Becoming Pack Leader

pack-leaderDogs need leaders. They operate on a “pack” system: there are leaders and there are followers. If this system does not exist in a household, often the dog will slip into the leader spot. In their mind, somebody needs to be the leader. Although many dogs would rather not have that spot, they will still end up there, because no one else in the household has demonstrated clear leadership.. To dogs, leaders have certain roles, privileges and honors. Leaders are responsible for pack safety. Leaders are responsible for providing food and shelter sources and they have dibs on the best stuff. Leaders have the best and highest sleeping spots. Leaders decide when the rest of the pack eats, sleeps, eliminates, and plays.

Some breeds of dogs tend to be more dominant in nature. Others are more submissive or easygoing. To start out right with ALL dogs, leadership needs to begin in puppyhood. This leadership isn’t nasty or violent, but it is always firm and fair. Some behaviorists may discuss shaking a dog up or alpha rolling. These methods have a place ONLY in a fair and non-violent way, and should NEVER be started with half-grown or adult dogs. . With most dogs your leadership position is easy to have and maintain. Other dogs must be reminded daily, if not more often.

The following leadership checklist includes things every dog owner should follow. How strictly the list is followed depends on how pushy the dog is. Most of the items on the list, however, should be followed to some extent; some people don’t realize how dominant their dog really is. Many dogs are quietly (or not so quietly) pushy.

Most items are very self explanatory. Most items you can start today and do yourself. If you have ANY trouble understanding anything, or if your dog growls or snaps at your for any reason, you need to enlist the help of a trainer who has knowledge about leadership behavior.

Your dog will thank you for the structure and leadership you provide!

Leadership Checklist

  • Feed scheduled mealtimes (No free-feeding) – dogs need to know their food is “earned” from you, the leader, and their bowl is picked up after mealtime is over.
  • Feed after humans eat – leaders eat first.
  • “Sit” and “wait” while you set the food bolw down, and then release to eat. (“OK!”)
  • Dog goes after humans through doorways. (“get back!”)(“Wait!”) This is mostly to enforce control and manners, rather than “leaders always go first”. Actually, true leaders have the -option- of going first, and everyone waits for the leader’s direction.
  • Never play tug-of-war with overly pushy dogs. All other dogs must have an excellent “OUT!” command, and leaders both start the game and end the game. The tug toy is never available for the dog to shove at you, either.
  • If you establish eye contact, dog must avert gaze first. Casual glances are OK.
  • Dog is NEVER allowed to bite or mouth ANYONE, ANYWHERE! (this includes play)
  • No sleeping on the bed with anyone.
  • Petting or attention to the dog should be given when the human decides attention is to be given (absolutely NO PETTING when the dog nudges or paws you or your hand). Leaders designate petting and attention times, not the dog.
  • Puppies or small dogs who demand to be picked up and held and/or demand to be put down should not be picked up until they sit or give some other acceptable quiet behavior and should not be put down until they settle quietly in your lap or in your arms.
  • Games with toys, especially fetch, are initiated AND ended by the human.
  • Never put yourself in an equal or lesser height position than your dog (i.e. – kids don’t get to lay on the floor to watch TV when the dog is out and no one plays on the floor with the dog)
  • Also, dog is never allowed on furniture, especially if uninvited. (“OFF!”) Leaders have all the best resting and sleeping spots.
  • Enforced time-outs in crate – no reason, and not used only when dog misbehaves! (“Kennel-up!”) Crates are also not only used when you are not home, which can foster separation anxiety.
  • Obedience commands are NOT requests – if the leader says “sit”, then the dog should offer a “slam-dunk” sit. Not mean, not nasty! PRACTICE daily compliance. Leaders always follow through when their dog is given a command.
  • A simple obedience command, such as “sit” should be obeyed before any pleasurable interaction (eat, pet, play, etc.)
  • Dog should be taught NOT to pull when on leash. (“Easy!”)
  • Dog should NEVER be left unsupervised with children or anyone who cannot maintain leadership over dog.
  • Dog MUST MOVE if in your path on a floor or stairway, etc. even if you are able to step over him. (“Move!)
  • When on a walk, dog must not be allowed to sniff or eliminate anywhere he wants (for males, one mark against one tree is enough!) (“Leave It!”)
  • Everything belongs to you: the toys, the crate, the bowls, the bed, etc – they are only on loan to the dog! You should be able to clean, move, handle or remove any item at any time without hassle from the dog.
  • Dog should be taught an “out” or release command (“give”, “release”, “out”) for things in his mouth. Dog should not be allowed to steal things and if that happens, they should be able to release item on command.
  • Remember – appropriate leaders are NOT mean, and are NOT nasty or angry. They are firm and fair, and often even fun! Leaders never hold grudges, and are always appropriate.

* Words in parentheses are suggested commands you can work to teach your dog. *

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Junior Watson

Junior is the resident "Top Dog". He enjoys walks in the park, chasing invisible cats, and of course... bacon strips!

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