Boss vs. Leader in animal training

Few months ago I held a lecture in my country with topic: “what is positive communication in animal training”.
I used comparison of boss vs. leader approach in human business world. Something most people have experienced in their life or heard stories from their parents, friends etc..

My goal was to explain why choosing to be the leader (NOT in CM way of course, he unfortunately misused whole concept that stands behind that term) when we are working with our pet/animal is proper way to go.
Why leader at all?
Because they do need our guidance and they still do depend on us…

Difference is huge, both boss and leader’s approach might gain same results from their workers. But under what cost?

Additionally, even though at first glance results might really seem the same but in the long run there is usually difference in the quality of work (speed, accuracy etc..).
Another difference might be larger turnover of employees, there will be a difference in how many people decided to quit their jobs and find something new.
And what about consequences on  mental and physical health? That opens up whole new topic…

However, animals we work with do not have a possibility to quit…
They can try to communicate that they dislike the approach, first maybe more gently and with time more fiercely. Unfortunately most often such communication will not be looked as precious information but will result in negative and aversive consequences for such animals.

So where is the difference?
Here are some examples:

Boss will want you to be in inferior position and will make sure that you stay there.
Leader will help you grow.

If one gets stuck in task boss will reprimand, leader will provide assistance.

Boss will just tell you to do something, leader will show you how.

Boss will send you on your way, leader will lead the way.

Boss runs “one man show”, leader understand the power of team work.

Boss will give orders/commands, leader will communicate. He will ask questions and let questions be asked.

will get angry if something is not done or can’t be done his way.
Leader will use creativity and knowledge to resolve the situation and have a plan B.

So how can we translate to working with animals?
It is actually the same.

We can either choose to only give commands, not listen/observe, if mistakes happen apply aversive consequences, not let any decision making, only be concentrated on result not how it is being achieved and believe that animals MUST do what we want, when we want it and how we want it (or else).


We can choose to give directions and guidance, listen/observe, work with animal as a team, assist if needed, explain in few different ways if needed, look at the big picture, allow decision making, use creativity, kindness and science based knowledge, and most importantly – empower.

It should not be hard to conclude which model will result in strong long term relationship with employees/animals/pets. Result in more productivity, more stabile results and overall content from all sides.
And above all result in eagerness to perform, to do the task, to learn and to participate.

* Please excuse my English, it is not my primary language.

Other Blogs in English

Jelena Kallay – Vagabond Positive Animal Communication
Dip. Animal Behavior Technology, Dip. ABT – CASI
Karen Pryor Academy Dog Trainer Professional Program, KPA – CTP