As trainers, we consistently give people pointers and information on how to be the pack leader. Appropriate pack leadership is the key to a healthy, happy relationship between your dog and you.
First, some background. What does it mean when we hear, “Dogs are pack animals.”? It simply means that dogs stick together and roam as a pack. Within the pack, there are a set of guidelines and rules that members must follow and there is ALWAYS a leader. There has to be someone in charge so that appropriate decisions can be made. The pack leader, or “alpha,” of a dog pack essentially has those responsibilities.
You establish yourself as pack leader by teaching your dog that you are the one who is in charge of the pack; you make the decisions; you have the best of everything; you decide when to play; and out of your entire family, you must also demonstrate that he/she is the lowest member of the “pack.”
Why is this important? Because it is another part of the process in ensuring that you have a happy, confident, and well-trained dog. Dogs are much happier and stable when they know their place in a pack, and there is no question about who is the dominant individual in the house. When there is a question in the dogs mind as to who the leader is, the dog can test boundaries, display behavioral problems and in some case, it may seem as if the dog tries to take over in your home. If you are having problems in your home, please remember that is never too late to turn things around. We will give you some tips on how to start establishing yourself as pack leader in your home.
Here a few things you can work on:
1. Do not let your dog on the furniture. Why? By letting your dog on the furniture, you are bringing the dog to your level. Essentially, you are teaching them they have the same decision making power as you and your family. Remember, dogs should be treated as the lowest members of the pack, not as equals. We promise, your dog will not be offended. You are just reinstating the pack hierarchy by putting them at a lower level.
2. You should be the first to do EVERYTHING and I mean EVERYTHING. Examples include: You should be the first one to eat, then the dog. You should be the first one greeted when a family member arrives home, or if you arrive home first, the family members should be greeted and then the dog. Why does any of this matter? Because you are taking the time to reinforce to him/her that every member of the family is higher in the pack structure than he/she is. You should be the first one out the door and the first one up or down the stairs. Practice putting your dog in a “sit” at the door or stairs. Do not allow him to get up until everyone else has passed through. While walking on the leash, your pup should walk beside you, not in front. You are the leader and leaders always walk in the front of the pack…not the other way around. General rule of thumb is: you and your family come first… your dog comes last.
3. Never feed your dog from the table… ever. Why? Because if you do, you are setting your family up for begging, drooling, and stalking your family at the table or from wherever you are eating. By handing them food from the table, you are teaching your dog that the table is a great source for amazing food. If you feel compelled to give your dog table food, wait until everyone from the family has finished and gotten up from the table. Then you can place some of the leftovers in your dog’s bowl. By doing so, you are teaching that food never comes from the table and it will only come from his bowl.
4. Make your dog listen. You should never be giving your dog a command you cannot enforce. Why? Because if you give a dog a command that you know he/she knows, you must follow through with it and make the dog do it, with no exceptions. If you tell your dog to sit, down, or come, you must ensure he/she does it, even if you have to physically make him/her do it. Your dog must learn that once you issue a command, there is no way out of it. If you continually let your dog get away with not listening to you, they will continually attempt to negotiate your rules and your training becomes worthless. In our opinion, this is an essential principal in training and being the pack leader.
5. Do not let your dog force you to play. For example, you are sitting on the couch and your dog comes over and drops the ball in your lap or lifts up your hand to make you pet him. Those are both examples of your dog trying to make you interact. As hard as it may be, never give in to forced interaction. Once you give in, your dog will always try to force you to interact. What happens if you refuse? Your dog learns that their efforts did not pay off and they will no longer try to engage. If your dog keeps dropping a toy in your lap or next to you, simply put away the toy. What are you teaching? You are teaching them that by trying to force you to play, they lost the toy. Eventually, they will stop doing this because they will equate this action with getting their toy taken away. Bottom line: We teach the dogs that we decide when it’s time to play, not them.
By instilling some of these simple practices, you can begin to establish yourself as pack leader in your home.
And as always, please contact a professional trainer if your situation has become too difficult to manage. There is always help!