How to be a pack leader for your dog
Knowing how to be a pack leader for your dog is one of the most crucial steps in bringing a dog in to your life. They are social/pack animals so establishing yourself as Alpha of the pack means you will have a companion for life.
What is leadership?
Leadership is a concept that is familiar to all pack or social animals. To our kids, a leader is someone who will provide for all their needs: food, water and shelter while also educating them about how to survive in the world. Leaders provide a feeling of safety and security. They set rules and boundaries for those in their family. In return, a good leader receives the respect and love of those around them.
Companion dogs are part of our families. A dog that has a good leader will be confident in its place in the world, respect the rules of the house and have far fewer behavioural issues than those dogs whose owners just love them and cuddle them! (Cuddles and love are GREAT, but should only be part of our relationship with a companion dog.)
How do I become a good leader?
Good leaders control all things that are important to our dogs- food, attention, stimulation, play and affection. All the things the dogs want should be given out on the leader’s terms- not the dogs. This should start on the very first day we bring our dog’s home to their new pack (family).
Food comes from the leader. In the wild, the leader eats first, then gives the pack permission to eat what they leave- so let’s translate this to our family situation. Food should be given out when the family is ready and give the dog permission to eat. More importantly, the dog should earn her meal – maybe a sit, stay or a trick before allowing her to eat. It is critical that the leader decides when, where, how much, and
how long when it comes to all food issues. Food should only be left out for 15 minutes maximum.
Hand feeding your new dog all her meals in the first week, while very messy and a little time consuming, is a sure way to get your dog to recognize you as the leader who gives them what they need. It also is a great start in preventing food guarding issues developing later on AND gives you a great five or ten minutes a few times a day where your pup will be turning herself inside out to find a way to earn her next piece of dinner.
Leaders always go first!
Make pup wait while all people go first in all doorways, on stairs and entering and leaving cars and gates. In the beginning that will mean holding the pup back – eventually she will learn “Wait”. This is not only a leadership issue, but also one of safety.
Good leaders choose and play great games!
The leader should choose the type of game. They should start and finish when the leader chooses. Avoid games where the dog continually nudges the ball at you until you throw it. Also avoid games such as “chase the dog” or “tug of war” where the pup runs away and hides with the toy or “throw the ball” until the pup doesn’t bring it back. Also avoid wrestling, play fighting or pushing the pup around the face when playing.
Respecting your Space
You are not a jungle gym. Dogs who leap willy-nilly uninvited, up, over and on top of you are being rude and disrespectful – as are dogs who ram into you in doorways or stairways. Do not allow it. Hanging around begging for food and swiping stuff off counters right under your nose are also signs that your dog does not respect your space or your leadership. Your bed/chair/couch are yours and should only be shared (and then taken away) at your invitation
Who comes to whom?
Your dog should be the one to come to you – always! You want to pat and cuddle your dog? Call her to you. Your dog wants to play? Call her to you and the toy. When you come home from work/school/outing, our first instinct is to rush out and make a huge fuss of this gorgeous creature we already love dearly. A good leader would wait a little, go out and call the pup to you. Dial down the gushing excitement a little and this will help establish you as the leader. (Cuddling and playing are good things – just make the pup work a little for them!)
It may sound counter-intuitive to pay LESS attention when you want your dog to appreciate your attention more. Leadership is more about rationing and controlling resources than physical displays, in fact in the dog world, the one who does all the posturing is usually the wannabe leader!
Ration EVERY thing your dog loves in life! You are the source of all things good- especially attention. Sometimes the aloof independent types get gushed over for bothering to ask for a pat – therefore they end up controlling all interactions. They ask, they get fussed over and then THEY dismiss the human when THEY are done. The human ends up on the “oh goodie her highness noticed me” end of the lower pack member scale. If she asks for an ear scratch, ignore her- turn away: “not now.” When she wanders off, call her back and gush, but dismiss HER before she has had enough. Leave her wanting more. Make her follow you all over the house working for her meals. Pet her before each handful. If she wanders off, put the food away and she gets no more til you call and she comes running to do your bidding.
The whole family must agree and enforce all rules. Don’t make exceptions to your rules; your dog needs a clear message, 24 hours a day.
Establishing leadership is the key to preventing many problems as your pup grows. It is the way to develop the healthiest relationship for the pup in her new family. Good luck!!