Dogs need leaders. They operate on a "pack" system: there are leaders and
there are followers. If this system does not exist in a household, often the dog
will slip into the leader spot. In their mind, somebody needs to be the leader.
Although many dogs would rather not have that spot, they will still end up
there, because no one else in the household has demonstrated clear leadership..
To dogs, leaders have certain roles, privileges and honors. Leaders are
responsible for pack safety. Leaders are responsible for providing food and
shelter sources and they have dibs on the best stuff. Leaders have the best and
highest sleeping spots. Leaders decide when the rest of the pack eats, sleeps,
eliminates, and plays.
Some breeds of dogs tend to be more dominant in nature. Others are more
submissive or easygoing. To start out right with ALL dogs, leadership needs to
begin in puppyhood. This leadership isn't nasty or violent, but it is always
firm and fair. Some behaviorists may discuss shaking a dog up or alpha rolling.
These methods have a place ONLY in a fair and non-violent way, and should NEVER
be started with half-grown or adult dogs. . With most dogs your leadership
position is easy to have and maintain. Other dogs must be reminded daily, if not
The following leadership checklist includes things every dog owner should
follow. How strictly the list is followed depends on how pushy the dog is.
Most of the items on the list, however, should be followed to some extent; some
people don't realize how dominant their dog really is. Many dogs are
quietly (or not so quietly) pushy.
Most items are very self explanatory. Most items you can start today and do
yourself. If you have ANY trouble understanding anything, or if your dog growls
or snaps at your for any reason, you need to enlist the help of a trainer who
has knowledge about leadership behavior.
Your dog will thank you for the structure and leadership you provide!
- Feed scheduled mealtimes (No free-feeding) - dogs need to
know their food is "earned" from you, the leader,
and their bowl is picked up after mealtime is over.
Feed after humans eat - leaders eat first.
"Sit" and "wait" while you set the food bolw down, and then release to eat.
- Dog goes after humans through doorways.
("get back!")("Wait!") This is mostly to enforce control
and manners, rather than "leaders always go first". Actually, true
leaders have the -option- of going first, and everyone waits for the leader's
- Never play tug-of-war with overly pushy
dogs. All other dogs must have an excellent "OUT!" command, and leaders
both start the game and end the game. The tug toy is never available for
the dog to shove at you, either.
- If you establish eye contact, dog must avert gaze first.
Casual glances are OK.
- Dog is NEVER allowed to bite or mouth ANYONE, ANYWHERE! (this includes
- No sleeping on the bed with anyone.
- Petting or attention to the dog should be given when the
attention is to be given (absolutely NO PETTING when the dog nudges or paws
you or your hand). Leaders designate petting and attention times, not
- Puppies or small dogs who demand to be picked up and held and/or demand to
be put down should not be picked up until they sit or give some other acceptable
quiet behavior and should not be put down until they settle quietly in your
lap or in your arms.
- Games with toys, especially fetch, are initiated AND ended by the human.
- Never put yourself in an equal or lesser height position than your dog
(i.e. - kids don't get to lay on the floor to watch TV when the dog is out and
no one plays on the floor with the dog)
- Also, dog is never allowed on furniture, especially
if uninvited. ("OFF!") Leaders have all the best
resting and sleeping spots.
- Enforced time-outs in crate - no reason, and not used only when dog
misbehaves! ("Kennel-up!") Crates are also not only used when you are
not home, which can foster separation anxiety.
Obedience commands are NOT requests - if the leader says "sit", then the dog
should offer a "slam-dunk" sit. Not mean, not nasty! PRACTICE
daily compliance. Leaders always follow through when their dog is given
- A simple obedience command, such as "sit" should be obeyed before any
pleasurable interaction (eat, pet, play, etc.)
- Dog should be taught NOT to pull when on leash.
- Dog should NEVER be left unsupervised with children or
anyone who cannot
maintain leadership over dog.
- Dog MUST MOVE if in your path on a floor or stairway, etc. even if you are
able to step over him. ("Move!)
- When on a walk, dog must not be allowed to sniff or eliminate anywhere he
wants (for males, one mark against one tree is enough!)
- Everything belongs to you: the toys, the crate, the bowls, the bed, etc -
they are only on loan to the dog! You should be able to clean, move, handle or
remove any item at any time without hassle from the dog.
- Dog should be taught an "out" or release command ("give", "release",
"out") for things in his mouth. Dog should not be allowed to steal things and
if that happens, they should be able to release item on command.
- Remember - appropriate leaders are NOT mean, and are NOT
nasty or angry. They are firm and fair, and often even fun!
Leaders never hold grudges, and are always appropriate.
* Words in parentheses are suggested commands you can
work to teach your dog. *
Pam Young, LVT
Dog Gone Good LLC
Dog Behavior Consultant
Personal Dog Trainer