Hopefully this book has shown you thus far not only the value of being a pack leader, but how your dog views the world around them and how you can adjust your perceptions to be more like your dog, and not expect them to do the same. After all, human beings are the ones that can adapt and adjust to the behaviours of others. We are the ones that can understand the consequences of our actions. Dogs cannot.
And because they cannot, we need to perform specific tasks on a daily basis that will establish dominance and create a pack structure that will sustain for the life of your dog. Ideally, these strategies will start as soon as your puppy is old enough to start testing you for the alpha position – often times at 3-4 months of age. But, do not fret if you’re working with an older dog who has become too much to handle. Even a dog with many years can learn how to behave.
Pack Leader Strategies
Before we go into specific exercises, here are few things you should be doing on a daily basis to establish not only rules for the house (that all members will follow), but rules for you and your dog. If you know the rules, it is easier to enforce them when your dog does something they should not.
Rules for Your House
- Set Rules with Everyone in the House before you Deal with the Dog
- Be Consistent with Your Dog About Everything – never waver
- Start Enforcing the Rules Immediately, Even with a Puppy
- Be Calm and Assertive – Never Enforce Rules if You’re Angry or Tired
- Never Yell or Hit Your Dog
- Don’t Reinforce Any Behaviors that Are Aggressive or Fearful
- Use Treats and Affection as Rewards
With those things in mind, let’s start looking at the rules for how you can establish dominance on a day to day basis.
Tools of the Trade
When training your dog, you will need to use certain tools to show them how to behave. These tools include a good leash and collar that match the specific needs of your dog. There are dozens of different types of leashes and collars, including harnesses and leads, that fit different personalities, ages, and situations. Be sure to match them carefully.
Additionally, treats or a clicker are invaluable for training a dog. They will help you show your dog what is good behaviour and what is not. Remember – training is a great way to keep your dog active, both physically and mentally.
The Right Frame of Mind
Claiming the alpha position in your relationship requires a number of things. While we will go over specific situations at the end of the guide, here are a few important factors to keep in mind as you interact with your pet on a daily basis.
- Be Calm and Assertive – To be in charge, you must be sure of yourself at all times. If you decide something, you must be persistent. Don’t tell the dog to sit and then give up when they ignore you the first two or three times. They need to know that when you give them a command, they should follow it.
- Require Calm and Submission – Before you allow your dog to do something, you should require them to remain calm and submissive. This will be important for leash training and feeding time and will also make it easier to avoid anxious behaviours when you leave the house or come home from a long day.
- Rewards are Important – Like all living things, dogs can be conditioned with rewards. If you are training a dog to sit and you give them a treat the first 15 times they sit, they will learn that sitting is a good thing. Later, you can replace the treat you gave with praise and they will likely still sit, expecting your positive attention. Eventually, simply responding to your command will be enough.
- Make the First Move – Taking the first move is important in many situations. You may not need to eat first or step into a room first, but neither should you allow your dog to pull you down the street or take scraps off your plate. Be calm but assertive and hold your position, making sure your dog knows that you are the leader.
- Body Language is Key – Dogs respond to many stimuli and body language is one of them. Stand tall, hold your head straight and don’t back away when addressing them. You don’t need to stare them in the eye or yell, but you should always remain confident and in full control – this will improve their response.
Speaking to the Breed of Your Dog
Your dog is a specific breed and that breed has certain expectations. Few dogs were originally bred to sit around the living room and play with a rubber ball. They are workers – hunting, herding, running. As animals, it is their duty to work for food and water and as dogs, they need the social interaction that was bred into them.
So, you will need to ensure you have the time and the energy to keep up with the breed you brought home. There are multiple different kinds of breeds, each with its own expectations in a household. Here is a short breakdown of each:
- Sporting Dogs – Sporting dogs are those descended from hunting dogs – trained to located and retrieve game. These dogs were adapted and bred to use their innate hunting instincts to track animals and find game, but not to kill that game – a very important distinction. For these animals, games like fetch, swimming, and Frisbee are all very popular because they allow them to utilize those tracking and finding instincts. Keep in mind that not all sporting dogs are high energy, but they will track toward having high energy. Spending time with your dog will help establish those pack sensibilities while playing. One trick you might find useful is to get your sporting dog a backpack – a small weighted pack that straps to their back to add some weight to their workload. Just be sure to see a vet first before using this to keep from causing any unwanted health or back problems.
- Hounds – Hounds are trained to hunt their pray – often small mammals – and to go ahead of hunters to trace out the quarry. There are scent hounds like bassets, beagles, bloodhounds and dachshunds that are bred to hold a scent longer and to ignore noises (hence the big floppy ears). Keeping these dogs busy involves putting those noses to work. Burying items, putting treats into toys and letting them dig them out, or going hunting are all good ways to engage your hound.
- Working Dogs – Working dogs are those that guard, rescue, or pull. This includes malamutes, mastiffs, akitas, great danes, Dobermans, rottweilers, and others. Basically, dogs that are bred and set to a specific task are working dogs. To keep these dogs happy, they need to be given work. To some, it seems cruel, but in reality, they are eager to be kept busy. Strength oriented activities are important here, like pulling or carrying weight.
- Terriers – Terriers are bred to hunt down and kill vermin such as mice, rats, moles, and groundhogs – actually digging into the earth to get them in some instances. These dogs have a lot of energy and are often quite intelligent, making them a handful to deal with. Play with them often, get them off the leash outside if possible, and put their brains to work. Trick toys, special commands, and other things like that will help them to stay busy.
- Toy Dogs – Toy breeds were bred originally as companions and only companions. The result is a subset of dogs that is very cute, and as such, can manipulate its owner. You will need to be just as strict with a toy dog as you would with a pitbull or Rottweiler. They need to be shown that their behaviour cannot be allowed. Things like biting, barking, or destroying items are the same negative behaviors performed by big dogs, and yet many people tend to overlook them in toy breeds.
The breed of your dog is important in determining how they might act. It’s like your genes. If your grandfather was diabetic, there is a chance you could carry the gene for diabetes. You’ll need to watch your diet as you age and get your blood checked often. However, you may never get diabetes, because it is not guaranteed that a gene will transfer between generations.
The same is true for dogs. The breed does not make the dog. And in some cases, the physical abilities and appearance of a breed can harm them more than anything, as is the case with Pitbulls or Rottweilers, which have a reputation for being vicious, but are generally only vicious when their owners train them to be so, or neglect them. In reality, they can be some of the sweetest, best trained dogs around.
Remember, when thinking about the breed of your dog, it has an effect on how they might act, but it should never be an excuse for behaviors. Any dog can be a good dog, regardless of natural energy levels or aggressiveness.
Dogs Are Not Out to Get You
While most of this book has talked about gaining and holding respect from your dog and giving them a powerful leader to follow, this is not the only way to gain control of your dog. Recent studies have shown that dogs learn more from experience and behaviour than from dominance. I want to make sure you understand that this book is not designed to teach you how to completely dominate your dog and you should never assume that your dog is trying to threaten your dominance every time they wet the rug or chew up a shoe.
However, being an alpha leader will help immensely in controlling these behaviours by giving the dog a leader to follow, reasons to avoid behaviors, and a clear path to approval from their pack. If you establish dominance safely, without provoking your animal, show them that you are in charge but also part of the “we” that is their universe, and are consistent in training, the process will run smoothly and result in long term, positive effects.