There are so many misconceptions around the phrase “pack leader”. Being your dog’s pack leader is NOT about dominating, alpha roles or being cruel to your dog. You should never be forcing anything upon your dog!

Dogs are pack-oriented and very social animals. Meaning they want to be part of your family. 

What does it mean to be a pack leader for your dog? A pack leader is about being your dog’s parent, his guide, his leader, his protector. Your dog needs YOU to be confident and set rules and boundaries to navigate life, just as our human kids do. 

How do I become the pack leader with my dog?

1. Love your dog

Establishing pack leadership with your dog starts with love. Show him you will be there for the good and bad.

When your dog does something good, praise and praise more. If he lays down patiently while you work, or sits and waits for you to pet him… then praise, treat, and pet. 

Finding the balance between pack leadership and affection is important.

2. Be consistent

Your rules must be very clear and consistent with your dog and everyone in the family must be on the same page. If you tell the dog he can’t be on the couch one day, and the next day you are too tired to tell him off, he is going to be very confused. Same rules, every day, all day, no matter what the situation is.

3. Basic obedience training

Teaching your dog basic commands such as sit, stay, and come is an important part of your role as a pack leader. 

It’s easy to train basic commands at home with the help of treats and praise. Or you can take a class at your local dog training facility. 

Spirit Dog Training offers a wide variety of online training classes for very specific goals.

Read 5 Quick Ways to Train Your Dog in 3 Minutes a Day

4. Walk your dog

Walking your dog every day is great mental and physical exercise for you and your dog. Walking together will create a strong bond with your dog. 

Your dog should walk next to you with a loose leash 90% of your walk. Allowing 10% of the walk for potty, sniffing, marking, etc. If your dog pulls on walks, teach him to walk next to you with the help of a trainer if needed. 

Do not use a retractable leash that allows your dog to roam anywhere he wants. The purpose of your walk is to follow you, not you to follow the dog!

Read Are Flexi Retractable Leashes Dangerous?

5. Owning your space

The average dog won’t need to be reminded that you control the house and your belongings. But if you have a dog with any behavior issues you will need to set some boundaries. 

For instance, our dog Ginger has resource guarding issues. We have to be tighter on the rules of the house with her vs. our happy-go-lucky lab, Bear.

It is your house, your bed, your couch, your toys, your food and you give your dog permission to have these things. Start by restricting your dog to certain areas of your home until your dog earns access. Your dog is only allowed on furniture and your bed IF YOU invite him.

dog eating from bowl

6. You are your dog’s food supply

Food is the way to your dog’s heart. You may think your dog is not food motivated. But what happens if the only time he gets to eat is when you ask him to do something for you?  

Using your dog’s meal as a training opportunity is an awesome way to establish pack leadership.

Free feeding your dog not only has health consequences but also leaves no motivation to behave the way you wish him to.

How many dogs make a pack of dogs? 

You don’t need ten dogs to have a pack. Your pack consists of you and your dog. Whether that is one dog and you, or you and your spouse, or three kids and two dogs.

Cesar Millan and the pack leader  theory

Many people think of Cesar Millan when talking about the alpha dog theory or establishing pack leadership in dogs. Some of his training methods may be controversial, but being a pack leader for your dog goes back way before Cesar’s time.

Cesar talks about calm and assertive energy in his training videos a lot. This is the best advice you should take away from his teachings. Always be calm around your dog. Yelling or getting frustrated with your dog will only backfire. 

Definition of assertive: disposed to or characterized by bold or confident statements and behavior.

So assertive energy is to be confident in yourself as a dog parent. Be confident that you can be your dog’s leader. Be his confident guide in his life today and tomorrow. 

Don’t baby him because he’s been through a terrible life. How does feeling sorry for him help?

Now it’s your turn…

Being your dog’s pack leader is more about bonding together than anything. Pack leadership is not cruel or outdated. It’s about being your dog’s leader, his parent, his guide… however you choose to say it.

Leave a comment below to tell me how you established your pack? Do you struggle with your dog’s behavior in any way? I always reply to comments, so let’s start a conversation… it could help someone else with the same problem or question.

P.S. If you are looking for a comprehensive dog training program, Spirit Dog Training offers a wide variety of online training classes for very specific goals.

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About the Author

Debi McKee

Debi McKee is the expert behind Rescue Dogs 101 where she guides you in your journey of adopting and raising a rescue dog every step of the way. She is a mom of 3 human kids and 4 dogs and volunteers for a local dog rescue and Humane Society. Click here for more about Debi and her passion for helping you and your dog.

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  1. Hi, my Bertie is reactive around some other dogs, especially on lead. This began at about 1.5 -2 years, and we’re not sure why, whether it could be related to castration, dominance, or whether he may have had an incident we weren’t told about at doggy daycare the one time he went. What advice would you give?
    Cath & Bertie

  2. Our 10 week old standard poodle still wants to jump on us and bite. How should we address this. Leash training is going well. Is it ok for her to run free in back yard? I always supervise.

  3. Our new rescued English Setter has a habit of arising every morning at 5 a m and starts wandering around the house. We tried isolating to another room and caging him, but then he simply barks incessantly alarming our other dogs
    It isn’t about relieving himself; he seems to want to eat at that time. How can we break this pattern?
    Judy murphy

    1. You didn’t mention how long he’s been with you. This schedule may have what he did in his previous home. You can simply ignore the behavior and not feed him until the time you want him to eat. Or you can gradually feed him later and later, by like 10 minutes each day until you reach your goal time.

  4. Great clear suggestions thank you 🙂 how would you suggest I handle the pack leadership in this situation.
    We have a large Family property with 3 houses. One is my adult sons with a docile 5 month old chow. One is grandparents with a strong character but no dogs. The third is ours 3 adults – we have just reintroduced a frenchie we have pre chow fostered several times. It’s not going well. Frenchie is resource guarding around food and also me. I feel like I should establish myself as his pack leader as we have bonded the most. He is jeaulous and wary around the chow who seems to want to spend most of his time also around my house, (there’s more food here) and the grandfather.. I’m a bit at a loss where to start, unsure how to manage the separate households separate pack? The garden is shared territory and both dogs – I would like to be able to roam free. 🙁

  5. Because of the pack theory being somewhat of a hot topic, stirring controversy within the dog training community, many trainers will go with the assumption that the pack theory exists, rather than saying either way is pure fact. Some trainers will point to scientific-based articles debunking the pack theory, but others will point to their live evidence of a dog acting as “pack leader” among its human (and sometimes other canine) family members. Whether the pack theory truly exists, I still believe that an owner MUST be a leader for their dog. We don t have to call the owner “alpha” or be “pack leader”. They can just be the family leader, head of the household, etc.

  6. I spend 1-2 hours a day walking my dog but most of the time it is off leash. I take him to the racecourse and let him run free. I do this because we live in a small apartment and I want him to have some semblance if freedom but based on your post would it be better if I kept him on a leash most of the time? When I walk around the racecourse he follows me and comes when I call but he also runs long distances and rarely walks by my side.

    1. I think letting your dog run in a controlled environment is great! By no means do dogs need to be on a leash at all times. Nor do they need to be by your side 24/7. Sounds like you are doing great with your dog.

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