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So you’re wondering about how to become a pack leader to your dog, huh? That’s great! Dogs by nature are highly social animals. As easily seen in the wild or by studying stray dogs (or even a group of dogs playing), dogs tend to form packs. Each pack has a designated leader. That leader is usually called the pack leader, alpha dog, or alpha male (more often than not, a female dog is actually the alpha “male”). To put it in simple terms, the pack leader is the boss of the rest of the pack.
That natural behavior will also occur in your home. Your dog will seek out the leader of the pack. If there doesn’t appear to be a dependable leader in your pack (family), your dog will attempt to become the pack leader. When your dog assumes that he or she is the alpha, you will have a bunch of problems to deal with.
Whether you have a puppy, a recently adopted dog, or are simply looking to take back control with the dog you’ve had for years, it doesn’t matter. You CAN take control and become a pack leader. Not only can it can be done in a humane and safe way but the process can actually be relatively fun! In addition, by being the pack leader, your dog will live a much less stressful life. Less anxiety in a dog always equates to improved health and behavior. If you become a pack leader, it will be beneficial to any dog at any age and of any breed.
Rule #1: Basic Obedience Training
Does your dog understand basic obedience commands such as “sit” or “come” or any of the other main commands? In order to become a pack leader, this is where you should begin. Puppies can begin training as early as one or two months old. Dogs are also never too old to learn new tricks, in spite of the well known catch phrase. Older dogs can absolutely be trained or re-trained.
Maybe your dog has been taught basic obedience, but won’t listen to you unless you have a treat in your hand or just selectively obeys your commands. In that case, your dog probably does not see you as a leader and some further action is required. Continue on with the next step.
Rule #2: Leash Training
Your dog should be properly trained to walk politely on leash. That means, no pulling, lunging, barking at other passing dogs, etc. This can take some time to train, especially if your dog has had poor leash manners for a long time. Since dogs are naturally migratory animals, you need to take your dog on a walk daily, or nearly daily. Not only is this good physical and mental exercise for your dog, but by only allowing your dog to walk politely at your side, your dog will see you as the leader. You must be in charge of everything during a walk. Is your dog pulling on the leash? Is your dog peeing, pooping, or marking territory without your consent? Does your dog lunge and bark at people or other dogs? These are all bad signs and are behaviors which need to be corrected in order for you to truly become a pack leader to your dog. Aside from basic obedience training, this is the next most important rule. Walking a dog every day is crucial to your success as a pack leader.
Rule #3: Owning Your Home
Does your dog have free access to furniture in your home? Does your dog sleep in your bed? Do you give in when your dog begs for scraps from the dinner table? If so, you are not being a leader to your dog. If you are not seen as the pack leader, you must restrict access to certain areas until your dog earns access. For now, do not allow your dog to have access to any furniture, period. No beds, no couches, no chairs, just the floor. You can set up some comfortable dog beds or areas your dog may relax, but the furniture is yours. By showing the dog that you control all access to all areas of the home, you are asserting yourself as a pack leader. Once your dog understands that you own the home, you can start to allow the dog back on to furniture if you really want, but your dog must ask for permission. My dog will sit and look at me. Sometimes he’s allowed up on the couch with me, other times not. At dinner time, your dog should go lay in the other room quietly. Just like in wild dogs, the pack leader eats first and then there is a pecking order with the rest of the dogs. You and your family should always been seen as higher in the pecking order than your dog.
Rule #4: Owning The Food And Water Supply
In the wild, the pack leader controls who gets to eat what, when they get to eat, and how much they get to eat. Other precious and life dependent sources like water is also controlled by the pack leader. Access is only granted with the pack leader’s approval. Sometimes, wild dogs who are lower in the pecking order don’t eat for days, even if they assisted in a successful hunt. Luckily, our pets don’t have to live that way, but you must still assert the same philosophy in your home. If your dog is protective over food, it means your dog does not see you as the leader. Your dog actually believes he or she controls the food supply. If your dog feels as though he or she is dependent upon you for basic survival, that gives you a huge leg up on becoming a pack leader. If your dog has food aggression issues, that’s got to stop immediately. No more making excuses for your dog. Once you are a pack leader, you should be able to freely take your dogs food away with absolutely no growing or aggressive behavior. With my dog, I make it a routine exercise to randomly take his food away for few seconds before giving it back. You shouldn’t do this with a dog who is already protective over food, but it’s a great exercise to maintain good behavior around food. You giveth and you can taketh away! Don’t humanize your dogs emotions. That’s just how it is in nature!
