Re-establishing Who’s Alpha–And It’s Not Louie

Louie has slipped back into some of his old bad behaviors. He does not want any other dog to enter into our home. And he’s not too fond of humans walking in either, but he tolerates them. This behavior is displayed only in my home and it wears on me.

But then it occurred to me. I have been lax in my being a consistent Alpha to Louie. You see, 90% of the time, Louie is a very well-behaved dog, and he minds well. And for this reason, I have let some little bad behaviors slip through the crack. This creates a chain effect of Louie thinking he can get by with those bad behaviors; getting on the furniture, getting into the trash, getting on the beds. Because he sometimes gets by with that behavior and other times not, this causes confusion for Louie. And when he’s confused, he operates in fear. It’s my fault that Louie is confused and feels the need to be territorial and protective.

One of the toughest principles for me to grasp over the years since Louie first came to live with me was how to be the Alpha in Louie’s “pack,” and my trainer was clear that I was a weak Alpha. My lack of strong leadership confused Louie, forcing him into the position of having to step up and lead, and that issue still exists today.

Before Louie and I found each other, I never gave much thought to asserting my role as Alpha Dog. Consequently, my dogs assumed that role, and I let them. It didn’t seem to matter because they were small and harmless. And by the time I got home after a long day at work, I was tired of being Alpha, so I let them boss me around. But that approach doesn’t work for Louie, and it does not work for people

There is so much that goes into being a good Alpha; being consistent, providing safety, setting appropriate boundaries, giving genuine and abundant praise, and offering a necessary correction. Again, all of those things must be rooted in trust and undergirded by love.

I remember back four years ago when the trainer first met us, Louie behaved very badly, and I was at my wit’s end. The trainer described my body language as defeated. Louie responded to this with fear and confusion. The words that moved me off the dime were, “I’ve seen you do leadership seminars, now you’ve got to do what you do in those workshops. Exude confidence. He needs reassurance that you know what you’re doing.”

Really? For my dog? I had made the common mistake of assuming that he would instinctively know that I’m the boss – simply because I’m the human, I’m larger than he, and I think more “knowledgeable.” The trainer taught me that it is about my level of confidence in where I’m going and what needs to be accomplished. That confidence is in knowing what’s best for Louie, giving him firm direction, and drawing out his very best behavior.

As leaders, our assumptions about others and situations around us unintentionally confuse our team. We have expectations that are not always clearly communicated, and then when not met, cause disappointment on our part and confusion on the part of others. Ken Blanchard often refers to this as seagull management, meaning a manager who only interacts with employees when a problem arises. This style of leadership involves hasty decisions about things of which they have little understanding, resulting in messy situations for others to clean up.

Being a strong leader is about so much more than claiming an impressive title, wearing expensive clothes and appearing important. It is about:

  • Owning the leadership role we’ve been given
  • Resisting the urge to react out of our own fears and insecurities
  • Addressing problems before we lose our cool
  • Effectively communicating the vision and seeking to understand our team

Dogs and people need a humble leader, not a bossy dictator. I’ve committed to leading with intentionality, clear vision and goals. I encourage you to do the same – whether you’re leading canines or humans.

I am happy to say I have assumed my role as Alpha of the house. Louie needs and desires my approval much more than he wants to be alpha, and consequently, Louie is a much happier pup. I’ve had to wrestle him to the ground once or twice to make him understand submission, a method I do NOT recommend for your team. But it is clear that he understands and appreciates my love and leadership. And I now know the value of being consistent in my leadership role.

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Leader, Reignite Your Sense of Wonder

Louie hit a rough patch last week. One night shortly after settling into our nightly routine, he became restless. He rarely dances around to signal his need to go outside; when he did so, we made it to the front yard just in the nick of time. He clearly had an upset stomach and was one miserable little pup.

I wasn’t sure how he would fare through the night, but I knew he would let me know if he needed to make a trip outside. Sure enough, at midnight and then again at 1:30 a.m., he woke me up, needing to go out. I was administering the proper foods to settle his digestive system, but I had already decided to call the vet in the morning to get him in as soon as possible.

Then something magical happened. It’s tough to put the words “magical” and “upset stomach” in the same sentence, but that is exactly what took place. While I was thinking through all the practical reasons Louie was sick and slowly trying to coax him back into the house, he stopped and looked far off into the distance. Normally, Louie can become nervous when he’s outside in the dark; he usually wants to head back inside as soon as possible. Our trainer has advised me that I need to walk boldly and with confidence when we’re outside after dark so that Louie will feel safe.

But standing outside at 1:30 in the morning, I had no desire to be the alpha. I just wanted to go back to bed with a hope and a prayer that Louie would be on the mend. At the moment, though, Louie was fixated on something that grabbed his attention; even with a slight tug, he would not move.

Then it happened. Rather than scurrying back to the safety of the house, we stood and took in the magic of a peaceful, quiet night. He slowly looked from the street up to the stars above. I stopped, too, and looked. The sky was beautiful, and the quietness with a few faint nighttime sounds was breathtaking. Louie seemed to marvel at the night sky. I noticed it, too—and it grabbed my heart.

We spent a long moment drinking in the beauty. I looked at my pup, and we both knew it was time to go in. After our midnight reverie, whatever Louie tapped into must have healed his nerves because he settled in for a long, deep sleep. The next day, he woke up without a trace of sickness.

As I type out this message, I am compelled to ponder this thought: when did I lose this sense of wonder? I see it emerge when I play with my grandchildren—when we go off on adventures. But as Louie and I stood together that evening, I realized that it can be easy to mistake wonder for foolishness. In fact, I have to ask myself—is this thought just foolishness?

I so desire to reignite my sense of incredible marvel. For me, this is about more than being creative: it is seeing the beauty and magic in the world all around us—the creation that God breathed life into. It is engaging with a dear friend in deep, heartwarming conversation. It is watching my beautiful niece walk along a peaceful garden path to join her soon-to-be-husband in their outdoor wedding ceremony. It is witnessing the miraculous birth of my grandchildren. It is running outside to catch the ice cream truck as it passes through my neighborhood—and having my brother and his family joining me, which happened just last week. Four adults standing in my driveway eagerly anticipating the thrill of eating ice cream from a truck, unprompted by children!

Admit it—we yearn to be moved by seeing things beyond our physical world filled with horrific news. We all want to feel profoundly alive, to feel like we’re a part of the grander scheme of things for the greater good. Yet many of us have lost this sense of curiosity. Moments that might have taken our breath away from our younger selves now may not move us at all.

If you are a leader in an organization, community, or family, what are ways you could reignite your sense of wonder? Perhaps you feel aware that you’ve lost it, or perhaps you still do experience it. What about those you lead—do you see glimpses of their capacity for awe? The greatest gift you can give to others is to help them navigate uncertain waters and enter that new world with them. You can choose to intentionally engage in conversations with your team about recapturing this magical sense. You and your team may be surprised by feeling powerfully impacted as you tap into this sense.

I hope Louie never loses his sense of wonder. I am not saying that he has this down, or even that he is cognizant of his tender sense of awe. Nevertheless, I envy his ability to stop and connect with creation and draw from that a sense of peace. Even on that night without sleep, unexpected and moving lessons were shown to me by my pup, Louie.

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If you recall my blogs at the beginning of the year, I had a life-changing event take place. My goal then was to dance at my niece’s wedding…and dance we did!