Becoming Your Dog’s Leader Once Again

When we bring dogs into our lives and homes, they become more than just pets. They become part of our family, and for some people, their dogs are like their children. But like children, dogs need someone to take the role as a leader. This does not mean a scary dictator role, but one that can be both loving and disciplined, where rewards are given and boundaries are set.

Dog Trainer Atlanta Blog - Be the Pack Leader!

Wiley and Leo are brothers, and Wiley is a hot mess without Leo! He follows Leo, who is the more dominant one, rather than following his owners. Wiley is building his confidence, and both him and Leo are learning that their parents are the real leaders of the pack!

There are some philosophies out there that state people should treat their dogs like animals, and with a dog, the owner must assert themselves as a “pack leader” or “alpha dog”. While dogs are animals and we should treat them like animals, we can still be affectionate and give them special privileges. But spoiling a dog is like spoiling a child…it can cause bad behavior and inappropriate expectations. Dogs need a leader, and while they are pack animals, owners do not necessarily have to take the dominant role of “alpha”. Dominance is showing the dog who is in charge, but many times it leans toward more harsh approaches and mindsets. For example, many clients I have worked with it have read in the past that if their dog is being persistently unruly, then they as the owner should pin the dog on it’s back so that their bellies are up and they’re in their most submissive position. While this can teach your dog to quit being a pest and see you as the boss, it’s not really necessary.

I feel there’s no need to be harsh. Firm, absolutely, but the last thing I want to see if a dog to obey their owners because they are petrified of their owners. This is not a healthy relationship for the modern dog and dog owner. Dogs are very intelligent, and we as humans have a deep connection with them that is not seen often between two separate species. It’s a connection that I feel should be treasured and strengthened, not torn down with fear. However, we as dog owners can’t always say “yes” to our dogs. Occasionally, they have to hear “no” and realize there are some boundaries they should not cross.

When clients call me for dog training, nearly every one of them has lost their role as the leader, or have yet to find it for themselves. Dogs that exhibit poor behavior are not bad dogs, but rather misguided and probably just making a few bad choices. But dogs in a domestic life with their owners don’t know better, and if their owners can’t show them how to behave, then the dog is left to decide on their own. It is the owner’s responsibility to direct their dogs to better decisions and to be consistent leaders that set their dogs up for success, but are also willing to correct inappropriate behavior (rather than ignore or reinforce it).

Dogs without leaders can take that role for themselves, and consequently, show more dominant behavior (including aggression) toward other family members, including the owner. Dogs can also abstain from taking this position, but if they still go without a leader and if they keep getting punished for their ignorance, then consequently anxiety is going to strike the dog, and it can escalate to severe levels.

Oliver started acting aggressively toward his dad after a minor accident. Not knowing what to do, we started working on Oliver’s parents being consistent leaders that set him up for success. Now Oliver is not only listening better, but back to being affectionate with his dad rather than aggressive!

The best way to be a leader for your dog is to be balanced, and always consistent with your communication. Communication means that you praise your dog when he/she does well, but also correcting their mistakes so they learn not to repeat them. This is also what balance is about, where an owner is not afraid to let a dog walk all over them (literally or metaphorically), yet also keep things in control so that the dog can always be set up for success, not failure. A great way to set them up for success is training them in basic obedience, so they understand what you expect from them, and can perform some tasks that will lead to reward for both you and your dog. Saying “no” or correcting your dog isn’t cruel, just as long as you’re not being extreme, and as long as you’re bringing in the positive as well. Dogs are smart and can learn, and we need to be their leaders and teachers.

This is not a put down on my clients at all, because they are showing leadership by reaching out and asking for help. This is a sign that they love their dogs and do not want to give up on them for easily treatable behaviors. I commend all clients that pursue training for their dogs, either on their own or professionally. Some dogs and their behaviors are more difficult to tackle, and that’s where I come in. 

If you’re stuck on how to deal with your dog’s behaviors and to get your leadership role back, then call me and we’ll sort it out. I can be reached at 800-649-7297, and when you call, we’ll figure out the best training plan that addresses your specific needs and goals!