Dogs are pack animals with a highly developed sense of social structure. One reason they make such wonderful companions is be-cause they instinctively accept their human family as their pack. However, dogs are also born with the instinct to try to become the pack leader, and if you and your family do not assume a leadership position over the dog, he is likely to try to take over and rule you, his pack, by himself. The following non-physical and non-punitive method is highly successful in teaching your dog that you, the human, are the leader and he is the subordinate. It is especially important if your dog has very strong instincts to try to dominate his humans.
A dog who clearly understands that you and your family are his pack leaders will learn more quickly, bond more closely, and feel more secure with his people than will the dog that is continually chal-lenging for leadership.
- Your dog must earn all attention and petting from you and your family by obeying a command first. Don’t pet, praise or give treats for no reason, and never if the dog demands them. He must do something for you and EARN these good things by obeying a command such as SIT or DOWN. If your dog pesters for attention have him obey a command first, then pet and praise him briefly and sincerely for obeying. If pestering persists, ignore the dog and walk away. If you wish to pet your dog, call him to you, and then you can pet and praise him for obeying the command to COME. You may also pet and praise your dog when he is performing a desired behavior on his own, such a chewing one of his toys, or eliminating in his toilet area.
- Increase your dog’s dependence on you as his leader by having him work for you to have his needs fulfilled. Have your dog obey a command before he gets any of the good things in life. This includes all food, water, treats, leash on and off, door opened to go out and come in, etc. The dog must “earn” all his desires by obeying commands. Ask yourself,” What did my dog do to earn this?”
- Act like a pack leader. Don’t detour around the dog but insist that he get out of your way. Precede him in and out doors and up and down stairs; don’t let him dash to be first ahead of you. If he is allowed on your furniture, occasionally tell him to get off. If he is a dominant dog that is challenging you for leadership, don’t let him on your furniture. Ask yourself, “Is my dog telling me what to do? Or am I telling him?” Having him obey a command for all attention and rewards puts you in the leadership position. For example, if your dog comes up to you and nudges you for affection, and you pet him, he has just told you “Pet me” and you have done it. You obeyed him. Dogs understand this very well. Turn the situation around by having him obey a command for you before you will pet him! If he has to obey a command for every good thing in his life, he will be practicing his obedience commands many times a day, and will learn them very quickly.
- Allow NO tug-of-war, roughhouse, or teasing games. Your dog can’t understand that it is OK to contest with you, use his teeth, or jump on you sometimes, but not at other times. Teach him to play retrieve instead. You, the leader, decide when to start and stop the retrieve game, and insist that he bring the ball or toy all the way to you. Insist that he sit before you throw.
- All family members must treat the dog alike. This is difficult, but very important!
- Command train the dog daily. This should include not only obedience commands, but also tricks and retrieving, and should be done in many different locations inside and outside your home. When the dog gets either pushy or anxious, a few minutes of com-mand training will often calm him down. Obedience training is an indirect way of establishing your leadership, and also builds a “vo-cabulary” of communication with your dog. If you have stopped giving your dog gratuitous attention (see #1 & #2 above) he will be eager to earn your attention and praise during training sessions. If he gets unlimited praise, petting and treats just because he is there or because he demands them, he won’t be motivated to try to earn them during training sessions.
- Leave a collar and leash on the dog whenever he is supervised so you can quickly grab it and gain control. If your dog is a chewer make a cheap lead out of cotton clothesline and a leash clip and treat the lead with Bitter Apple. NEVER leave the leash on when the dog is left alone.
- Do not allow the dog to jump up on, or put his paws up on anyone, even in play. Jumping up on someone is a dominant position for a dog, and makes him think he is in control. Insist that he SIT or DOWN, which are submissive postures.
- Insist that your dog eliminate in one specific area of your yard. Do not allow him to eliminate up and down the street. Beyond the courtesy of keeping your dog’s waste off other’s property, allowing your dog to constantly “mark” where other dogs have been tends to make him (and her!) feel very macho and dominant.
- Correct all signs of aggressiveness or fearfulness. Do not praise inappropriately by trying to calm or soothe the dog when he acts aggressively or fearfully – thedog will interpret the soothing as praise for the way he is acting. Correct his actions with a lead snap and the word NO, and praise him when he becomes calm.
- Teach your dog a half-hour down stay, at home and in areas and situations where he gets excited. (Re-read the chapter on down stays.) Be prepared to enforce it.
- Always be the winner. If you give a command, you must see that your dog obeys. If you can’t make him obey the command, don’t give it.
- See that your dog gets enough strenuous exercise. Many problems are only the result of pent-up energy. A tired dog doesn’t get into trouble – he just goes to sleep.