Do you have problems at your house with who’s in charge? By that I mean, does your dog think he’s the boss? In your effort to form a stronger bond with your dog you may have inadvertently told him he’s the Leader of the Pack. Here are 5 simple and effective ways to correct that.
First, let’s take a look at what a “pack mentality” means. Dogs are born into packs – in the wild, packs are the essential social order. Unlike humans, who use a variety of political processes to determine leadership and rank, dogs sort out their social order by dominance and power. In a wolf pack, there is a Top Dog – a clear leader who is the dominant, Alpha male. He’s the Big Dog, with pride of place at the dinner table (well, if wolves had a dinner table!), first in mating, first in decision making for the pack.
Whether you realize it or not, your dog views your household as his own personal wolf pack. The pack mentality is so engrained in your dog’s psyche that he will either view you as a leader - or a follower - depending on your actions. If you are to have a well-trained dog, you must establish that you are the leader, and he is the follower. Your dog has to know in his heart that you are the Alpha Dog, the Head Honcho, the Big Dog, the Top Dog – call it whatever you want, but your dog needs to know you’re in charge.
Dogs are a little like children in one respect – they’re looking for someone else to be the leader – they want rules and regulations because that makes their role in the pack more clear-cut and understandable. It’s scary being the leader – if you’re not up to it, your dog may assume the role – because someone has to be in charge!
If that’s what’s happened at your house, you need to re-establish your position as the Top Dog, or “Leader of the Pack.” But here’s an important note: being the leader of the pack has absolutely nothing to do with harsh punishment. It has everything to do with consistency and setting limits.
A simple rule to remember (and one people have great difficulty keeping in mind) is that you are the leader, not your dog.
1. You Go Through The Door First
Even something as straightforward as who walks through the door first can reinforce your position as “dominant dog.” Leaders lead. Followers follow. If you allow your dog to charge through the door ahead of you, he perceives that as asserting his dominance over you. Put your dog on the leash, and make sure you’re the first one through the door.
2. You Eat Before Your Dog
Who gets fed first in your house – you or your dog? In a wolf pack, the leader eats first, and when he is done, the rest of the pack can dine. Do you feed your dog first because he pesters you when you’re cooking your dinner, and it’s simply more convenient to have him quiet and out of the way when you’re eating?
Food is a powerful motivator that can be used to clearly demonstrate who is the ruler of the roost at your house. In no way, shape or form am I suggesting that you withhold food from your dog – that’s cruel and unusual punishment any way you look at it. What I am suggesting is that you control the timing of the food – you should eat first, your dog second, after you’re done with your meal.
3. Don’t Walk Around Your Dog
Does your dog lie on the floor and expect you to walk around him? In the wild, dominant dogs lie wherever they want, and dogs lower in the social order go around so they don’t disturb the Big Dog. If you walk around your dog, he will assume this to be an act of submission on your part; therefore he must be the leader, not you.
If your dog is lying in the middle of the hallway, or right in front of your easy chair, make him move. If he’s on the couch and you want to lie down, make him move. Don’t step over him. Just gently nudge him and make him get out of your way. You’re the Big Dog, remember?
4. You Determine When Your Dog Gets Attention
Even asking for attention or affection can be seen as an act of dominance from your dog’s point of view. Dogs that demand attention are asserting dominance, so if your dog gets pushy, ignore him. When you’re ready to give him attention or affection or pet or play with him, ask him to sit first.
Don’t run after him just so you can pet him. Make him come to you when you’re ready to give him attention, or play with him. And when you play with a toy, make sure that you end up with possession of the toy, and then put the toy away when you’re done. (Note: I’m not talking about his favorite toys that you leave in his crate. I’m talking about play toys that the two of you use for games.)
5. Don’t Let Your Dog Sleep In Your Bed
This is a tough one for a lot of people, but when you let your dog share your bed, at best you’re making him an equal to you. He should have his own bed, either a dog pad or his crate that he feels comfortable in – you can even put the dog pad next to your bed if that makes both of you happier – but don’t let him take over the sleeping arrangements. Before you know it, he’ll be trying to make you sleep on the floor!
Again, reinforcing or retraining your dog to recognize you as the Head Honcho has absolutely nothing to do with harsh discipline. These are changes you can make that will change the way your dog thinks about you. And making even small changes like these can have an enormous impact on the way your dog views the social hierarchy in your home – all without a harsh word being spoken!