Becoming the leader of your pack means being able to communicate with, guide, praise, and correct your dog(s) appropriately and at the right times. Pack Leaders make the rules and set boundaries with consistent feedback, most of which are non-verbal. They provide structure through adequate physical and mental stimulation and give affection and attention at the appropriate times. Pack Leaders do not bully, dominate, or intimidate their pack members into compliance or submission. They teach, guide, motivate, encourage, provide feedback, and have reasonable expectations based on the current level of their dogs' understanding. Being a pack leader has absolutely NOTHING to do with being the alpha or dominating your dog. Do not confuse leadership with dominance. A well-led dog will often look to the Pack Leader for direction, guidance, and assurance. I often have clients that notice how much their dog begins to look at and pay attention to them after we begin training. This is a clear sign of leadership in effect.
This leadership role is attained through consistency and is a learned endeavor for both you and your dog. It’s learned through the day to day experiences of living with a person who establishes and enforces rules, consistently. The process is aided through formal obedience training and the reward is a relationship wherein your dog listens to you and "respects" you but does not fear you.
Here are 7 steps you can implement to quickly put yourself in a leadership position. But first and foremost, be patient and start with a clean slate. Forget all the headaches and frustration you’ve dealt with up to this point. Today is a new day and moving forward, follow these rules!
1. Physically control your dog and do not allow free-roaming. This is extremely important for very unruly dogs and puppies. Have your dog on a leash and under your control as much as you possibly can to prevent wandering around the house (read more about how to do that here.) This will help you control your dog and will also avoid you having to follow or chase them around the house reacting to their bad behavior - which by the way, literally makes you the follower, if you're following them around. Instead, they follow you around because they are on a leash, held by you! (it's genius, I know). They cannot run around with the zoomies (google that if you don't know the term) if they’re on a leash while you’re holding it or have it tethered to your chair. Remember that this is not punishment and they are not in trouble, you are just managing and controlling them physically because they have not yet conformed to or understand your rules. Also, keep in mind that freedom and trust must be earned not just in the human world but in the dog world too. Crate train your dog and use it when you need a break from supervising your dog or when you’re sleeping, showering, cooking, or when you are not home.
2. Control thresholds, and exits. This means your dog must wait for your permission to exit the house, the car, their crate, and they should not be allowed to barge through and run out of either. You would never allow a 4-year-old child to rudely push and run past you to get outside, so why allow your dog? Control your dog with a leash and have them sit and wait for permission to exit. Either you exit/enter first or allow the dog through first with a release word like “free” or "okay".
3. Control playtime. Do not allow your dog to have access to 20+ toys. Put them ALL away and pull them out if and when you are going to be playing with your dog. This is important for two reasons; 1. the more your dog entertains themselves without you, the less valuable you are, and the less they need you. 2. You teach your dog that there is an appropriate time and place to release energy - not whenever, wherever they feel like it. Engage with your dog and turn playtime into quality bonding time or even training time. You can turn playtime into training by using their toy as a reward for an obedience command (sit-stay, down-stay, or recall). In addition, dogs with so many toy options tend to become bored quickly with toys. This makes it difficult to use toys as a reward for training. So start playtime and end playtime on your clock, according to your schedule. Just as children in school are told when to have recess and when to stop and return to class, you tell your dog when to become excited and play and when to stop and go relax.
4. Limit sleeping areas. Or to put it another way, give them a few specific places to rest. This shows your dog that you’re in control of the house. Give them a bed that is for them to rest on and let this be their resting spot as opposed just anywhere they choose. This is especially necessary for very unruly dogs and dogs that tend to guard furniture that they are occupying. Do keep in mind that some dogs run hot and some beds make them uncomfortable, so, find a bed that will keep them cool.
5. Remove privileges they had before. No more free access to the couch or bed. Not necessarily forever but at least until you can gain control. This could be getting on furniture, sleeping in the bed with you, sitting near the dining room table (where they like to beg for food) or wandering around the kitchen (looking for dropped food). Controlling spaces and or furniture further enforces the general theme that YOU are in control.
6. Earn petting and praise. This is especially for those dogs that are really pushy, trying to get attention. Make your dog do something first, like sit, lay down or go to their bed whenever they try to force you to pet them. Then, give only brief petting and send them away. Ideally, you want to be the one that approaches your dog to give them attention when they are calm, quiet and relaxed (you go to them instead of them always coming to you). This encourages calm, quiet, relaxed behavior. In addition to all of this, say less to your dog. Dogs communicate mostly through body language. Remember this phrase Nothing In Life Is Free! Your dog must learn that they must give something to get something. Want to go outside for a walk? Sit at the door and wait for me to release you to start the walk. Want to jump on the couch? Sit and wait for my permission to jump up. Want to run around and play? Go lay down for 30 min then we’ll play. The more areas of your dog’s life you control, the more they will look to you for permission and or direction. Just like humans, when something is consistently given for free, it tends to be expected, demanded, unappreciated and eventually taken for granted.
7. Give affection and attention at the right times. I saved the best for last guys, listen up!! This is the part you've been waiting for as you read all the hard-to-do things above and thought you were not allowed to LOVE on your dog. Yes, PLEASE love your dog and give them all the affection, kisses, and high pitched coos you want. BUT do it when your dog is calm and quiet. I repeat CALM & QUIET. When your dog learns that you go into full Shiatzu Massage Mode when they are calm, quiet, and still, they will more frequently go into that state of mind and being. I am very affectionate with my dogs, but I give them all the love and affection at the right times. I do not reward pushy, demanding behavior, or reward excitement created by them.
These rules are not at all intended to be mean or enforced with anger or emotion. You should be guiding your dog and remaining calm in the process - especially if they have never had any rules or boundaries set upon them. You will face resistance! Be diligent and think about the bigger picture - calm quiet PEACE in your home! I totally understand that you may feel guilty or feel like your dog is not "happy" but often times we ask and make children do all sorts of things they do not want to do (go to school, clean, study, chores, stop playing, quiet down, etc). This is LIFE! But all the rules and restrictions teaches both children and dogs how to coexist in our world. The better behaved they become, the more freedom they earn. It is that simple.