Leadership: One who leads.
As volunteer guardians; ah yes you are a volunteer in the full sense of the definition. 1. a person who voluntarily offers himself or herself for a service or undertaking.
2. a person who performs a service willingly and without pay.
Yep, that pretty much sums it up. So as a volunteer it is your job to fill the leader position. And in very simply terms; if you don't, they will. Not all dogs are attempting to climb the leadership ladder but many are. Even when you think your dog is the bestest ever, they can be secretly plotting to overthrow the current leadership. So many of my clients who are dealing with leadership issues tell me "they are so good, they don't mean to be bad."
When a dogs behavior relating to leadership issues seems bad to us, it is not bad at all. Your dog is simply being a dog. In the human species there are leaders and followers, same in the dog world. If all the dogs wanted to be leaders it would be a huge mess. But many dogs are made to be the leader in a pack simply because there is a lack of leadership. Your dog may have never intended to be a leader but because you show no leadership skills they have had to step up where you failed.
Being the leader has nothing to do with brawn, being a good leader is all about level headedness, rational, calm guidance. Decisions are made by the leader, that's the simple part. But the real question is "are you making the decisions?" The important decisions are when do we eat? When do we go out? Where do we sleep etc.
I only have one dog at the moment who is a pusher, he pushes gently but often. Every once in a while he gives "not listening" a try and it doesn't work. It works with some people in the family but not the BOSS, which is me. If I say something, I enforce it and this is very important. Dogs learn by repetition, feedback and association. If they try not listening and it works, then they will use it again.
There must be respect for a leader, which means you must be a good leader. Being a good leader means that you have earned your status and not taken it by force. When I speak I expect to be listened to. Life in our home is calm and relaxed, the dogs know where I stand about issues and feel comfortable with the way things are. They never cringe away from me but will move when I mean business.
Being the leader means that I say when we do things, where and how. And if I put a sandwich in the middle of the floor and tell everyone to leave it, then they will leave it because I said so. Chances are my son will grab it though. ;)