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How to become the pack leader

The article Why is my dog aggressive to humans? briefly discusses the background to pack hierarchy and how instability in this can result in dominance aggression. This article looks at the positive actions you can take to establish yourself as the packleader and bring harmony to your pack.

To your dog, all members of your family are members of the same pack as they are. Both for your dog and families well-being, it is essential that your dog quickly understands that its rank is right at the bottom of the pack hierarchy. This way they will be more compliant to commands and generally better behaved, and as a consequence be more of a pleasure to include in family activities.

Establishing yourself as the pack leader helps enforce ranking hierarchy and ensure your pack operates in harmony. Despite popular opinion, this does not mean bullying your dog. Being the pack leader means taking responsibility for pack decisions, protecting the pack and ensuring stressful situations are avoided or resolved. There are a number of very positive actions you can take to establish yourself as the pack leader. It is important to start these as early as you can, ideally when your dog is still a puppy. It may not be necessary to take all the measures outlined below, but you must be consistent in those that you impose. :

  • In games of strength (eg. Tug-o-war) ensure you win more than you lose. This sends a signal that you are the stronger member of the pack.
  • When you play possession and chase games, use a set of toys that you can remove from your dog at the end of the game. Your dog can associate possession of privileged items with higher ranking. Taking the toys from your dog at the end of the game sends a clear signal that they do not own the items.
  • During play sessions, teach your dog to release toys at your request. Thus reinforcing the earlier point that you are the owner of the toy and can request it back at anytime.
  • Stop playing and remove the toy immediately if your dog touches your hand with its teeth or begins to growl aggressively or get over excited.
  • Dominant dogs always have the best sleeping places, usually higher up than the rest of the pack. Reinforce your status and don’t let your dog sleep on your bed or furniture.
  • Doorways represent entering new territory. Don’t allow your dog to walk through doors ahead of you.
  • Make areas of your house no go areas. Allowing your dog into these areas should be a privilege for good behaviour and not a right.
  • Your dog should know that you own all territory. If your dog is lying in the way, ask them nicely to move, don’t walk around them.
  • Higher ranking pack members eat first, so ensure your dog eats after you and DO NOT feed them tip bits while you are eating. Not only does discourage your dog from scrounging, it also reinforces the fact they only eat after you.
  • Don’t always respond to your dogs requests for attention. The pack leader will initiate most grooming and petting interactions. On occasions, be aloof to requests for attention by your dog, don’t tell them off, just ignore and don’t speak to them.
  • Never allow your dog to take up superior positions, such as putting his paws on your shoulders. Walk off and ignore this behaviour if it occurs.
  • Always be consistent over time in your approach to any of the above. Dogs will notice and may exploit changes that it considers weaknesses.
  • Always be consistent in all locations, be they in the house or outside, at home or away from home.
  • Finally, and most importantly, every member of your family most stick to the agreed measures to ensure your dog understands that everyone in the family is more important than he is.

There will be cases when your dog challenges your authority. Remember, there is no need to physically punish your dog to suppress these challenges. Your body language, facial expressions are extremely powerful tools.