion.

  9. While I love dancing, I think an analogy that would best fit our dogs and I would be team sport, like playing doubles in tennis. Where we each rise to each other’s level and take it a notch at a time. We both have to be on our toes, stay in our area, (or risk bumping into each other) and we must both try to play our best game possible for ourselves and each other. Watching each other’s backs and reading each other’s signals. And if one is a little off their game, then the other supports until his team member is fit enough to play again.

    I love your analogy for Honey and you because I think it fits you two. With Honey being so delicate and gentle in her manner, I could see your training time being a beautiful waltz or tango, (if you were in the mood!)

  10. I’m not certain what analogy I’d use for my relationships with my dogs, and honestly, each of them is different. With Bunny, I feel there’s a partnership and a sharing of who takes the lead in certain situations. With Morgan, I feel a struggle. She often views me as something to be protected, but not always respected. With Kuster, he has a very strong partnership with my husband and I have a role in that, because I help with his training a lot, but he really needs to see my husband as his leader to do his job. I’m sort of the chick he hangs out on the couch with on his day off!

  11. I really like that idea! Excellent!

  12. Dancing is a neat analogy!

    I don’t know how I would analogize Elka and my relationship. I’m not her “pack leader”, and we don’t really “dance” either necessarily (okay, we do sometimes. And I sing to her sometimes too, which she reacts to in varying ways. Not sure of her favorite songs yet)

  13. GREAt post and I really like the idea of ‘dancing’ with your dog rather than ‘dominating’. ๐Ÿ™‚

  14. This might be who the man in the hotel lobby was referring to Pamela? This video always makes me laugh and makes me cry at the same time ๐Ÿ™‚

    Dancing partners is a wonderful analogy. I doubt Frankie, Beryl and I will ever be completely in synch, lol. I like to think of us as a team though with me being the team leader … or senior partner. Beryl is 2IC of course ๐Ÿ˜‰

  15. I try to dance with Bailey. She isn’t impressed with my hot moves.

    This is a wonderful analogy and makes so much sense. I have trouble thinking of myself using the term “leader.” Maybe because I’m not much of a leader by nature. This is a much more comfortable way to think about it.

    I would love to hear about some of the games you play while walking.

    • Everyone’s a critic. Apparently, even Bailey. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Leadership shouldn’t mean brute force. Dancing is the analogy I enjoy but we also have examples from ship captains, scout leaders, teachers. Leadership shouldn’t have anything to do with snarling teeth and violence.

      Maybe I’ll write a post about our walkie games. But if you’re looking for ideas, I strongly recommend Victoria Schade’s Bonding With Your Dog. I just realized I need to add this book to my favorite books page. Anyway, it’s terrific.

  16. I love dancing with my dog ๐Ÿ˜‰

  17. You always have such a unique perspective on our relationships with our dogs, and I love your insights.
    Great leadership comes in many forms, and comparing one of those forms to being a dance partner is brilliant.
    The stronger your bond with your pets, the easier it is to encourage the behavior that you want (or don’t want) from them. To me, a well-trained dog is one that’s happy to be doing whatever s/he is doing… not just following orders.

  18. Well said/written! As I was reading this, I was thinking of a man that I used to see at the dog park who rolled his dog to “teach him who’s boss” and I stood there disgusted with him as his dog cried. He told me that he has to teach his dog who’s boss; I told him that I wanted my dogs to follow my lead, because we’re family, not because they’re terrified of me.

    I never spoke to that man again. I’m getting angry by the memory and it was over a year ago.


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