The Need for Leadership
Dogs NEED leaders. They operate on a “pack” system: there are leaders and there are followers. If this system does not exist in a household, often the dog will slip into the leader spot. In it’s mind SOMEBODY has to be the leader. Although many dogs would rather not have that spot, they will still end up there.
To dogs, leaders have certain roles, privileges and honours. Leaders are responsible for pack safety. Leaders are responsible for providing food and shelter and have call on all the best stuff. Leaders have the best and highest sleeping spots. Leaders decide when the rest of the pack eats, sleeps, eliminates, and plays and even when they are allowed to breed. In the Wolf pack the Alpha Male and Female inhibit all the other females so they do not even come into season. Some breeds of dogs tend to be more dominant in nature than others such as the guarding breeds. Ie Rottweiler’s, German Shepherds, Dobermans etc.
Others are more submissive or easygoing. To start out right with all dogs, leadership needs to begin if possible in the puppy stage. This leadership isn’t nasty or violent, and should always be firm but fair. Some behaviourists may discuss shaking a dog up or alpha rolling. These methods have a place ONLY in a reasonable and non-violent situation, and they should never be started with half-grown or adult dogs.
With some dogs your leadership position is easy to have and maintain. Other dogs who may be naturally more dominant must be reminded daily if not more often.
The leadership checklist on the other side of this page includes rules every dog owner should follow. How strictly the list is adhered to will depend on how dominant the dog is. Most of the items on the list should be followed to at least some extent.
Many people do not realize how dominant their dogs really are. Many dogs are quietly (or not so quietly) pushy and will take advantage at every opportunity. For instance stupid puppy type behaviour in an adult dog when you give a command can also be a sign of dominant behaviour and must be checked.
Most items on the checklist are self-explanatory. And can start immediately and once learned you should practice it regularly. If you have any trouble understanding anything or if your dog growls or snaps at your for any reason, stop what you are doing and contact me ASAP for further advice.
Your dog will thank you for the structure and leadership you provide! Believe it or not a dog is far happier not having the worry of leading a pack of errant humans and will be much more amenable once this behaviour and structure is put in place.
But remember you must be alert at all times, lapses and further problems can surface and if so you must correct any aberrant behaviour as it occurs, do not allow it to escalate and get out of hand.
Please remember that the checklist includes ALL the families involvement. In the family unit the dog must always come at the bottom of the pecking order ie after all the human pack irrespective of age.
In conclusion always strive to be consistent, if you issue a command be in a position to enforce it at all times. NEVER EVER issue commands that you cannot control. And remember your dog can have off days. Give him/her time to understand what you want, try not to be impatient, short-tempered or irritable, your dog may be ill, had to much sun a stomach upset or just “dog tired” so give the benefit of the doubt occasionally, your dog will appreciate it.
• Feed scheduled mealtimes (No free-feeding) pick up bowl if not finished within ten minutes
• Feed AFTER humans eat. Or gesture eat a wafer or biscuit from near the bowl before feeding.
• Dogs always go through all doorways and entrances AFTER humans.
• Never play tug-of-war with your dog it can cause aggression or damage a puppies jaws or teeth.
• If you establish eye contact, dog must avert gaze first.
• Dogs are NEVER allowed to bite or mouth ANYONE, ANYWHERE! (This includes play)
• No sleeping on your bed, this can cause dominance problems later in life if you must, the dog can be allowed to sleep in the bedroom but on your own terms not the dog’s.
• Petting or attention to the dog should be given when YOU decide attention is to be given (absolutely NO PETTING when the dog nudges or paws you or your hand)
• Puppies or small dogs who demand to be picked up and held and/or demand to be put down. Should not be picked up until they sit or some other acceptable quiet behaviour, and should not be put down until they settle quietly in your lap or in your arms.
• Games with toys, especially fetch, are initiated AND ended by the human, toys then put away.
• Never put yourself in an equal or lesser height position than your dog (i.e. – kids don’t get to lay on the floor to watch TV when the dog is about, and no one plays on the floor below the dogs )
• The dog should NEVER be allowed on furniture, especially if uninvited.
• Enforced time-outs in crate/ bed – no reason, required, the bed or crate should not be used only when your dog does something bad! But also when it does something good, make it positive.
• A simple obedience command, such as “sit” should be obeyed before any pleasurable interaction (eat, pet, play, etc.)
• Dog should be taught NOT to pull when on leash. There is a technique to teaching this, which always works within minutes which does not require Halti’s or Harnesses .
• Dogs should NEVER be left unsupervised with children or ANYONE who cannot maintain leadership over dog.
• Dog MUST MOVE if in your path on a floor or stairway, etc. even if you are able to step over him
• When on a walk, dog must not be allowed to sniff or eliminate/toilet anywhere he wants (for males, one mark against one tree is enough!) until you get to the park and then it is unlimited.
• Everything belongs to you: the toys, the crate, the bowls, the bed, etc – they are only on loan to the dog! You should be able to clean, move, handle or remove any item at any time without hassle from the dog.
• Dog should be taught an “out” or release command (“give”, “release”, “out” or “dead”) for things in his/her mouth. Dogs should not be allowed to steal things if that happens, they should be able to release any item on command, if pup won’t release squeeze front paw gently increasing pressure till the item is released then praise dog.
• Dogs must not be allowed to jump up at ANY time; if you allow it occasionally the dog thinks it’s OK behaviour. Dogs do not understand “sometimes” only yes and no!
• Some final thoughts! You can take the Dog from the Wolf but never the Wolf from the Dog. It is an instinctive pack animal, and must be treated as such. Treated incorrectly your dog could become stressed, aggressive, or depressed, and could end up with some serious behavioural traits
Stan Rawlinson ( Doglistener) is a Dog Behaviourist and Obedience Trainer who has owned and worked dogs for over 25 years, starting with Gundogs then moving on to the behavioural and obedience side of Pet Dogs in 1996. He now has a successful practice covering London, Surrey and Middlesex you can visit his Web Site at www.doglistener.co.uk