One of the first things you need to do to create a strong relationship with your dog is to become the pack leader. You need to do this from the moment you bring them home, all the way throughout their life.
Dogs need a strong pack leader. They operate on a social structure of rank and if they lead, you follow. If your dog is the pack leader and a time comes when you need to command them, they will not take you seriously. However, if you become the pack leader and set out clear leadership roles, your dog will respond more positively to your commands.
While being the pack leader is beneficial, being overly dominate can actually be detrimental to their behaviour. You need to have them trained correctly and they must trust you.
How Do You Become the Alpha Dog?
Being the pack leader in your household does not give you free reign to become a bully. If your dog fears you, they may become badly behaved or even aggressive.
Let’s look at a number of things you need to do to become the pack leader in your household.
Be Calm Yet Assertive
When it comes to dogs, leadership is more about showing your dominance silently. Pack leaders do not project nervous or emotional energy, so neither should you. You must be calm and confident when dealing with your dog.
A dog’s mother is a great example of a pack leader. They do not take any silly behaviour and if a puppy steps out of line, they are dealt with quickly and calmly.
Set Your Boundaries
Like pack leaders, territory is incredibly important to dogs. Wild dogs claim their territory by asserting themselves calmly and confidently, and then communicate their ownership through eye contact and body language. As a pack leader, you need to show your dog that you are in charge of the area you two live in and train in.
Your dog will probably already realise this however. For example, they know they cannot go through a door without your help.
Make Sure Your Dog Earns Their Rewards
A common problem with many dog owners is they become big softies when they get home and see their puppy. While they are strong at work, the sight of their pooch makes them break down. Your dog needs to learn that rewards are not something they just get, but something that is earnt.
If you give your dog everything they want, when they want it, they will become bossy and uncontrollable. This means that you should not give your dog any rewards such as food, petting or even eye contact when they are demanding attention.
Rewards should be given when your dog does something that you feel is good, not when you just want to treat them. If you want to give your dog a treat, get them to do something like ‘sit’, ‘come’ or ‘lie down’ before you give it to them. This way your dog understands that they need to do something before a reward is given.
However, it is still ok to occasionally treat your dog to show that you love them.
Be in Control of Their Food
You should be in total control of your dog’s feeding arrangements. However, contrary to popular belief, eating your food before your dog eats theirs is not necessary. You can feed your dog before yourself, but remember to not give them the food until you have released them to eat.
Finally, take your dog for a walk before you give them their breakfast or dinner. You will not only show that you are in charge of their food, but your dog will also find that your dog will be more willing to follow your commands. A hungry dog will be more keen for food rewards, so use this to your advantage.
Control Your Dog When it is Time for a Walk
Your dog should not be jumping up or snatching at the lead when you are about to take them for a walk. Ask your dog to sit and wait patiently for you while you get ready. They should stay sitting until the lead is on and you are ready to go. Make sure you walk out the door before your dog.
When walking, make sure you are in front of your dog or have them just to your side. Do not let your dog lead you or pull on the leash and have them stop and sit when you get to traffic lights or crossings.
Use precise words when dealing with your dog and use verbal commands to get them into positions you want. Teaching your dog to heel and not pull on their lead will make walking a much more enjoyable experience for the both of you.
Train Them Correctly
One of the biggest problems people face with their dogs is trying to get them to carry out commands. While you need to be the pack leader, it is no use of you have not taught them correctly. Make sure you have trained your dog to instinctively follow commands.
Try to avoid giving specific obedience commands that have not been properly taught or conditioned. Doing so can actually set progress back and make dealing with your dog frustrating.
We believe that training is actually more important than trying to be a pack leader. Poorly trained dogs will not respond to directions well even if they see you as more dominant.
Manage Their Playtime and Toys
We all love to play with our dogs, but you need to set out some rules first. You should always be the first to initiate a game with your dog and you should be the one to make the rules. Start and stop games when you like it, and immediately walk away if they are not listening to you.
You can also rotate their toys or have specific toys that only come out during playtime. Making your dog work for their toys is not only a great way to reward them, but also a great way to show you are the pack leader.
Don’t Let Them Have the Higher Ground
Avoid letting your dog take positions above you. If your dog is on the couch looking down at you on the floor he will feel more dominant. Alpha dogs would never let that happen in the pack, and neither should you. However, you can let your dog have the higher ground if you are playing a game.
You should not let your dog jump up when you or guests enter the house. Simply ignore your dog until you are ready. Giving them attention and rewards when they are jumping up or barking when you get home will only make the problem worse.
Additionally, never let or approve of biting. While you will certainly get some biting or mouthing when your dog is younger, show them that you will not tolerate it. This will help you in the long run and guests to your house will be much happier.
More Information About Dog Behaviour
Why Do Dogs Sit On Your Feet?
You have probably heard that dogs that sit on your feet are trying to be more dominant than you. In reality, this is completely false.
Dogs sit on your feet for a couple of reasons and it has nothing to do with being more dominant than you:
- The floor is cold and your feet are warm.
- Because they like to be close to you or they sit on you so they know when you move.
If your dog sits on your vet, they may be concerned you are going to leave the room.
Why Does My Dog Try and Lie Down on Me?
Contrary to popular belief, a dog that tries to lie on top of you is not necessarily being dominant. Dogs love body contact and they like to sleep together in a heap rather than individually. Dogs see no reason to exclude you from their sleeping circle.
Additionally, some young dogs and puppies will try to hump people who sit on the floor. This is not typically related to dominance, but more play or hormonal reasons. If this happens, simply stand up and walk away.
Is Aggression Related to Dominance in Dogs
Yes, and no. Aggression in dogs is more likely to be caused by fear and resource or food guarding, rather than dominance issues. Trying to out dominate your dog can actually make things worse. If your dog is aggressive, take a good hard look at how you treat them and make sure they are trained correctly.
How Come Dogs Submit When They Are On Their Back?
Dogs will usually submit when they are placed or forced onto their back. Being on their back is alien to dogs and can be very threatening to them. It is usually nothing to do with dominance and is more to do with the fact that they may feel threatened. Your dog may also simply want to play or want a tummy tickle.
It All Comes Back to Resources
At the end of the day, being the pack leader is less about dominating your dog and is more about being in control of their resources. If you bully and intimidate your dog, they will become even more uncontrollable and may even become aggressive.
Your dog knows that you control their food, bedding and where they go, so use this to your advantage. They cannot go out and buy themselves more food or new toys, only you can do that for them.
This gives you all the power in the relationship, so don’t try and push it too much. Be confident and clear with your dog, and realise that you are already the pack leader. Do not try and out rank or dominate your dog.
Check out this article from the American Veterinarian Society of Animal Behaviour for their views on dominance training and why it can be bad.
If you really want to change your dog’s behaviour, training will make the biggest difference. There are so many different resources available when it comes to training, so we suggest you check them out (remember to check Dogopedia’s training section).