Being the pack leader

Dogs live by a silent code that creates a hierarchical structure known as a pack.  The pack always has an alpha dog, one that has a clear leadership role.  It’s very important that you establish yourself as the alpha in order for the pack to function properly.  But being the pack leader does not mean being a bully or pinning down your dog to show who’s in charge.  Good leadership of your dog or your pack of dogs involves resource control and giving direction.   It’s about positive reinforcement for wanted behaviors and ignoring (not punishing) the bad behaviors.


One of the keys to leading the pack is to make your dog work for a living.  Petting and feeding (food or treats) should not be given if your dog is seeking attention.  You establish the time and place for those rewards.   Why is this important?  A dog that has the control of when he is petted or fed will also want to control other things, such as being dominant on walks by pulling or seeking to protect his pack because he sees himself as the leader.  This means that your dog could become aggressive to other dogs on leash and we know you don’t want that.  Establishing pack leadership goes a long way toward curtailing such behavior out of the house.


Regarding feeding, you should control when and where your dog eats.  Before you put down food, put your dog into a sit/stay and make him wait for 10 seconds before releasing him with a release word like “go” or “OK”.  Teach your dog to work for his food – items such as Kongs (fill with frozen wet dog food), puzzle toys and scatter mats are great tools for stimulating their minds while they eat.


Entertainment should be controlled as well.  Only put a few toys out at one time, and change them out daily.  When you put the toys away, make sure he watches you do it.  Little things, like having him move out of the way a couple of times a day will secure the fact that you are the alpha. 


When it comes to walking, you should never let your dog pull on the leash.  See the blog “loose leash walking” for tips on how to train your dog to keep a loose leash.  Intermittently stop the walk for some basic commands to keep him sharp and reinforce your leadership role.    Take a treat pouch with you on your walks so you can reward him for good behavior and fulfilling commands. 


Jumping.  Never let your dog jump, on you, or others.  It’s great to receive love from your dog in different ways, but jumping on you is not one of them.  When he jumps, back off or push him down with your knee while saying “off!”.  When he has all four paws on the ground for 2 seconds, reward him with the marker “yes!” and a treat.  In time, and it may take a while, he will begin to realize that jumping never earns him a reward and he will stop.  It’s important that visitors do not initially engage your dog with excitement – no bending over to pet him – just have them stand fairly still for a minute while you talk.  If your dog is overly excited, you can always put in a sit/stay or place/bed for a while.


Needless to say, you should never let your dog nip or play bite.  Other good ways to establish the chain of command:  make your dog wait at doorways, especially before going outside, or even going in the car.  Do obedience training twice a week for 20 minutes or so.  As he learns the basics, work on more advanced commands and tricks.    Always be looking to capture good behavior and reward it – for instance, when your dog sits in front of you, say the marker “yes! sit!” and give him a treat.


By doing all of the above, you will gradually earn your dog’s respect, obedience, trust and love.  They will inevitably choose to follow you, and they will continue to follow so long as you give them clear rules and boundaries.



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