that has anything to do with your dog revolves around you as the center of your dog’s world. YOU are his leader. YOU are his provider. YOU are his protector, primary playmate, groomer, everything. Your household is a pack and you are pack leader. Most folks turn this principle around backwards once they fall in love with that furry, adorable face. If your dog does not trust you as her leader she will eventually develop what most people term “bad behaviors”, or “behavioral issues.” These can be anything from barking incessantly, tearing up furniture, and messing in the house (instead of outside) where ever she wants, to more serious issues, such as bullying and biting dogs, kids, household members. Good news is, no matter the age of your dog, you can learn to be pack leader and get your dog to see you thus.
Basic Bottom Line
I love the way Ed Frawley of Leerburg Kennels defines it:
Pack leaders are aloof, they are calm, and they are self-confident. A pack leader is fair in how he lives with pack members. While the pack leader is a dictator, he is a fair dictator who enforces a well-defined set of rules that members know, understand and are expected to live by. [The Groundwork to Becoming Your Puppy’s Pack Leader]
So, the bottom line is a pack leader is a fair, calm, dictator and enforcer. And I love that word “aloof”! It makes clear the idea that your dog will be best served (happiest, healthiest, best behaved) if he is NOT the center of attention/your world.
This should not be all that tough, right? In reality, it is not that difficult. However, it is lots of work–initially. The transition begins with changing your mindset–how you look at dogs and relationships with them. Then, once the groundwork is laid firmly, you establish yourself as pack leader and begin to enjoy the fruits of those labors. How long it takes to establish a firm foundation depends on the age of your pup and, most importantly, your consistency and ethic.
Nutty to Buddy in Less than a Year
When we first brought Hanani home as a 19-week-old pup she was out of control. She was terrified, yet enticed easily. She had no concept of human interaction or proper doggy playtime. As cute as it was… Well, okay. It was beyond cute! It was hysterical when she chased and latched onto the towels each time we had to wipe up the water she spilled from her dish! But it was those moments we had to bite our lips and not show her any affirmation of this behavior. Of course, I would go outside or another room and laugh my hinnie off 😉 Point is, as cute as that was we had to nip it in the bud (pun intended). Check out again Frawley’s video, So you think you want a high-drive pup? That is exactly how Hanani was for the first couple months! Now? She is relaxing at my feet under my desk, and pops her head up every once in a while to “ask” for affection.
Sure, she still is a nut. And I love it! But she is now a nut that can control her behavior because she has consistently had a firm, fair pack leader that she knows adores her entirely. Her step-by-step timeline is unnecessary at this point because I do not want any of you to dictate your progress and victories according to how my pup came along. But I will tell you that the first night I brought her home it took Mia and me almost five hours to get Hanani to the point where she could be trusted in normal puppy playtime. Even after that, she needed to be monitored each and every time she was out with Mia, whether about the house or yard, for another 10 to 12 weeks. Still, even now I monitor them in the yard. I do not just turn them loose together out there without me because I know how two dominant females can get each other mustered up. That could turn into disaster because Hanani is still pretty much a pup at 18 months young. Eventually she will concede and Mia will be respected as the elder pup in our pack.
At the same time, even my husband is impressed with how far Hanani has come in all areas. Part of that is his understanding and relationship skills within our pack has grown 😉 But altogether, our little nut is becoming a fine, obedient pack member.
You Can Too!
In the next couple days I will publish articles on more specific scenarios to illustrate the point that, pretty much, all dog behaviors can be overcome/turned around with establishing yourself as your pup’s pack leader. And, without establishing this as foundational, no behaviors can really be trained away effectively, or healthily.
For now, though, I want to share with you some basic tools and traits you will need to begin.
Whether you just brought home a new, young pup, or adult dog, or you have had a dog since puppyhood and he has some “bad behaviors” you need addressed, you can begin right now to turn things around! First thing is to change your mindset about your relationship with your pup. As noted above and in Dynamics of Dog Pack Structure, “aloof” is key. You are the center of his world. Period.
Next thing is built on that point: You control every aspect of his world. At first, this means literally control literally every aspect. You decide when, what and where he eats, poops, pees, plays, sleeps, walks, sits, gets groomed, gets attention, et al. Part of this, as noted in the short series here Stop Aggressive Dog Behavior, using a dominant dog collar (or harness for pups and small dogs) with a lead (“drag lead”) attached at all times helps get this point across. Whenever the dog is not in his crate or ex-pen, that collar/lead combo must be on him. Period. This helps you control him and reminds him you are in control. Any “free time” (without drag lead, but still has collar) is to be earned, and that comes later on as well.
This is not to be construed as a bully tactic. Dogs do not respond (or grow) well to bullying. This tip ensures that you can best help your dog understand that you are his life-line and you will help him learn to grow with the pack in a way that is healthy for all. This method makes it possible for you to help him learn to make good choices. Hanani wore a drag lead around the house and in the yard for the first several months. Even now, if she regresses or pops up with something new, I put the drag lead on to remind her. Still, I keep the dominant dog collar on her whenever she is not in her crate or room.
So the three essential tools you will need, along with a healthy mindset, are:
- A suitable crate (See my Review on crate vs cage in Best Dog Crate, Beds)
- Dominant dog collar, or a harness
- Nylon leash (nylon, for easy washing and wear)
An ex-pen (exercise pen) is advisable also, but not absolutely necessary. A pen inside lets the pup off the lead without having to be crated. She can still fun around a bit and see you, while she cannot get into things. It helps her understand her limits. My girls have their own room. We took the door off an empty bedroom and put a pup gate up. It has worked fabulously! Either way, I urge you to obtain these few items immediately, as they are essential if you want to be victorious with your pup!
Ready, Set, Lead!
If you already have those items, great! You are ready to lay the foundation. If you do not, I strongly advise you obtain them. These tools are a must in training any dog, as much as establishing yourself as pack leader.
Check back in the next day or two for the meat and bones of this program. And, as always, feel free to holler below!