How to become Pack Leader of your dog
If you are reading this post, you love dogs and want to learn more about dog behaviour, right? There are some really simple ways of communicating with your dog or dogs. You don’t have to be an animal communicator or dog whisperer to become Pack Leader of your dog. In fact, anyone, even a child can and should be able to direct their own dog to better behaviour.
I would love to have the gift of being able to ‘hear’ and ‘see’ what an animal is ‘saying’, especially when it comes to my own animals. I know 2 people personally who have that ability and they have showed me that my own hard-earned ability of reading body language, has been on the mark. Maybe not 100%, but very close.
Now being able to communicate back to the animal is another matter. It is not the same as reading body language. You can watch a dog for awhile and see that he or she is feeling good, even happy. You can watch a dog and see that he or she is unhappy, maybe even in pain. That is elementary for most people. Can you tell when your dog is anxious? Can you see when a fight is about to break out between two dogs? Can you see the signs of when a dog is about to bite? Those are more subtle signs that comes with experience.
How do you communicate to your dog what you expect from him or her?
Obedience training is a start, and forms a base of behaviour but….that is only a small beginning. People often compare dogs to children, and in some ways they are similar. Dogs love affection, love to play, and form friendships with other dogs. Dogs often do not like to share with other dogs and will test their limits to see if your rules still apply. Dogs have feelings of happy, sad, angry, fear, and even jealousy.
Dogs do not feel guilty, do not feel sorry for you, and do not feel sorry for themselves. Dogs cannot hold grudges like people do. They do remember painful associations and remember pleasurable associations in their interactions with humans and other animals. If your dog snuggles up to you when you are feeling sad, he or she is not feeling sorry for you. Your dog expects you to be his pack leader and protector. When you are feeling low, your dog gets anxious and needs reassurance from you that everything will be all right. People misread their dogs because they are expecting and raising their dogs to be human.
People use terms like ‘fur baby’ when describing their dogs because they have put a ‘human face’ on the dog. I understand this, as I often view my dogs as my ‘children’, especially with my sons being all grown up. I have a strong mothering instinct, and all that mothering has to go somewhere! I love to run my fingers through my dogs hair coat, fondle their soft ears, and kiss their muzzles. My dogs bring me great joy but also great pain when they pass from my life.
Many of you will have cats as well as dogs, and like me, you might have other species of animals too. Needing a leader is universal in the animal world. There are dominant animals and birds and there are followers. In the animal world, all animals can’t be leaders, because then they would be at war with one another with no end in sight. Animal species would no doubt wipe one another out. There would be anarchy. Likewise, if no animal stepped up to the plate to be leader, and all animals ran from each other in confusion, there would also be anarchy and extinction.
Can you imagine a country without a government? Can you perceive a country without a Leader of that Government? It would be everyone for themselves, total confusion. Let’s make that circle a bit smaller. Within a family unit, parents and children, what if no one was in charge? What if in that family, everyone just did what they wanted to do? Unfortunately we can probably all give an example of a dysfunctional family where there are no clear leaders. The leaders of course, should be the parents, with children being followers yet older children being leaders of younger children too. There is a hierarchy to all life on this planet. All too often I have seen children in the dominant roles, and it’s not a happy household!
Now let’s make that circle even tighter, what do you think happens when an animal joins a human family (couples and single humans are included) and there is no leadership? From a dogs’ point of view, a human is weak if he or she does not consistently show leadership in a way that the dog understands! From your dog’s point of view, if you are not providing leadership, then your dog will attempt to take over that role. Trust me, with your dog as leader, you won’t like it!
How do you know your dog is taking over?
Let’s go over a few things starting with jumping up on people. When a dog jumps up on a human, he or she is CLEARLY very comfortable in invading your personal space! Maybe you view this action as ‘my dog is just so happy to see me and is showing how much he loves me’. Wrong. Your dog may love you but….jumping up on you is not love. Your dog wants something from you, and that is attention. That is not the same thing.
Another behaviour which I see often is a dog pushing past a person to get through a doorway or to the door ahead of a person. You might say ‘my dog is just happy and excited to see who’s come to visit’ or ‘my dog is just so excited to go outside and play’. Sure, that may be true but it’s not the whole truth. Your dog is making a decision to be the FIRST to greet your visitor, and is making the decision to be the FIRST one to have some fun outside.
A really common behaviour that is frustrating and quite dangerous, is having your dog walk IN FRONT of you or PULL you along behind him or her while on leash. You might view this as ‘it’s okay having my dog walk ahead of me, as long as he does not pull on the leash’. In case your dog is pulling you along, your reaction might be less calm, especially when you get thrown to the ground in the process. A smaller dog is not quite the danger in pulling a person off his or her feet, so the dog owner might not pay much attention to this pulling behaviour. What is your dog really saying? Your dog is telling you that YOU should FOLLOW him or her.
