I believe there are some misconceptions around the pack leader phrase. Being your dog’s pack leader is NOT about dominating or being cruel to your dog. I would never endorse forcing anything upon your dog!
So what does it mean to be your dog’s pack leader? In my opinion, it’s more about being your dog’s parent, his leader. Yes, your dog needs rules and boundaries, just as your human kids do.
You don’t need ten dogs to have a pack. Your pack consists of you, your family and your dog. Whether that is one dog and you, or you and your spouse, 3 kids and 2 dogs.
Start being the leader for your dog from the first day you bring him home. He needs you to help direct him through the confusion of human life!
Dogs are pack-oriented and very social animals. If you fail to lead your dog, he will be forced to take on the roll… and trust me that is not a good thing.
Being the pack leader does not mean you have to be a screaming mad dog parent… it simply means you need to be confident and show your dog leadership and right from wrong. In fact, showing your dog love is part of being a balanced pack leader.
Many people think of Cesar Millan when talking about establishing pack leadership in dogs. Most people either hate or love Cesar. Some of his training methods may be controversial, but being a pack leader for your dog goes back way before Cesar’s time.
Establishing pack leadership with your dog starts with love. When your dog does something good, such as when he listens to your command to sit, praise and praise more. Showing him you love him at the right times, making him work for your affection will allow you to love your dog and become his pack leader at the same time! Finding the balance between pack leadership and affection is important.
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 next time you tell him he is not allowed on the couch. Same rules, every day, all day, no matter what the situation is.
Some may say that pack leader dog training needs to be harsh. I don’t agree. Teaching your dog basic commands such as sit, stay and come are an important part of your role as pack leader. Taking a class at your local dog training facility or doing this on your own is a great start. We also have many resources on our website to learn how to train your dog.
You love your dog, he is your family and you'd do anything for him, right? Then you owe it to him to learn his language.
Walking your dog every day is very important for so many reasons. Walking is great mental and physical exercise for you and your dog. It will help release any extra energy he has and allow him to follow YOUR lead.
Your dog should not be allowed to pull, lunge, bark, or mark his territory during your walk. Your dog should walk next to you with a loose leash.
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!
Steps 5 and 6 are only necessary if you have a dog that is having behavior issues. The average dog won’t need to be reminded that you control the house and your belongings. But 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.
Your dog should be dependent on you to feed him. He should not have free access to food all day. Feed him twice a day on a schedule, preferably after he sees you eat. Using your dog’s meal as a training opportunity is an awesome way to establish pack leadership.
If your dog has any food aggression issues, he should not be allowed in the kitchen while cooking and eating.
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.
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Debi McKee is a mom of three kids, two dogs and the creator of Rescue Dogs 101... were she guides you in your journey of adopting and raising a rescue dog every step of the way. She also volunteers for a local dog rescue and Humane Society.