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Pack leaders

Training behaviors like sit, down or stay will help you to control your dog’s actions but they will not put you in charge. Until you establish yourself as the pack leader then you will have to keep your dog on leash and under constant supervision. This means you will need to continually and consistently maintain the environment and your dog’s response to, or interaction with, everything in the environment.

You may not be able to match the keen senses that your dog has but you need to act like you can.

It is not quite as difficult as you might imagine. Dogs may have quicker reflexes but people are smarter. Just start watching your dog. You will be able to tell when he hears something; his ears go up or forward. If he points his nose in the air and starts sniffing, then he smells something. This is the time to intervene. Do not wait until he is halfway down the block. You cannot communicate to your dog that you do not want him to react to an event or distraction unless you catch him before he acts. Nor can you explain to him, after the fact, what he did wrong. The only exception to this is with aggressive dogs. If your dog is aggressive, you need to consult a professional behaviorist who is experienced with aggression problems.

With all training programs you should closely supervise your dog for an initial period of time (longer for puppies).

But after you have shown your dog what you expect from him in most situations, you should be able to let your guard down. If you have not established yourself as the pack leader, then to your dog you are just a big hairless monkey who yells at him every time he decides to have some fun with your stuff.

You will know when you are the pack leader because your dog will start looking to you for permission to act instead of you constantly looking at him in order to keep him out of trouble.

In short, leadership means you are in charge.

Becoming a leader happens when your dog respects and trusts you, not when you win the fight. As a matter of fact, you never want your dog to think it is a fight. Being a leader has less to do with what your dog is doing and more to do with what you do. Leadership is also responsibility and that means knowing what to believe and what not to believe in today’s pop culture training circles.

If you want to be the pack leader, then you need to remember the following four facts:

  1. Dog training is not magic.
  2. Put your ego aside.
  3. Dogs can hear (stop yelling!) 
  4. Learn the pack rules.


There are no secrets. Just about everything you want to know is out there in one form or another. You can be sure that every dog trainer you talk to will tell you that they can help you train your dog. Some of them can. Some of them cannot. But don’t forget; they want your business and for the most part they are going to tell you only what they want you to hear.

Talk to the person that will be training you and your dog. If you feel comfortable that he/she understands what you need and will treat both you and your dog respectfully, then ask for references. Be careful doing business with anyone that is not willing to give references. Your dog is counting on you to make a good choice.


Not knowing how to make a dog behave is not a reflection on your intelligence. Dogs want what they want and they want it now! This is the only thing they are thinking about. All of their thought and energy goes into getting what they want without concern for what anyone else thinks about them. Because of their dedicated focus on right now, they are better at training us than we are at training them. Every second you are with your dog one of you is training the other. If you do not consciously accept the role of leader, then by default your dog will.

Not being able to train your dog yourself has nothing to do with how educated you are, what kind of car you drive or where you live, nor does being a good dog trainer. You can excel at everything in the human world and still know nothing about being a good dog leader. You can also be good at teaching dog obedience behaviors and know nothing about dog leadership. Most pet dogs are ill mannered and in need of training, so you are in good company. I have dealt with thousands of dog owners from all walks of life and the only thing they all had in common was they each had a dog.


You cannot get them to behave by shouting louder and louder or repeating the same command over and over again. Shouting and arguing are not good leadership skills in the dog world. Dogs do give signals of increasing frustration but not in the same way we do. By the time you find yourself in an argument with your dog you have lost the argument. You can be sure that if you are angry or frustrated so is your dog. Dealing with your dog in this manner is more than just counter productive to training. It can be downright dangerous. Your dog can misinterpret your emotions as aggression and become fearful or aggressive himself. If you find yourself out of control, then put your dog away! If you cannot control yourself, how can you control your dog? Try again later when you and your dog have both calmed down.

Whatever you do with your dog is also an example for your dog. Dogs, more so than other pets, try to copy people’s actions and emotions. They not only want to be with us, they want to act like us. And yes, when your dog stands his ground and barks at you, he is yelling back. More accurately he thinks your yelling is barking. So why shouldn’t he bark back.


Now that you understand a bit more about pack leadership, stop copying TV dog trainers who pin the dogs to the ground. Alpha rolling your dog does not make you the pack leader. This is great entertainment but does not automatically earn you your dog’s respect. There is a good reason that the television shows flash disclaimers across the TV screen, someone can get hurt. And remember, you do not have to be a tyrant to be in charge; you can choose to be a benevolent leader.

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