Thursday, December 22, 2011

How to Be Your Dog's Leader

By Linda Cole

Taking charge of a dog can be intimidating for some owners. If you start off on the wrong foot and the dog gets the upper hand, that's when behavior problems begin to show up, which can lead to an unhappy dog and owner. It's important for you to be your dog's leader no matter what breed or size your dog is. Picking the right dog for your lifestyle is important, but equally important is picking a dog you can and will manage.

I had a neighbor who had a Rottweiler he walked every day – or rather, the dog would drag him down the street. He was a muscular fellow, but he couldn't control his dog because he wasn't in command. She was a well socialized dog, but didn't listen to her owner. He never established himself as the leader of his pack. Most dog owners are responsible and caring, and want to do what's best for their dogs, until it comes to taking the lead role.

Behavior problems in dogs can be quickly turned around if you are their leader. Dogs are social animals and expect us to lead them. In their mind, there has to be a leader and if their human doesn't do it, they will step up and take it. Not because they want the job, but because it's a role that must be filled. As far as they are concerned, someone has to set the rules, make the decisions and maintain the peace in the dog's social order. Dogs understand and recognize the qualities of a strong leader and when you're in charge, it's easier to correct bad behavior.

How to take the lead role

Establish your role by teaching your dog what you expect from him. Body language is something all dogs understand. They are experts at reading other dogs, other animals and us by how we move, our expressions and our tone of voice. They know if we're happy or displeased with them by our body language and voice. There's no need to hit, kick or yell at a dog to get your message across. Positive reinforcement gains his trust and proves to him you are worthy of being his leader.

Be consistent, fair, respectful and understanding at all times when dealing with your dog, and teach him basic commands. Maintaining a consistent routine helps your dog understand what you expect. Once you make the decisions of when you take your dog for walks, when it's time to play, when he eats and even where he's allowed to sleep, your dog's mind is at ease because you're the one making those decisions for him.

Never punish a dog unfairly. A dog has no idea the trash he scattered on the kitchen floor is wrong. Punishing him for it after the fact only teaches him to be fearful of you, and you risk losing his trust and respect. Only reward a dog with praise or his favorite CANIDAE treats for positive behavior. He will learn what you teach him and that includes how you respond to his actions. If you ignore unacceptable behavior, he sees it as something he can get away with and thinks he's in charge. When a dog recognizes his owner as his leader, he will obey all commands.

Teaching your dog basic commands is one of the best ways to build a bond with him. The interaction between you and your dog during training helps him learn who's in charge. Dogs want to please us, and it's our job to make sure we can control our dogs at all times. So many unnecessary problems can be avoided when a dog understands and responds right away to a simple command to sit and stay, or come. Know who your dog is as an individual. Some dogs are willing to challenge you for the top spot and if you give in to a dominant dog, you're creating a problem dog that can result in dangerous behavior. Even a dominant dog is happy to accept your leadership, but you have to prove you're worthy of that role by being a fair and consistent leader.

Small dogs can develop small dog syndrome if their human doesn't take the lead role. Shelters are full of dogs of all sizes who developed behavior problems simply because their human wasn't the leader and it’s always the dog that suffers the consequences. It's not difficult to establish your role as the top dog, and it creates a happy and well balanced pet. Dogs expect and want us to lead; they are happy just being a dog that is willing and eager to follow their leader.

Photo by Tony Alter

Read more articles by Linda Cole


  1. Those are some super ideas. I have never had any trouble with behavior problems except for the dogs as they get older want to eat all the cat food left over.LOL. Hope you have a very Merry Christmas.

  2. Thanks for those helpful tips! Mika is an alpha dog and always trying his best to be the leader at home.


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