Monday, November 21, 2011

Why It's Important to Be Your Dog's Leader

By Linda Cole

A strong pack leader knows who their dog is and understands that in order to have a stable and happy dog, it's the human who needs to take control of the pack. Even one dog makes up a pack with his family. Being the pack leader involves understanding how dogs view their world. Because we domesticated dogs, it's our job to provide stability and a safe environment for them. Taking the lead role is what dogs expect us to do. If we don't take the lead they will, and that's when behavior problems begin.

It's up to us to teach our dogs how we expect them to act around the home, both with other people and other family pets. According to local and state laws concerning dogs, it's our role as owners to make sure we are capable of keeping them under control to keep the public safe as well as the pet. Dog owners have their pet's best interest at heart, but too many people have problems taking the lead role. Dogs are individual creatures and some definitely have a mind of their own. Each one has their own personality, and few dogs are shy about trying to move into the lead spot if they believe their owner hasn't filled that spot.

Like the wolf pack, dogs also have a hierarchy in their family and one member of their family must be the leader. It's a simple concept for the dog, but dogs aren't wolves and our interactions with our pet are different than how wolves interact in their packs. Dogs are considered to be juvenile wolves that are dependent on us for their safety and needs. If we want our pet to be calm and stable, we have to be their leader.

Raising a dog isn't always easy, and dogs that learn they can intimidate their owners by snapping or growling at them are heading down the wrong road. Too many dogs end up in shelters because their owner couldn't handle them or were afraid of them. Owners who don't take the alpha role will have a dog that's not happy.

Small dog syndrome, aggression issues, jealousy or possessive actions, food aggression and other bad behavior happens because the dog doesn't know who is in charge, and it's confusing for him. He's happiest taking commands from you, his leader. Medical conditions can cause bad behavior too, so the first step is to make sure they aren't suffering from an illness or condition that's causing them act out. A dog that bites, growls at and ignores his owner isn't showing respect or trust, and doesn't see that person as his leader.

Dogs are experts at reading our body language and they are smart. I'm a firm believer in knowing how to read a dog's body language, and having that knowledge has helped me control my pack. When you understand what they are saying with their actions, it's much easier to stop unwanted or bad behavior and correct it. That's what they expect us to do. If we don't step in to deal with problems, behavior issues can escalate to the point where the dog becomes difficult to handle, which can also create a dangerous dog.

Taking the lead role has nothing to do with showing him who's boss through harsh treatment. All they need and want is someone to teach them how they should act. Stepping in with fair and positive discipline when it's needed and staying calm, consistent and respectful at all times teaches a dog that you are qualified to lead him. Being your dog's leader isn't as difficult as it seems, and I will be addressing how to be the top dog in an upcoming article.

Dogs need to be taught what the rules of the house are. If you don't teach them what you expect, they won't learn. My dogs are my kids and I will do what I need to do to protect them and keep them happy, but they also know I'm their leader. When you know who your dog is as an individual, it's easier to train them and correct them. What works for one dog may not work for another one, but they all respond to the basic concept of fairness and leadership. Don't be afraid of the lead spot. Your dog expects and wants you to take it. Dogs just want to be dogs and have fun. As the leader, you have to earn your dog's trust and respect to prove you are worthy of the lead position. Once you have his trust, you have everything you need to give your dog a well balanced and happy life.

Photo by Brett Davies

Read more articles by Linda Cole


  1. I have never had trouble with any dogs that I have had. They all accepted me as their leader. Guess I was lucky. I do think that obedience school for puppies is so valuable. I only did it with one dog in my life and she really enjoyed it and so did I.

  2. I agree, it's our responsibility to keep them under control. I can't stand lax owners in public, it drives me crazy!

  3. Most of the time I am Dakota's leader (my husband DEFINITELY isn't) but we have one ongoing issue that I know is our fault.

    Dakota WILL NOT come to us to have his leash put on unless he has to go to the bathroom. I know it is strange but he just won't do it. It causes problems such as when we are planning on taking him to the vet we have to leave the leash ON hours before we are ready to leave.

    I have no idea how to solve this problem and any help would be greatly appreciated!

  4. I learned when to watch for Lady and her agression towards the cats. She had her body language and I knew to nip it.

  5. Hi Caren,

    I had the same problem with Keikei. If she knew I was wanting to put her leash on her, she would go in the opposite direction. The first thing I did was teach her to sit and stay because she needed to learn how to sit and stay to calm down. She loves treats and will do anything to get one, so training her is actually pretty easy. With her sitting calmly, I then snapped her leash on and then took it off several times and kept repeating the process for about a week along with lots of treats. Then with her leash on, I walked her around the house, or you can do it outside, and as we walked, I gave her lots of praise and treats so she could learn the leash is a positive thing.

    How's Dakota do when it's time to go to the vet? Does he like going OK? He could be associating the leash with going to the vet and since he never knows when he's going, that could be part of the problem. The leash could mean two different things to him. Going outside to do his business and going to the vet. You want him to view the leash as a positive thing. You can put it on him during playtime or when you and Dakota are just sitting around relaxing and he's getting attention from you. But don't force it on him. Have the leash in his sight so he gets used to positive attention every time it's around. Drape it around your neck, leave it lying beside you on the couch or on a table so he can see it. Every time you put the leash on him, give him treats and lots of praise.

    Get Dakota's favorite thing to eat and try doing the above.

    Let me know how that works. I'm happy to help anyway I can if you have more questions or need more help.


  6. I strongly agree on this post, we should be a strong and a responsible leader towards our dog. I love your post there are full of information. Good Job!

  7. Eva loves the leash and she will run to us happily if she sees her leash is with us. I think it's because we always take her out when she has her leash on, so the leash means 'have fun' or 'have walkies'.

  8. Linda THANK YOU for such fabulous advice!

    I am printing out your recommendations now and will try to put them into practice.

    Dakota is actually excellent at the vet. He doesn't love going (he gets groomed there too), I don't think any animal loves to go to the vet but he is extremely well behaved there, to the point that they always marvel at what a good dog he is.

    He is great, he is just INCREDIBLY STUBBORN! He goes just far enough away that you can't put it on him.

    The vet also recommended as you did, putting the leash on and immediately taking it off. My husband is near Dakota more than I am, I keep asking him to do this and he keeps forgetting! GRRRRRRRRRRR!!!

  9. Wonderful post, all dog owners should understand and apply this great advice to raise happy, healthy and well behaved dogs. Too many people think that love is the only thing dogs need to be happy, that is a big mistake that causes dog to develop behavior problems that make them unhappy and unhealthy, even if they are little dogs that won't hurt anyone. Aggressive or unbalaced little dogs may be harmful, but they are not happy.

    Learn more about the different ways to become your dog leader here...


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