Dogs are animals and not human beings. They are pack animals and every pack has a pack leader in the form of an alpha dog and an alpha female. When puppies are born they are pushy and will try to advance as far as possible within the social order of the pack. The mother will teach it ‘manners’ by gently pushing it with its nose and mouth and pinning it to the ground or growling at the puppy, when it has ‘overstepped’ its boundaries. She will then again immediately lick the puppy and comfort it if it approaches her in the correct manner i.e. ears back, tail down and wagging and licking the mother’s muzzle.
In the dog world the leader is the strength of the pack. The leader guides them and this keeps the pack secure and happy. Dogs need rules, boundaries and limitations.
Dogs usually determine their social ranking through a series of behaviours, which include body postures and vocalizations that do not result in injury. Examples of these behaviours are one dog ‘standing over’ another by placing his paws or neck on the shoulders of the other, mounting, lip licking or rolling over onto the back. Some dogs may take toys away from other dogs, insist on being petted first or exercise control over other resources i.e. access to food. In some dogs this behavior may escalate into aggression with very little warning.
It is therefore important to give our dog proper leadership on a daily basis as we do with our children.
This does not mean that you as the leader have to be big and aggressive. The leader is always cool, calm, and consistent, for he or she knows their place. We do this on a daily basis with our children and with each other. We control resources for our children such as ‘do your homework and then you can go out to play’. We set the rules and guidelines and reward them for a job well done.
Have you ever seen your dog’s reaction if two human adults have an argument? The dog crouches and hides away. Screaming at your dog does not earn respect. Your dog needs to respect you and he will if you always talk in a calm and reserved manner.
The key to success is to establish yourself and the family members as the pack leader and earn this position. Remember a leader provides for his pack and this maintains balance and harmony.
Here are some notes on how you can establish yourself as a respected pack leader, remember the whole family must also enforce with these rules:
- Take control of all resources the dog finds valuable i.e. food, water, treats, space, toys and affection.
- Water and Food – always make sure your dog has access to clean water to drink at all times. Do not free feed your dog (meaning the food is out for the taking whenever they want). Feed your dogs at the same time each day. Never withhold food to punish your dog. A well fed dog is a happy dog who will obey your commands. If you have more than one dog, teach the dogs to eat out of their allocated bowls every time. If one dog has finished, take his bowl away, this dog should then walk away and not hassle the other dogs while they are still eating. This can be done by standing in between the dogs while they are eating. If the dog wanders from his bowl to the other dog’s bowl grab him by the collar and gently take him back to his own bowl. If your dog does not finish his food, take the bowl away. Always give your dog a command i.e. wait, sit or stand, and only then give his bowl of food. This way he does something for his food. Get the family members to take turns to feed the dogs.
- In nature pack leaders always eat first, therefore when you are eating do not give him any scraps from the table. When you are finished go to his bowl or away from the table and give your dog the scraps.
- Dogs own no possessions, everything belongs to the leader. You should be able to handle or remove any item at all times from your dog with no problem. It is a good thing to always take a bone out of your dog’s mouth and give it back. This strengthens your leadership. Dogs need to be taught a “drop it” or release command.
- You should not lie on the floor when the dog is around and no one should roll around the floor playing with the dogs, as a leader should never put himself in an equal or lesser height position than the dog.
- If a dog is lying in your path, do not walk around the dog, either make the dog move or step over the dog.
- A leader must not let the dog go through any doorways first. Dogs must always go through the doorways or up and down stairs after the leader of the pack. If your dog does not stay behind, the dog must be told to "stay" and given the command to "come" after the leader has passed through.
- Ideally dogs should not sleep in your bed. In the dog world the most comfortable place to sleep is reserved for the higher members of the pack. If a dog is allowed to sleep on the bed, the dog must be invited up and not be allowed to push the leader out of their way. Making your dog sleep at the foot of the bed rather than for example on your pillow.
- If you do decide to allow your dog on the furniture, you must be the one who decides when he is allowed up and you must be the one who decides when he is to get off, by inviting him and telling him to get down.
