Learning Leadership from Bashir

Archer is about two and a half years old now – by the calendar – although I have a hard time believing it. He’s a handsome dog and a smart one. He’s a certified service dog for my husband; a wonderful one. He’s also a certified therapy dog; Paul and he visit a veterans administration facility on a regular basis. I also snag him a couple of times a week to bring to the Kindred Spirits Dog Training yard for classes. He enjoys being a demonstration dog to show how the exercises are to be done.

BashirI’ve had fun watching him grow up; including watching the relationship between Archer and Bashir. Even though Bashir is the middle dog he is the leader of our family of dogs. Riker’s the oldest but never had any desire to lead. He’s a very comfortable beta, if you will, and although he’ll protest if a younger dog is too rough, he doesn’t want to be the boss of anyone. Bashir, though, has wanted to be the leader since he was young.

As Archer has grown up he’s pushed Bashir more. It may be as subtle (cough, cough) as staring at Bashir’s chew toy or as flagrant as body blocking him during play. A few times he’s even reached over and tried to grab the flying disco out of Bashir’s mouth during a game with me. When he’s feeling brave, he’ll even push in front of Bashir as the dogs go through the dog door to go outside.

As I watch him try to push Bashir around I’m also watching Bashir. And I learn so much from him; he’s such a wonderful leader.

John Rosemond (www.rosemond.com) is a family psychologist who writes a newspaper column called, “Living with Children.” He catches a lot of flak from some parents and experts because he’s not big into all the pscho babble that’s so prevalent today. He’s very much into common sense parenting. Even though I’m not raising any kids I’m a fan of his because so much of what he says can also be applied to dogs. In his June 20th, 2010 column titled, “At least someone gets it,” he said of effective leaders, “They are in complete, unflappable possession of their authority. They maintain their cool, purposeful confidence in the face of anything and everything children are capable of throwing at them. They can’t be disarmed.”

Substitute ‘puppy’ or ‘adolescent’ for children and that describes Bashir perfectly.

Bashir is warm and affectionate towards Archer. You can see there is a wonderful bond between the two dogs. They wrestle and play, they chase thrown toys together, and hunt gophers together. They are united in the face of danger. It doesn’t matter whether that danger is a stranger approaching the house or an unknown critter. When sleeping, they will touch each other. Yet at the same time, Bashir is still very much the leader.

I’ve watched Bashir as he communicates with Archer and the communication is so subtle and yet so clear and effective. When Bashir tells Archer that he’s gone too far, Bashir will become very still. He will stand up on his toes, growing taller. His body will be slightly turned so Archer can see him. His head will be up. A lip will lift slightly over one canine. And a deep rumble will issue forth from his chest.

As Bashir grows in stature, Archer shrinks. His head will lower, he will turn sideways, and then he’ll be on the ground – usually belly up.

What’s amazing is that the total time lapse for this can be just seconds. And when Archer tells Bashir, “Whoops! Sorry!” then it’s all over. No grudges help, no bad feelings; it’s over. Bashir has taught me a lot about being a leader.

As a child myself I was not a leader; I was the kid who hung around the outside of the groups. Other kids talked to me when they wanted my class notes. In the Navy and especially the Marine Corps, I was taught leadership skills, of course, and I learned a lot. Education classes in college taught me more. And of course, life has taught me leadership skills.

But I tended to hold grudges; heaven forbid you do me wrong – I would grumble about it forever. But grudges are hard work and certainly don’t hurt anyone except me. Changing a habit is always hard but I can see through Bashir that grudges aren’t necessary and aren’t good leadership. Bashir doesn’t hold a grudge so that Archer is always cringing or submissive around him. Bashir just asks for appropriate respect. How nice.

A leader doesn’t always have to be a tough guy, either. The leader can be warm, friendly – even affectionate. The leader does need to know when to release the dragon, though. Bashir knows when to be firm and when to be tough. His timing is wonderful.

I’m going to continue to watch Bashir and look at his timing. When does he just give Archer the hard stare and when does he release the dragon? At what point is the dragon called back into the stables?

Of course, I’m not just watching the dogs for that alone – although I do love watching their ability to communicate – I also just enjoy watching them.

Originally published on Pet Connection.com

Photo provided by Liz Palika