How to be a Pack Leader

You might think that you can’t train an old dog with new tricks, but it’s not true.

Some dogs are so intelligent they learn quickly and eagerly to do what their owners want them to do. Other dogs need more time and patience than others, but with the right approach, any dog can be trained. The key is finding out what motivates your pet—a favorite toy or food treat—and using it as a reward for good behavior. When training starts off slowly and gradually rewards increase in frequency, then almost all dogs will soon be eager to please their owner.

If you’re having trouble getting your pet on board with the idea of learning new behaviors like sitting or staying put when commanded, find a professional dog trainer in your area who can work with you and your pet. In this article, we’ll walk you through the best ways of how to assert dominance over a dog.

What is dominance and how does it relate to dogs?

Domestic dogs can be dominant or submissive. When you come upon a group of wild dogs, the ones which are barking and baring their teeth might seem to be threatening you, but that is because they are challenging your dominance over them. In reality, if you show confidence and stand tall while asserting your authority in a firm voice, they will almost always back down and run away.

Wolves on the other hand, do not show their teeth as a sign of aggression until they are forced to defend themselves. A dominant wolf will sniff another one’s rear end or lick its lips when it meets one that is of equal dominance. This greeting ceremony is how dogs determine whether they are friend or foe.

Alpha Dogs and Pack Leaders

For many years, people believed that dogs were not pack animals and had to learn about dominance from their owners. It is now known this is incorrect because the wild ancestors of domestic dogs were social creatures that lived in groups called packs which had one or more dominant members who determined when it was time to change activities such as hunting and resting. These alphas were in charge of all major decisions for the pack. The pack leader was not necessarily the most dominant of the group but the one that was able to control its members by asserting itself as leader through physical and verbal exchanges with other pack members.

The Pack Leader’s Role

As long as you live with your pet, you are its pack leader even if it is bigger than you. There is an instinctive need in all dogs to determine who is in charge. Once your pet understands your position as leader, you will find it easier to control its behavior and teach it new rules that have been part of a pack’s activities for years. The first thing the pack leader does when a new member joins the gang is establish its rank in the pack by how much baring of teeth it displays to the new arrival. If this display is accepted without challenge, they become buddies and go on their way. If it is not, both dogs fight until one backs down and accepts the other as its superior. Once this happens they are able to live together in harmony with everyone knowing their individual role within the pack.

Human families are also social groups, in which one human is typically the leader of the family. Also in this group, there are beta positions below them, which can include positions such as second-in-command. Dominance within a household is based on negotiating rank in the manner of dogs. According to canine expert Jean Donaldson in her book “The Culture Clash,” dogs are not aware that humans are thinking creatures with feelings and emotions; they only know there is one person who decides when it’s time to eat, go for a walk, play games or sleep.

An alpha dog will want all the toys for itself; will try to sneak scraps of food without sharing; and will take priority access to favored resting spots. The alpha dog will demand affection before allowing other dogs in the pack (or children in the family) to do so, and will put its head or paw on another animal or human, much as an infant would.

Dominance and Dog-to-Dog Interactions If you have more than one dog, dominance may play a role in their relationship with each other. A dominant dog will try to exert control over the other dogs in the household, particularly those of the same sex as itself. You’ll notice this behavior when your canine companion or companions refuse to obey a command, jumping on you or trying to get your attention.

A dog that is dominant might even try to prevent other dogs from eating, sleeping or getting close to you which is why it is best to train them early. It is best that the older dogs are trained first because they can teach the younger ones desirable behaviors. If this behavior gets out of hand, you might have to separate your dogs when they are not supervised.

How does this relate to you and your dog?

Dominant dogs will challenge you for authority by undoing your latches, jumping up on the furniture when it isn’t welcome, begging for food at the table, growling at other pets or people. When you have a dominant pet, life can be very frustrating, but there are ways you can establish yourself as the alpha in your dog’s mind. The first thing you need to do is make sure all members of your household are on the same page. This means that everyone in the family has to agree on who is the leader and what behaviors will be tolerated by a pack member.

How does your dog identify you as the pack leader?

1. You Make Decisions and Your Dog has to listen

A dog that is allowed to make decisions for its owner, such as when it’s time to eat or go outside, will not be able to respect its human as a strong leader capable of keeping his family safe from harm. These dogs are also more likely to be pushy and difficult to control because they do not respect their owner or any members of the household.

For example, if you let your dog sleep on your bed at night, it might try to keep its canine housemates from joining it on the furniture during the day. If that’s allowed to happen, those dogs are more likely not to respect you when you are trying to instruct them about proper behavior. Obedience training is always an important part of raising a canine companion.

2. You Are Consistent With Your Dog

A dog will not be able to discern who his leader is if the rules change all the time. The animal has to know what behavior is expected of him in order for him to obey. For example, if you’re trying to break your dog’s habit of begging for food at the table, any slip-ups are going to be confusing to him. Your dog’s resources are not to be shared with other animals in the house.

