Developing and Establishing Leadership

When talking to new dog owners, we often hear stories that someone told them about how to “really show the dog who is boss”! They often continue on to explain they how they were told to do so. The actions usually tend to include rolling the dog over and growling at it, holding the dog’s muzzle and sternly saying “NO”, or even grabbing the dog’s scruff and shaking it. One person even said that a veterinarian told her to charge her dog while making a loud growling noise. It was no surprise that her dog ran when she approached it. Wouldn’t you?

The fact is that most advice regarding establishing leadership over your dog involves confrontational and harsh methods. This can actually be dangerous, because depending on your dog’s temperament, you may either make the issues worse or cause the dog to attack you. If you take a moment to think about all this from your dog’s perspective; suddenly you are being grabbed, shaken, rolled over, and growled at. Would you like that? The dog will be very confused and from his point of view you could be randomly attacking him. These actions are not good and can more times than not lead to possible aversion and aggression toward you. Furthermore, the dog may begin to develop distrust for humans in general. Just keep in mind that establishing leadership requires building mutual respect, trust, and clear communication. Leadership should never be about intimidation or dominance.

1. You should first ask your dog to do something for you before doing something for the dog. If you cater to the dog’s every attempt for attention, play, food, etc. you will end up with a demanding pet that does not respect you or your leadership. Here’s an example: when your dog comes to you to be petted, you should have the dog “sit” for a few moments before proceeding to pet him. What does this teach? He will soon learn that he should approach you and sit down to get his desired results. Keep aware of the responses and do not reinforce the behaviors you do not like! By petting him

2. Be consistent in your actions! Make sure you establish necessary boundaries and stick with them. Don’t waiver.

3. Always remember that the person who controls the resources also makes the rules. It is recommended that you feed your dog at least twice daily for adult dogs and three times per day for younger puppies. By free feeding your dog, you are putting the dog in charge of the primary resource, and that is food. If you feed your dog only once per day the dog will have an empty stomach for nearly 18 hours, and this can lead to hunger stress and the problems that accompany it. You don’t want that. Dogs that are allowed to control resources will think of themselves as leaders.

4. As the dog’s leader, you should be able to easily handle and groom your dog without further complaints, fighting, or fussing. The dog should have been trained from a young age to submit to what you say. Therefore, you must handle the dog frequently, and provide positive reinforcement for calm acceptance. Never let your dog win a fight with you; by doing so, you will only be teaching the dog that he can control you by acting out.

5. Remain persistent and fair!

6. Until you have gained some level of control over your dog, I would recommend NOT playing confrontational games such as roughhousing or tug of war. Games like this can communicate the wrong message to your dog.

7. Control playtime. You should always begin and end all games with the dog. Not the other way around.

8. Control where the dog sleeps and lies. This is another important resource to be in charge over; especially if you do not have other control over the dog. This means that until you have gained the control you want, you need to keep your pet out of your bed and off the furniture.

9. Mean what you say and say what you mean. If you do not, your dog can become confused. You should never give your dog commands that it does not fully understand. If the dog ignores the commands he or she knows, you should re-evaluate your relationship and see who is leading whom.

10. Do not allow your dog to run up or down stairs, through doors, out gates, etc. before you. Remember that leaders always go first, so this means you should never let the dog walk in front of you. You basically want the dog to be subordinate, not submissive per se. Submission occurs when the dog rolls over voluntarily groveling and might even urinate on itself (known as submissive urination). That’s not what we’re after. Subordination on the other hand, is recognition for respecting it, complying with the rules, and achieving a “higher rank” while maintaining order.