If you were looking for a community leader, would you look to Andy Griffith or Barney Fife?
If you were looking for a dog trainer, would you look to Andy Griffith or Barney Fife?
The reason I ask this question, is that these two television characters are a shared American experience, and therefore a kind of "totem" we can talk about. They also reflect, to some degree, two very different types of people to whom dogs and people react quite similarly.
Does a person who talks a lot, shouts on occasion, and who is generally a bit manic and insecure (i.e. Barney Fife) create respect in you and a desire to follow?
Not generally! Instead, most of us tend to follow those who are calm, who walk with square shoulders, and who actually say something when they do talk (Andy Griffith).
We are attracted to those who talk slow and low and who are fair in their dealing. We are looking for signals of strength, calmness, power and leadership. We are looking for the relaxed movement and calm face that signals a nonthreatening clarity of purpose. And when we find those, what is generally triggered within us is some degree of followship -- the willingness to take and follow direction from that person.
What about the obverse? Do we feel secure in the presence of the manic person with flailing arms and a loud and rising voice who talks a little too much? Do we feel secure when someone is sending us too many signals all at once, or when they stand with a slouched body or move too aggressively and without calm intent? Do we feel secure, and do we naturally want to follow this person? Not generally!
What's my point?
My point is that all of us read people all the time, and most of us are instinctively attracted to people like Andy Griffith, and most of us are instinctively suspect of people like Barney Fife.
Andy Griffith, of course, is a true dominant. He threatens no one, but we feel his calm clarity of purpose. Square shoulders, sparse body movement, clear signals, and a generally friendly and solicitous maner are paired with a low, slow voice.
Barney Fife, on the other hand is a true submissive. This is not to say that he does not want to be dominant, only that he is incapable of actually shouldering the role for very long.
Barney is quick to brag and he frequently threatens others such as Otis, the town drunk. That said, no one takes him too seriously because he is all wind, braggadocio, and fluttering hands. When Barney gets wound up, his face become extremely animated and his voice gets a little louder and it rises in pitch. When he stands, his shoulders are narrow, and he often advances with a scuttling walk that he fancies to be a swagger. Every movement and sound betrays him. There is no real leadership here, only a thundering insecurity worn on the sleeve.
Now think about dogs.
Do you think they are any different from people when it comes to what they are looking for in leadership?
I would posit that they are not.
What dogs want to see in their canine leaders, as well as their human owners, is a little more Andy Griffith and a little less Barney Fife.
And yes, all of this has something to with dominance and submission. "Dominance" is not about pain or coercion, any more than submission" is about cowering or humiliation.
Dominance is about leadership.
Submission is about followship.
In the old television segment below, Barney Fife explains to Opie (the young Ron Howard) the essential difference between dogs and giraffes.
Watch Opie's face.
He's listening to all of Barney's words, but he's not really caring what Barney has to say because, at age seven, he already knows it's mindless yapping from "the little trembling" dog in the room.
Now watch who Opie does turn to.
He turns to the "big dog," Andy Griffith, for the definitive signal about what is actually going to be done about the problem before them.
Opie knows it's Andy that really calls the shots and that it is Andy who will actually take care of the little ones in the pack -- himself, Aunt Bea, Miss Ellie, and even the trembling and yappy Barney Fife.
In the very last few seconds of this clip we see Barney Fife change his position in response to emotional "extinguishing" from both Opie and Andy.
Yes, flashes of lightning and the sound of rain play a role here too, but watch how quickly both Opie and Andy turn a dead flat non-response to Barney's "incorrect" answer into a beaming smile for a "correct" one.
Click and treat.
Barney Fife, full of himself and with his own noise ringing in his ears, may think he drove this decision train, but if you are looking at this clip through the lens of dominance and submission, extinguishing and reward, the true tale is revealed.