Leader of the Pack
Lately I have become addicted to a show that comes on DSTV’s Nat Geo Wild every Sunday from 7pm. This show is about a man, no, actually it’s about dogs being “rescued” by a man whose mission is to ensure that every dog is paired with the right owner. The word rescue is in quotes because in the real sense, these dogs are not homeless or stray dogs. On the contrary. It is very possible that most of these dogs have better living conditions than some human beings. The only problem is that they seem not to be understood by their owners, or is it them not understanding their owners? Anyway, read along.
Cesar Millan, a Mexican American, self-taught and an expert in matters dog is often called to come act as a mediator between the dogs and their owners. The most interesting thing is that in all cases, or rather in all the shows I have watched, it is often the dog owners who need to be trained on how to live with the dogs! What a twist! It is no wonder he is widely known as the “Dog Whisperer” because indeed Cesar Millan seems to understand and communicate with dogs in a way that makes one wonder whether he speaks dog. If you think am kidding, tune in to Nat Geo Wild at 7pm on any given Sunday and you’ll see what I mean.
One fascinating thing I’ve learned from Cesar is that dogs respect a good leader. Shocked? So was I when I learnt this. For you to understand what I mean, I need to take you through Dog 101 i.e. you need to first understand how dogs think - now this is me sharing with you the few lessons/tips I’ve picked from the Dog Whisperer. And yes, unlike many humans, dogs do think!
The first thing, you need to know is that dogs have a pack mentality, meaning they expect that there will be a leader and a follower or followers. In an ideal dog’s world, if you own a dog then the dog expects you to assume the role of the leader. A good pack leader attracts submissiveness from his dog. On the other hand, a clueless leader repels the dog, making him (the dog) automatically adopt the leadership role. How does a dog know his master is not a good leader? Well, just like in the human world, even in a dog’s world actions speak louder than words. For instance, if you are walking your dog but he keeps running ahead of you forcing you to trail him, then that means he is the leader of the pack. A dog is supposed to walk behind his master or just slightly behind him at all times. To quote Cesar, “a submissive dog, one that respects its leader will be beside you or behind you, but not in front of you as you walk him. In particular, his eyes have to be able to follow your movements. This signals to him that he's submissive because he has to watch you for stops, changes of pace, and turns”. A dog that allows it’s master to lead it trusts it’s leader completely and is loyal.
Something else I have discovered is that dogs are very sensitive to their owners’ attitude and body language. While walking your dog, the energy you exude, whether positive or negative is transferred to him. For instance, if you are tense, the dog is likely to think there is danger around and so if he sees anyone coming towards you he might attack them to “protect” you. However, if you are relaxed and calm as you walk or run with him he too relaxes and sees no danger to protect you from.
The ten million dollar questions therefore becomes, if a dog can detect when you are having a bad attitude, a 4-legged animal that does not talk, read, write or see in colour, how much more do you think a human being like you will pick up from you and your attitude? If a dog can determine that your attitude stinks and so it decides you cannot be it’s leader, what about other human beings who look up to you for leadership? It is from these “Dog-101 Tips I base my article on today.
The late Zig Ziglar once asked a congregation he was addressing this question, “ask yourself a question: is my attitude worth catching?” I believe he asked this question because he was fully aware that attitudes are contagious. If you are harboring a negative attitude, it is being broadcast to your friends, boss, children, spouse, customers and yes, your dog. Negative attitudes create a barrier around us that infect and affect everyone we come into contact with. It is not a wonder then that statistics show that 85% of our success or failure is as a result of our attitude. Again, to quote Zig Ziglar, “it is your attitude not your aptitude that determines your altitude”. In other words, it is your attitude and not what is between your ears that determines how high you climb up your success ladder.
Our attitudes are the mental filters through which we choose to view our world. Sure, other people may have bad attitudes and that may very well have an effect on the atmosphere you find yourself in at work or at home, but you have the ability to select your filter and view your world from your positive stand point rather than their negative one. Look for what’s good in every situation. Be the kind of person who brightens up a room when you walk into it and not when you walk out of it. As Cesar says, a positive attitude translates to positive energy, which is then transferred to your dog, turning him into one submissive canine. In other words, your dog acknowledges you are a good leader just by virtue of your attitude. The same is true for humans.
Away from the attitude issue, it’s interesting to watch people walking their dogs. Now that I think about it, it’s funny how either the dog or the owner has to walk fast or slow in order to be in line with the leader. As already mentioned before, dogs have a pack mentality which means they expect to be led or to lead (in case of a bad leader). This means that when you are a good leader, the dog walks slightly behind you or by your side without running ahead of you, and when you are a bad leader the dog walks in front of you as you follow him, probably trying hard to slow him down.
Similarly, when two human beings are walking together, it is automatic that one has to either slow down or increase his/her pace in order to keep up with the other. Actually, I have to admit that I had not thought of this consciously until I observed a couple trying to walk a dog together. One of them had to keep altering their pace in order to keep up with the pack leader and the dog. This brought home a very profound message that I would like to share with you.
In life, if you want to succeed, you have to choose the people you “walk with” (associate yourself with) very carefully. You must ask yourself questions such as is this person a good influence to me? Am I becoming a better (or bitter) person by associating with him? Am I growing spiritually, physically and emotionally by being in this person’s company? Do I feel drained or refreshed when I’m around this person? What (positive) impact has this person had in my life? If you answer negatively to any of these questions, then my dear friend you need to drop your “walking” companion and run like your life depends on it because it does. Remember the toxic people I referred to in my article last week when I talked about toxic relationships? Well those are the people not to walk with because they become baggage in your journey. Imagine you are literally having a walk with such a person, it means you would have to keep slowing down (like you are carrying baggage) in order for them catch up with you. Is that what you really want for your life?
The same way dogs take control of their activities by becoming the leader of the pack when they realize the human leader is no leader at all, you too need to take control of your activities (and life in general) by ensuring you are walking with the right people. Like my favorite motivational speaker Les Brown says, “the worst thing you can do is have people around you who aren’t on the same page as you.” From time to time, you must take a step back and ask yourself what kind of person you’re becoming as a result of hanging around the people you associate with. If after you evaluate yourself you find you are not the person you want to be, then start getting around people who can contribute to your personal growth in life. Get a new leader of the pack.
As we start this week I’d like to ask you the same question Zig Ziglar asked. Do you think your attitude is worth catching?” Remember, attitudes are contagious so as you go about your activities this week, infect as many people as you can with your positive attitude.
Wishing you a positively infectious week!
PS: Article published in Tanzania's Guardian on Sunday on the 15th June, 2014, under my weekly column "Thoughts in Words"