Why Leadership is Important
Before you bring a new dog home, it's important that you understand that your new dog must accept you as the leader - in all things - in order for there to be peace and harmony in the home. First and foremost, you must be Alpha in your new dog’s eyes, i.e., the All-Powerful Leader and Provider of All Good Things. Being Alpha does not mean you must be domineering or that your dog is supposed to think you're a dog! It is ludicrous to even suggest that! Being Alpha simply means your dog sees you and respects you as the Leader, the entity who controls all of the things of value: food, toys, furnishings, doors – everything!
The messages you put out the first few days are vital to your ultimate success with your new dog. Think ahead about how you are going to introduce the new dog to your home, your family, and your routines. If you can visualize exactly how you will do things, every act will flow much more naturally when you have your new dog in your arms or at the other end of the leash.
If your dog feels secure that you know what you’re doing, you will have harmony in the home. To be a good, effective leader, you must provide clear communication to your dog in every situation, so it is entirely up to you - the human - to see the world through their eyes and think like a dog, not the other way around.
The Magic of a Drag Lead
It is always best to Start at the Beginning! For the first two weeks minimum, you should have a drag lead attached to your New Cairn’s harness, inside your home and outside, in a securely fenced area.
A drag lead is simply a short lead (maybe 4 or 5 feet long) that is attached to your dog’s harness at all times. Simple, yet it can seem almost magical because it communicates to your dog that you are the leader. The first time you calmly step on a drag lead to gain control over a situation, your new dog will “get” the message.
If there is a problem, the drag lead allows you to take control of the situation without putting your Cairn in a position where it feels the need to defend itself. Remember, you are a Leader, not an adversary! If you reach for your new Cairn under a piece of furniture, you are invading their space and may rightly invite a defensive growl (or other defensive behavior), but if you calmly step on the lead and maneuver it toward you so you can pick it up in a non-threatening manner, you are in a much better position to coax the dog out of it’s “safe” spot, redirect the dog’s energies, and restore the leadership balance.
A drag lead gives you power (Alpha) and a measure of control, and it helps you avoid situations where you ask for a behavior but have no way to ensure that you can make it happen without asking a 2nd time (which you should never do!). “Come!” is a great example. In the beginning, it is really best to calmly step on the lead, pick it up, and then say, “Come!” where you can easily reel the dog in, ready to give a nice treat as soon as the action has been achieved.
How much you need to use the drag lead will vary from dog to dog, depending on their level of fear or sense of entitlement (i.e., they think they should be Alpha!), but you will be well served, no matter what, if you attach a drag lead for at least two weeks – and maybe longer.
In the following video, these young Cairns are on short drag leads and you can easily see that they have no problem running and playing. What you don't see is that, at the end of play, the male Cairn would always come back in the home when called, even if he did not have the drag lead, but the little Alpha female would come only when wearing the drag lead. She would simply play "keep away" without that little drag lead because she absolutely knew the difference in the ability of the human to control her actions, and it took a solid two-plus years of consistency to get to the point where she would reliably come when called without the lead.
More to Think About from the Whole Dog Journal Blog: