8 Steps to Becoming the Pack Leader
Do you shy away from the idea of being dominant with your dog? Maybe becoming the “alpha” doesn't sound appealing to you. While that’s understandable, the problem is that dogs naturally need a leader.
If a dog doesn't know who the leader is, he’ll stress and feel like he has to become one himself. By establishing yourself as the pack leader, you are actually giving your dog peace of mind.
If you’re not sure how to begin this process, we’ve put together our top eight suggestions to get you started. By following a dependable protocol with your pup every day, you’ll instill confidence that you are indeed the pack leader.
1. Remain calm and confident.
Whenever you are going to interact with your dog, especially for training purposes, take a moment to breathe and ground yourself. If you are fearful or panicky, your pup will sense this and feel the same way.
Dogs read and interpret energy incredibly well. Even if you try to hide your real emotions, he’ll pick up on your energy and wonder why you seem threatened. As a result, he’ll become anxious as well.
Be relaxed and assertive in all your interactions. If you can feel yourself becoming frustrated or nervous, take a step back and collect yourself before continuing. Don’t rush this process. Pushing through even when you’re in a bad mood is likely to end up in a fruitless training session, anyway.
2. Consistency is crucial.
As with everything in a dog’s life, consistency is key. Your pup will feel safe when he knows there’s structure in his life. When you lay down a rule, always enforce it. If you change the rules even once, this will confuse him. We all feel more at ease when we know what to expect.
For example, if your dog is not normally allowed on the couch, don’t let him jump up to cuddle “just this once.” It will undermine all your previous efforts, as well as set you up for future conflict. If you change one boundary, your dog will question all the other supposed “hard lines.”
3. Make your dog work for it.
Don’t miss out on the training opportunities available at meals and playtimes. Instead of just tossing a treating because your pup looks extra adorable that day, have him earn everything.
Only give a reward when there’s a reason for it. You can even apply this concept to recreational time. Instead of having toys out 24/7, give them out on a rotation (and never after inappropriate behavior).
Teach your pup to sit patiently before giving him permission to eat his meals. If you’re persistent with this, your pup will immediately sit and wait nicely when he sees you’re preparing his food.
4. Set aside daily training time.
It’s invaluable to make obedience training a regular part of your pup’s day. Even if you only have five minutes, that’s enough to reinforce some basic skills. Once your dog has the basics down, you can experiment with other tricks and lessons to keep him mentally stimulated.
If you’re feeling particularly ambitious, you could even take up a new sport like agility. The goal is to maintain that connection and keep your dog evolving. It’s much more effective to have short, daily sessions than long training blocks a few times a week, especially with a pup’s limited attention span.
5. Practice good leash etiquette.
When you’re taking your dog for a walk, do your best to keep him beside you. Don’t let him lead the way.
If he’s always pulling on the leash, he’s not recognizing you as an authority. Constantly having to tug on the leash is an unpleasant experience, and it will make your pup think he can get away with this unruly behavior in other areas.
A great way to work on this is to ask your dog to stop and sit periodically. When you move forward again, make sure you’re the one who initiates the movement, not him.
If he tries to take the lead, correct him and wait until he looks to you for instruction. While this can be time-consuming, gestures of respect like this go a long way in building your ideal power dynamic.
6. Always own your space.
Never move out of your dog’s way. That may sound funny, but these little things matter when establishing a pecking order. If you’re going through a doorway and he tries to hurry out in front of you, stop him.
When he’s in your way, gently but firmly walk into him so he moves. Practice this at random by purposefully walking where he is and having him shift out of your way.
All these minor corrections will teach your dog he needs to remain aware of you and respect your space. A good sign that your dog is acknowledging your authority is if he stops at doorways to let you walk through first.
7. Stay on top of any bad behaviors before they become habits.
Certain naughty behaviors can seem cute and harmless, especially if you've got a puppy. But when a puppy grows up, those same actions become irritating, painful, or downright dangerous.
Resist the urge to let nipping or jumping slide in the early months. Don’t accidentally encourage whining by giving your pup attention or consoling him when he’s vocal.
Demanding good manners from your dog at all times will both speed up the training process and provide comfort to your dog. This goes back to being consistent and structured so they know what’s expected from them. It will also make your house guests more comfortable dropping by for visits!
8. Don’t feel bad.
We love our dogs so much that we can be guilty of treating them like other humans. In reality, you’re doing your pooch a favor by maintaining rigid rules.
Dogs have a different kind of psychology and mindset than us. They crave that type of direction and will not think you love them any less. Your pup will not think you’re being “mean” to him if you insist on being the pack leader.
On the contrary, declaring your role will reassure him. A dog with no leader is a dog constantly on edge, wondering what’s going on and where he ranks in the scheme of things. Once your pooch settles into a subordinate role, both of your lives will run smoother. You’ll be truly speaking his language.
All This Work Will Pay Off!
Teaching your dog where he ranks in the home can require patience in the beginning, but it’s worth it in the long run. A dog who understands his role will be a well-adjusted and happy one. In return for your kind boundary-setting, you’ll be on the receiving end of some tail-waggin’ love.
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