When people start training their dog, it is often to teach them tricks, such as sitting, rolling over, or offering a paw upon request. Other times, the goal of training might be more about curbing undesirable behaviour like constant barking, jumping up on people, or destroying things in the home.
Whatever goal you have in mind for training your dog, your first goal is to establish yourself as the leader of your dog’s pack.
The pack leader is the one in charge, the one who calls the shots and makes important decisions for the rest of the pack, such as how to respond to events taking place around them, and how to behave in unfamiliar situations. If you are not the pack leader the dog will decide how to react no matter what you want them to do.
Even if you don’t think of it as such, your dog will view your family (even if it’s just the two of you) as a pack, and a pack needs a leader. If you do not establish yourself as the pack leader, your dog will assume the role, and given enough time, they will start making decisions that you do not want.
So, how do you become the pack leader?
Your dog is not going to be impressed with the usual sign of success; they don’t care what clothes you wear, what part of town you live in, how expensive your car is, or what you do for a living.
Some might think that becoming a pack leader is all about dominating the dog, but not only is that not the right approach, it can actually cause you more problems later, because you are teaching your dog that what matters most is aggression and physical strength. At some point, your dog may decide that they are strong enough to challenge you physically for leadership.
No matter what breed your dog is, there are certain things that they will look for in a leader. Consider watching some videos of dog behaviour, as you will find it helpful to see certain behaviors as they are being performed, especially those that are very subtle. Here are some things to keep in mind when establishing yourself as pack leader:
- Be Calm. The leader of the pack stays calm and in control. If your dog barks at something they perceive as dangerous, for example, demonstrate that you are confident in handling the situation.
- Know how to walk your dog. Right from puppyhood, your dog should not be pulling you along or setting the pace for your walks. Many videos exist on how to properly walk your dog. Take the time to review some of them.
- Assume leadership upon returning home. Your dog is typically thrilled to see you come home, even when you have only been gone for 5 minutes. Such a display of affection makes us feel good, but the right way to greet your dog is to initially ignore them and go about your business. Do not give them attention if they are jumping on you. Instead, give them a moment to calm down. Once they do, you may call them to you and greet them. This will help reinforce your leadership, and let your dog know to relax and be calm when you are there.
- Proper feeding. As the provider of food, you will be seen as the pack leader, but dogs know that the leader eats first, so let your dog see you eat before you give them their food. Then, once they have their own food, if they leave some of it uneaten, take it away. The temptation may be to leave food available for them through the day, but this gives them the understanding that they decide when they eat. The leader of the pack controls the food.
Much of your relationship with your dog will be based on establishing yourself as pack leader. To avoid any potential behavioral problems, make sure your dog understands that you are the one in charge. It will allow them to feel happy and secure in your presence.
The Online Dog Trainer videos featured here will walk you through teaching your dog how to accept you as the leader of the pack.