3. You are Focused When It is Time to Play or Train

When you want your dog’s attention, it is important that you have it first. For instance, if you want him to come for a walk but he is busy sniffing at an interesting scent on the ground

4. You Give Your Dog Time to React Appropriately When Instructed

If you give your dog a command that he does not understand, he will likely be confused about what is expected of him. If, for example, you want your dog to stay off the couch or bed but he doesn’t know that’s what you’re trying to tell him, chances are good that he’ll try to see if there’s anything on the other side of that door you keep shutting in his face.

5. You Don’t Put Up With Bad Behavior

When a dog exhibits bad behavior, such as jumping on people who come to the door or chewing on shoes that aren’t his, he’s testing your leadership. If you allow him to get away with anything and everything he wants regardless of how inappropriate his actions might be (especially if they’re directed at other members of the household), then it’s clear you don’t have the respect of your dog.

6. You Groom Your Dog Daily

Grooming your dog every day is a great way to establish yourself as his leader, since you are taking charge of his basic needs, such as making sure he’s clean and well-groomed. For example, if he enjoys being brushed, then take the time to brush him. This will not only reduce his shedding but also demonstrate your concern about his well-being.

7. You Feed Your Dog a Well-Balanced Diet

Just as you make sure you eat right and stay fit, so should you provide your dog with a proper diet. A high-quality dog food that contains the right amount of nutrients will help your dog maintain a healthy weight. You can also supplement his diet with raw vegetables and fruits. Your dog’s hunger for bad foods will diminish, so he’ll be more likely to respond when you give him a good command.

8. You Feed and Water Your Dog

A dog pack leader makes sure his subordinates are fed before he eats, otherwise he might go hungry himself. It’s the same for you; if your dog is growling at you while you try to eat your dinner or needs attention or playtime just as you’re getting ready for work, it’s a clear sign that you are being challenged. In this case, it might be necessary to have someone else feed and walk your dog while you’re at work so he knows who his leader is.

9. Personal Space is Respected

Some dogs respect their pack leader by not allowing him to enter certain parts of the home without permission. For instance, a dog may rely on his nose and try to keep strangers at bay just as he would keep other animals in his pack away from his den. If your dog won’t let you open a door or get between you and the door, you need a higher level of leadership from him. Personal space is something a dog understands and respects.

10. You Spend Time Engaging the Dog’s Senses

Another way to be your dog’s pack leader is to engage all of his senses on a daily basis, such as playing fetch or tug-of-war with him so he knows you’re in charge and will bring him back if he tries to break away from you. Also, going for a daily walk with your dog is a great way to show him that you’re the one leading the way instead of allowing him to dictate where and when you go out together. Body language is another way to show your dog that you’re in control, such as walking tall instead of hunched over and making eye contact with him. Your body language should be firm and unmoving until your dog relaxes.

11. You Show Affection Gradually

In some cases, your dog might be hesitant about showing affection because he’s afraid of losing his position in the pack hierarchy. If he’s uncertain about your role as pack leader, then it might take him a while to get used to showing affection. A good way to break through this barrier is by rewarding any acts of affection on his part with praise and treats, which will make him want more affection rather than less.

More Tips For Asserting Authority Over Your Dog

-Don’t give affection for disobedience. When your pet comes to you when it is called or sits when told, offer no physical or verbal praise. It teaches that good behaviors receive attention while bad ones do not.

-Give affection for calm behavior. Be sure to give your dog praise when he is quietly laying down or relaxing, even if it’s in the middle of a room or on the stairs. This will help him know that he does not need to be constantly moving around in order to get attention from you.

-Don’t allow your dog on the furniture. If he tries to jump up or follow you onto a couch, bed or other furniture, don’t let him do it. Say “off” and gently push him back down before he gets a chance to succeed. Praise your dog when he gets off himself.

-Don’t allow your pet on any elevated surfaces. This includes beds, tables or any other furniture. Training your dog to stay off of these surfaces will keep him out of harm’s way while you are not around to watch him.

-Be aware of how much attention you give your pet. If you lavish too much praise or physical affection on your animal, he may begin to act aggressively in an attempt to become more dominant.

-Be consistent with discipline. If your dog is being aggressive towards you or other people, do not allow him to get away with the behavior. Discipline your pet by using a firm voice or loud “no” followed by five seconds of confinement in his crate.

Final Thoughts

Asserting authority but not dominance over your dog  is a great way to improve his behavior and make him a better member of the pack. When you show him that you’re the leader, your canine companion will respond with proper behaviors that he wouldn’t otherwise exhibit without this assurance of leadership from you. Remember that every dog is an individual and may react differently to certain situations, so always monitor your pet’s body language carefully for signs of his emotional state. If your dog is acting aggressively or looking for a fight, be ready to act before the situation gets out of control. If you need support, it may be time to look for a trainer who can assist you. We’re here to help! Call today to learn more about our obedience classes and what they can do for you and your dog.

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