Now there are many other behaviours that can branch off of these three major behaviours. Some examples are chewing up and destroying your belongings, taking food off of counters, grabbing food out of a human’s hand without permission, getting into your garbage cans, regularly having ‘accidents’ in the house, barking incessantly, escalating aggression towards humans and other animals in the home… and so on.
Now I can say with 100% surety, that if you follow my guidelines in raising your dog, you will likely NEVER have a dog that develops any of the other bad habits that I just listed. Sure, ALL dogs will test your ability as leader, especially the more dominant dogs. You have to be MUCH more diligent with a dominant dog.
I have written about training your dog with the commands, Sit, Wait and Okay on the page called Basic Manners. I have given you guidelines in potty training your dog or puppy on the page called House training and in the post called How to crate train an older dog. You should also read the posts called What does a dog need? and Little things lead to big things. You can read those pages and posts later, here are some really easy ways of communicating with your dog right now!
Guideline number one, keep your dog OFF your bed and your living room furniture…
For some reason, this first guideline meets with resistance from many dog owners. Why is this first rule so important? From a dogs point of view, the prime sleeping areas are reserved for the dominant ones or the leaders. If your dog is already firmly entrenched in sleeping on your bed or couch, you and every one in your household, will have to be very firm. Teaching the command ‘OFF!’ is useful and can be used in many instances. Shoo your dog off, saying ‘Off!’, insist your dog get off with your tone, your eyes and your intent (your energy), and then promptly take your dogs place on the furniture. It’s better to never allow a habit like this, and will obviously take time to get through to your dog.
I witness the importance of this rule every day with my two dogs, my more dominant dog, Sirius, claims the best sleeping spots on the floor. Whether it’s one of two very cushy dog beds, or one of a couple of soft floor rugs or in front of a door, Sirius gets what he wants. Younger Ciro, the follower, has to take whatever Sirius leaves for him, the other rug, the other dog bed or another area. The two of them get along very well because each of them knows their place in the Hierarchy of Life. Sirius in turn, as well as Ciro, has to give way to me and other humans in the household.
Give your dogs their own beds, one in the main living areas and if you prefer to have your dog sleep close to you, another comfy dog bed in the bedroom. You will have no reason to feel ‘guilty’ for keeping your dogs off the bed or couch, because they will have their very own spot. Make sure it’s comfortable, not just some thin ratty thing. I highly recommend a memory foam bed with bolster sides. My two oldest dogs (who passed on last summer) really enjoyed those beds in their old age. If you have a senior dog that ‘leaks’, then I suggest one of those vinyl covered bolster beds. They kind of look like leather couches made for your dog! Either way, make sure you buy one that has a zip off cover for cleaning or at the very least throw a washable blanket over top of it. Pet Street Mall has a sale on dog beds going on now.
Guideline number two, your dog should move out of your way,
You should NEVER walk around your dog or step over him. Why? Same reason… from your dog’s view, if you walk around him or her, you have put your dog in the role of dominant one or leader. The only exception is when you have an injured or elderly dog that has difficulty getting up. As our dogs became feeble senior dogs, we often stepped over them as they slept so soundly. If you have a blind or deaf dog that is young, you should teach them to move out of your way too. Dogs don’t make excuses for other dogs because they are blind or deaf. Another advantage of giving your dog their own comfortable bed, is that more than likely they will choose to sleep there instead of in a doorway (in your way).
How do you teach your dogs to move for you? Easy, keep moving forward until you are touching your dog with your feet or legs. Tell him or her to ‘Move’ as you do so. Most dogs will get up at this point or move out of your way while you continue to move forward. Gently bump your dog with your feet or legs if your dog does not move- until he does. Be consistent with this and you will just have to walk close to your dog and he or she will naturally move out of your path. My dogs are fairly large, so I sometimes have to bump them gently with my knees, as a reminder (especially when they are excited).
I will place a warning here, for those of you that have reactive dogs that bite first and ask questions later, go slowly. You do not want to startle a sleeping dog or to purposefully antagonize an already reactive dog. Adults or at least knowledgeable teens should be leading the way with any training. Young children should never be left unsupervised with any dog, especially a dog that is reactive and needs some behaviour modification.
Becoming pack leader to your dog or dogs…
Starts with these two guidelines and should be combined with all the basic manners training. A dog that recognizes YOU (and your household) as the Leader, will be a joy for everyone as well. A dog that has been taught these basics will look to you as the most important Being in his or her world. Your dog will feel secure, more secure than any dog that just receives loving. A dog with lots of attention but very little training will be a spoiled brat, not unlike a child in the same situation. Lastly, a dog that looks to YOU for everything, will not disrespect you, other members of your ‘circle’ and your belongings (including other animals).