Rule #5: Come And Go As You Please
The pack leader never needs permission to go anywhere. When a pack has a strong leader, they do not feel anxious when the leader leaves because they have confidence in the leader. They know everything will be ok and the leader has everything under control. If your dog has separation anxiety, that means your dog doubts your abilities to be a true leader. Your dog is anxious because your dog is fearful you can’t “handle it” out there. Your dog feels anxious because he or she feels they need to be out there with you to ensure you don’t hurt yourself or screw anything up. That’s not how a healthy pack operates. When the leader leaves, the rest of the pack waits patiently. The same should happen in your home. You also shouldn’t make a big deal out of leaving the house. A quick, “be good” and out the door you go. When you return, don’t make a huge deal out of your arrival. Put the groceries away, let your dog calm down, and then greet the dog only while your dog is in a calm and relaxed state. I know it’s fun to greet a happy and excited dog, but until you’re able to work through separation anxiety issues, you need to keep things low key.
Rule #6: Communicating With Energy
Dogs do not really speak to each other through audible communication methods. Sure, dogs bark, howl, whine, and make all sorts of noise. For the most part, however, they communicate through energy. In fact, wild dogs very rarely bark at all. Humans have a very difficult time using energy alone to communicate. We rely heavily on audible and visual communication methods. In order to become a pack leader, you must learn how to properly portray energy and emotion towards your dog. When you’re happy with your dog, your dog needs to really “feel” that positive energy. Conversely, when you’re angry about something, your dog needs to feel that you’re not happy. That doesn’t mean you hit your dog or yell and scream. In fact, you must always remain “calm and assertive” as Cesar Milan from The Dog Whisperer likes to say. A strong pack leader handles each situation with a firm, assertive, and confident manner. You should do the same.
Rule #7: Show Some Love
To properly become a pack leader, you need to find that fine balance between leadership and companionship. Sometimes, people get so wrapped up in trying to show dominance over their dog that they forget to show affection! When your dog is behaving well, it’s a great idea to show your dog how pleased you are with their behavior. Dogs thrive on reassurance and affection. When your dog does something well, you should not only show praise and positive energy, you should exaggerate that positivity as much as you reasonably can. Who doesn’t love getting some praise and recognition for a job well done from the big boss?! (That’s you!) If you’re truly a leader in your dogs eyes, receiving some praise and affection will mean the world to him or her. It’s almost as good as getting a treat!
Rule #8: Be Consistent
Leaders show consistency. By changing the rules and making exceptions to rules at ambiguous times, you will cause your dog a great deal of confusion. You can’t make it ok to beg for food at the kitchen table today, but not ok tomorrow, but then make it ok again on Thursday. You can’t make it ok to pull on the leash during yesterday’s walk, but suddenly today it’s not ok. You must be very consistent in your training. Dogs learn through repetition. If something doesn’t happen the same way over and over again, your dog won’t understand what the rules are. That makes your dog confused and unsure how to behave. When rules aren’t clearly defined, the dog sees that as a lack of leadership. Many people tend to do a real good job for the first year or 2 of dog ownership and then they begin to slip and start making exceptions to various rules. To become a pack leader, you need to be consistent.
Rule #9: Be Clear
Yeah, this is along the same lines of consistency, but this is a very important step. Your rules must be very clear to your dog. If you don’t want your dog to pull on the leash, but you only enforce that rule on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and sometimes on Sunday (during daylight hours), your dog will be left feeling very confused. If you make exceptions to any rules, you better be darn sure your dog understands those exceptions. Dogs have a very tough time with this. It’s best to set a rule and make that the rule no matter what. If you don’t want your dog to pull on the leash, make sure your dog knows it’s never ok to do so in any circumstance. Once you begin creating exceptions for rules, you begin confusing your dog. Pack leaders always set very clear rules and hardly ever deviate.
Rule #10: Have Fun!
This may be the most important step to become a pack leader! If you and your dog aren’t having fun together, there is something very wrong. There’s no way you can be an effective leader and properly define rules if you’re frustrated, angry, or stressed. When you begin feeling any of those emotions, it’s time to just take a deep breath and maybe take a little break from your dog. This is especially true during training sessions. Once frustration kicks in, it’s time to stop. Training should be fun for both humans and dogs! Don’t worry, everyone gets frustrated from time to time. Even professional dog trainers. Just take a break and come back to it later. Having fun should always be a top priority for both you and your dog!
If Your Dog Shows Aggression
Of course, it should go without saying that if your dog already has some aggressive tendencies, you’re going to need to get some professional and personalized help. The worst thing you can do if you have an aggressive dog is to be in denial about it. If your dog is aggressive, there IS hope! But the situation must be handled delicately.