Establishing Leadership Over Your Dog

Many behavioural issues your dog may be experiencing, such as lack of general obedience, attention seeking or occasional snapping, is often the result of his attempts to establish dominance over you. In order to address this you must show your dog that you are the leader of the pack and he must obey you. This is true of all breeds – whilst it may be irritating with smaller dogs, large breeds may become dangerous, even to their owner, if they are not made aware of their place in the pack. It is also beneficial for your dog as he will benefit from a strong leader, will have a better connection and a stronger bond with you, and will not feel constant anxiety over protecting you when there is no apparent need to do so. It is important to start this from puppyhood as it is easier to establish behaviours than it is to remove bad habits. If you are worried that your dog is already showing aggressive tendencies, contact a behaviourist who will devise a program for you to follow in order to amend these. Otherwise follow these steps to achieve a healthy relationship with your dog.

  1. Nothing comes free.
    A dog must work for his treats, toys and your attention. This may include simple commands such as sit, down, down/stay. He will then feel that he has earned a privilege and will not demand it as his right. Once your puppy learns to play, ensure that he “asks” for his playtime too.
  2. You eat first.
    It is a simple rule to follow, which is often omitted by dog owners. Never feed your dog before you as the leader eats first. Feed him directly after your meal, and make sure to ask him to sit/wait for his food too.
  3. You walk through doors first.
    Before you open a door ask your dog to sit and wait. As you are opening it, if he attempts to get up without your permission, close the door again until he learns that he must wait until you give the “ok”. Walk through the door and then allow your dog to follow. This applies to any small openings, front doors, gates, or other closed doors. Also, once your puppy learns to control his bladder a little better, ensure he asks you to open the door for him to let him outside. Not only does it teach leadership but it could also save your dog’s life by preventing him from running out the door at any opportunity and onto a busy road.
  4. Access rules.
    Ensure you establish rules of access from the beginning. It is up to you whether you allow your puppy to be upstairs or on the sofa. If you create rules, he will learn that there are places, which belong strictly to you. Ensure you are consistent with these rules so you do not cause unnecessary confusion. As your puppy grows older you may relax some of the rules – for example by allowing him on the sofa but only on condition that he gets off when you tell him to.
  5. Only reward positive behaviour.
    Only reward your puppy when he does something you condone, such as settling down during your mealtime. Ensure you praise him every time, rather than simply ignoring it, if you want to establish a good habit. Unless your dog’s behaviour is destructive or dangerous, do not grant him any attention. By ignoring him, you teach him that he cannot get his way and that attention is on your terms. If it is difficult to ignore him, send him out of the room, or for time-out elsewhere for a minute or two. A lot of puppy behaviour is a call for attention, and even if you tell him off he gets exactly what he wants and you reinforce unwanted behaviour. If, for example, you are trying to read a book and are unable to ignore his behaviour, present him with a chew or a stuffed Kong but ask him to do something for you first, such as down/stay. This will prevent him from thinking that he receives it for being destructive.
  6. Your dog walks beside you, not ahead of you.
    Make sure that you teach your puppy heelwork. Pulling on a lead may be an irritating habit and walking ahead of you is often a sign of a leader. Reward him for walking beside you or slightly behind you.
  7. And finally,

  8. Earn your dog’s respect.
    Never become too obsessed with the idea of leadership. Your dog needs a leader, not a dictator. Never shout at him or use any violence towards him as this will only make your dog resent you and sooner or later it will backfire. The idea is that you create a bond with your dog. If he respects you, he will listen to you, obey you and be your best friend. Do not command obedience through fear, as fear and anxiety are the most common reasons for dogs’ aggression. Establishing leadership is important for a healthy relationship, but do not forget that you own a pet primarily so you can both enjoy each other’s company.

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