- To further strengthen your leadership with your dog, take him for daily walks. Again it must be remembered that a pack leader leads his dog. Therefore when you take your dog for a walk let him walk beside you and not pull you around. Give him change to sniff and eliminate where he wishes, and then he must obey you by walking where you want to. Dog's who have excess energy bottled up inside them will develop various instability issues that most people mistake for being breed traits. Taking your dog for regular walks will release built up energy, and your dog will look up to you as a true leader.
- Dogs want to please and we just need to show them how they can get it by behaving appropriately. Using positive rewards, such as a tasty treat, goes a lot further toward teaching the animal what we want, than punishment for not doing something. You need to show your dog in a relaxed atmosphere what you want and when he is successful, give him a tidbit. It makes you feel good, and it makes the dog feel good about you instead of trying to teach your dog to do something by shouting out the command, and then jerking on a choke chain, if your dog does not understand what you want.
- All games of fetch or play with toys must be started and ended by the Leader. After play, put the toys away until the next play session, this way you are in charge of the toys. Tug-of-war games must be avoided as this is a game of power and you may lose the game giving the dog reinforcement, in the dog's mind, of top dog. Never let dogs play tug-of-war games amongst themselves. This will cause serious friction.
- Giving your dog affection, like petting and hugs is important but it should be given when you decide to give it. No petting should be given when your dog nudges or paws you for attention. This would be letting the dog decide and reinforcing, in his mind, that he is higher on the ranking scale than the leader.
- Never support the dominant dog by giving it hugs as this may be counterproductive. The dog may see this as a challenge of power. Furthermore it will think, in his mind, that he has the power and this can cause him to try and take on any other dog in the pack.
- When you have left the house and come back, ignore the dog for a few minutes before greeting your dog. Never make a fuss when greeting and do this when you decide to do so.
- Separation anxiety - In a pack, the leader is allowed to leave, however, the followers never leave the leader. If your dog is instinctually seeing you as their follower and you leave them, it causes so much mental anguish that a dog often takes it out on your house or themselves. Never make a fuss when leaving. Tell your dog to stay and then leave.
- If you have taken one dog out of the property, always remember that the status of the dogs remaining on the property could have changed amongst themselves while the one dog is away. The remaining dogs on your property might see the dog that you took out as a threat when it returns. Always take all the dogs out of your property and introduce them to one another outside your property on neutral ground. Then take them all back into the property at the same time, this way you do not upset the ranking status of the dogs. Always remember that any dog that has been taken out of the property has different smells which would mean that the other dogs might see this dog as an intruder.
- When a dog is scared or is traumatized by thunder or crackers etc. Ignore the dog. Do not try and calm it by stroking or hugging it and telling it that it is ok. It is comforting for humans, but it feeds the dog’s state of mind, making the fear more intense. Dogs do not see comfort and affection in the same way we humans see it. Rather let him work it out in his own mind. Try distracting him by playing with him. It is also a good thing to make a recording of the noises that cause distress and play it back to him whenever you are playing with him. In doing this he will become used to the noise.
- Dogs must never be allowed to mouth or bite anyone at any time, including in play.
- To reinforce your leadership position even more, you can make your dog lie down and stay there for a few minutes. Tell him to lie down, and then tell him to stay. If he tries to get up, correct him. Ask another family member to hold him from behind until he gets the idea of staying when you walk away.
- Teaching your dog to ‘sit’, ‘lie down’ or ‘stand’ and rewarding it with a treat when the command is followed will show your dog that he does not get anything for free. No treat should be given if the dog does not follow the command. Children should give the dogs commands at least once a day and reward with a treat. If you have more than one dog then each dog must get a treat. Never give a treat only to one dog in front of another dog. Make sure the dog takes the treat from your hands gently. Do not tolerate a mouthy dog. Always let him wait a few second before you give him a treat while you hold it in front of him.
- It is important to establish eye contact with your dog. It is important that your dog looks you in the eye and he will look away first. Do not have a staring contest. If you look away first, it might just reinforce, in the dogs mind, that he is the top dog.
- Body posture and hand signals are a vital part of a dog’s training process. Use the same hand signals if you stop petting your dog or end a game with a clear verbal command.
If your position as leader is clear, it will help the dogs sort out their lower places in the social structure more peacefully. Your dog will be happy and secure knowing he has a strong pack leader to care for him.