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Be Pack Leader II–What this looks like

So you have your crate, a dominant dog collar (or soft harness) and drag leash. That would be fabulous if you have an ex-pen, too, but we can work well without it. You read my articles on dog aggression, training others in the pack, and other good stuff on here. You keep reading “be pack leader” and such. And you’re thinking, “So, what’s that have to do with my dog pooping (or peeing) after he comes inside?” Or, “How does that get her to stop jumping on people?” And all sorts of other questions folks have had as I chat with them in social settings. The puzzled looks I receive as I make the claim that solid pack structure can solve all these things has caused me to see that I need to get more nitty gritty in this area.

Here and the next few posts, I will spell out step-by-step what it looks like to be pack leader. Using words, photos and video, I will show you how to implement this foundation wherever you are with your dog. We will even address complaints shared here at Pup Stop, online forums or in person. Trust me, this will be fun!

What Does Pack Leader Look Like?

To answer this, I’d like to first address what it does not look like. Being pack leader (PL) is not about dominating your dogs in the sense that they fear you. Never is it alright to hit your dog or in any way be physically aggressive with him. Causing a dog harm in any way is inexcusable and people who do so ought to never have the blessing of owning a dog.

There is only one exception to this, and only one: If a dog attacks you or another. We will cover this in a later post extensively. However, here I will say that even when a dog attacks, hitting him does not usually get him to back off.

I believe most would agree that hitting, yelling, kicking and “man-handling” a dog is taboo, but you would be surprised at how often people do these things. Sure, I get frustrated with my pups. Sure, I have been known to raise my voice upon occasion. Most folks do and I am not talking about that. What I am talking about are those that “make” the dog do what they want, as in physically forcing them to obey. This can include those that yell angrily at their dogs more often than not. Their dog is under foot constantly, so they kick the dog out of the way. Or a dog will not sit on first (or third) command, so the person man-handles him to the floor, maybe smacking his hind end in the process. This could also be in the form of putting a hand around the dog’s muzzle and squeezing it while yelling in her face to stop barking. Or how about the person you see walking the dog through the neighborhood, jerking the leash every five steps? Or what about those you do not see actually harming their dogs? What does that look like?

A dog fearful of its owner is not difficult to spot. They’re the dogs that may act fearful of everything, all wide-eyed, tail out straight or tucked under almost all the time–even when the owner is not present. Or they could be the dogs “suddenly” acting aggressively toward every other dog and person every chance she gets, for “no apparent reason.” Or how about the pup that cowers each time you go to pat her head? The dogs that appear to sit quietly but seem to always be on edge. These, and more, are signs that the dog is under an iron fist, rather than lead by a caring PL.


Let’s Get Specific

Dogs that pee or mess in the house in spite of how often/long they have been outside can be the result of being fearful or, on the flip-side, dominant. Either way, it boils down to lack of solid foundation in pack leadership.

The fearful dog may pee in your bedroom (or wherever inside) upon returning from outdoors when you’re not looking. This usually develops because while going through the training of housebreaking, she was yelled at (or worse) for doing her business in the house. It was not clear to her that you were trying to get her to do her business outside. All she knows is that she got reprimanded when she did pee (etc), but she still has to pee. So, she either comes in and tries to hide somewhere she feels safe doing it, or she just cannot hold it any longer.

The dominant dog, however, will at times mess or pee in the house because, frankly, he doesn’t care about your rules. After all, you are just another pup in the pack, right? Someone with whom he needs to compete to achieve top rank in this pack. If you have never or have not consistently shown him who is PL, he will vie for that rank. It is in the nature of a dog to do so.

And that is just one example of what chaos can develop if you do not lay a solid foundation of pack leadership. Either by force or neglect, lack of PL is usually the #1 problem underlying all other behavioral issues with dogs.


Seriously, What Does PL Really Look Like?

One of my favorite YouTube videos shows this clearly. A 4 year old girl controls 6 male Pit Bulls at feeding time. As much as it is adorable to watch, take note of the dogs’ behavior as well as the child’s. She does not yell, though she does clap her hands a time or two to get their attention. The child is calm (“aloof”) and confident. The dogs are also calm, none are cowering or aggressive.

Look closely. They neither cower nor get aggressive with the girl or each other.

And this is a child! Obviously, both the dogs and the little girl were trained by awesome parents 😉 But the fact still remains that a lot of groundwork was accomplished with this pack (two and four-legged) in order to have order in the home. Without their having laid a solid foundation of pack leadership, none of this would be possible.

This, my good folks, is what PL really looks like.


So, Where Do You Start?

Starting to implement PL skills at feeding time is always a great place because you have something the dog wants and needs: Food! Now, assuming you have your dominant dog collar (or soft harness) on your pup with the drag leash at all times she is not in her crate (or pen), start making her Sit/Wait at feeding time.

A side note here… Unless you have a tiny toy breed that is known to get hypoglycemic, it is never a good idea to leave food out in their dish for them to eat at leisure. It is not only unhealthy, it is another thing that shows your dog he is in control. Remember: As PL, you are the center and head of everything he does.


Key Steps:

At first, you can just make her Sit before your put the food in front of her. As you do, tell her “Wait”. She probably won’t the first few times. So as you take your hand away from the dish, tell her “Okay!”

Each and every time you feed your dog do this. Each time, extend the amount of time between when she sits and you give the release (“Okay!”). After a while–maybe a few days or a few weeks–she will just automatically sit when she sees you coming with that bowl of food!

==>Be consistent! Your dog is not to touch her nose to that bowl of food until you tell her “Okay!”<==

Start with this and always remember to HAVE FUN with your pup!! As always, comment below with any questions and please come back to share any successes!


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