Dr. Mark is a veterinarian. He has been working with dogs for more than 40 years.
Are You Leader of the Pack?
Your dog needs to feel secure in you and your abilities. He needs to feel like you are the type of person who can take care of him and keep him out of harm’s way.
If your dog has psychological issues (like aggression, excessive barking, separation anxiety, lick dermatitis, or eating his own stool), you can treat him medically (antidepressants, sterilization, chemicals), or you can make him happy and teach him how to follow you.
Many trainers speak about the use of “leader” therapy so that you can control your dog. I want more than just control. What I really want for my dog is to feel secure so that he can be happy. How do you go about teaching him to follow and thus making him feel secure?
How to Make Your Dog Feel Secure
- Control feeding time
- Control feeding interval
- Take control during "danger"
- Control your dog's environment
- Provide plenty of exercise
- Take your dog to obedience classes
Easy Steps to Becoming Leader of the Pack
1. Control When Food Is Given
One way that she'll know you are in charge is by taking control of her feeding. Most dog lovers feel like they are in charge since they decide the diet and put it out every day, but the dog does not see it that way. The leader of the pack enjoys his meals in peace and when he is finished the other dogs get to eat. In order to accept you as the leader, he needs to see you eating and needs to realize you are done so he will get whatever is left over. Since most of us don’t want to dine on dog chow, and will not feed our dog the leftovers from our own plates, it makes more sense to just keep his bowl in the kitchen (up on the counter) and give it to him when you are finished with your own meal.
2. Control the Amount of Feeding Time
Also, plan on giving him about five minutes to eat and then take away anything he might have left in the bowl. Don’t worry about him starving! (He’ll just eat more at his next feeding.) Never leave his food and do not allow your dog to eat “free-choice.” It is okay with chickens but a dog is quite different and leaving the food out just teaches him that food comes from the dish, not the leader of the pack.
3. Lead During Times Your Dog Considers Dangerous
You can make her feel more secure if you are the leader that is willing to face situations she considers dangerous. Fireworks or thunder? Just ignore the noise and go about your normal routine. Leaving the dog alone? Don’t whine and tell her how you’ll miss her; as the leader, you can come and go when you want and do not need to make a big deal about it. Your dog will be happier with you in charge.
4. Control Relative Positions
He’ll recognize you as the leader of the pack if you walk through the door first; make him move if he is in your way (instead of stepping around him), and provide him boundaries in the house.
5. Provide Plenty of Exercise
Long walks are great to show him that he can count on you. When going for walks, your dog needs to be beside you if off-leash or just behind you if on the leash. He might wander a little when he is free but will come when called and follow you when you make a turn.
6. Take Your Dog to Group Obedience Training
When I am obedience training my own dogs, I enjoy going out on the beach and teaching each new command individually. For your dog to see what a leader you are, however, nothing beats taking him to a group class.
Can I Use These Steps to Be the Alpha Dog?
You can become the alpha dog in your household just by being the leader of the pack. You do not need to dominate your dog and you do not need to practice dominance exercises. If you lead correctly, your dog will follow.
Do I Always Have to Be Leader of the Pack?
As your dog gets older and used to the secure situation, you can relax more often and not worry about following all of these "rules." A dog is not a wolf, and will not be watching you every minute to see if you let your guard down. Your dog will know that you are leader of the pack.
DoItForHer on June 27, 2012:
I would love to read that! For me it is such a powerful training tool.
Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on June 27, 2012:
I am working on a hub about walking your dog off leash; I think that this is an important part that you understand and why you are able to walk your dogs off leash. Even giving others the mechanics of off leash walking may not be enough. I will try, but...
DoItForHer on June 27, 2012:
When a species of animal is part of a group, herd, pack, pride, or whatever, some type of hierarchy nearly always exists. Some horses lead the heard. Each lion has its place and certain ones eat first. Hierarchy is almost universal.
Except the Naked Mole Rat; those ugly little critters live more like insects.
As soon as I read the title, I was getting ready to write my input, but you already wrote it. Lol.
When people ask me, "How do you get your dog to do that?!" I tell them how I provide leadership and how that takes a great weight off the dog's shoulders and allows the dog to spend its energy on other pursuits instead of trying to figure out the human's crazy environment.
The mindset you need to have when dealing with your dog is that "nothing in life is free," which means that you own everything, and you choose to give only when your dogs earns it. This philosophy applies to everything from food to walks to affection. Your dog receives nothing until he earns it. But earning in this case doesn't mean your dog needs to put in a 40-hour workweek earning can be as easy as sitting and making eye contact with you.
Food establishes dominance and pack pecking order better than anything. Wild dogs in packs understand that the alpha dog always eats first. The others must wait until he's done and then get the leftovers. If you control the food -- voila -- you will be seen as pack leader. Do this by holding the dog bowl with his food in it and telling your dog to sit. Wait until he sits and maintains eye contact with you. When you are satisfied he has obeyed you, put down the food bowl. You have taught your dog that the food is yours, and he gets it only after waiting until you indicate he can have it -- much as an alpha dog would do.
5 Steps To Being The Pack Leader
Before you can have a balanced pack, you have to have a Pack Leader, and the leader(s) needs to be every human in the pack, all the way from the oldest family member to the youngest — including the grandparents and even the baby.
In order to achieve this position, you have to let your dog know that the people are in charge, but you can’t do that with words. You have to communicate with your dog in the way that she’ll understand, which means that you have to learn to think like a dog.
Before you can think like a dog, you have to understand dog psychology. Below are five important steps to take to put yourself in the Pack Leader position, as well as links to Cesar’s detailed explanations of each point.
- Have the right energy
Animals communicate with energy and body language. It’s why a squirrel can perceive a dog as a threat and a human with a peanut as not. It’s also how animals of different species can get along and co-exist, even forming what humans like to call friendships.Having weak or negative energy is like mumbling. Before your dogs can hear what you’re saying, you have to put yourself in a calm, assertive state.
- Create the rules
Your dog wants you to tell them what to do. Otherwise, they can become anxious or confused, or misbehave by testing the limits of what’s allowed. This is why you need to create rules, boundaries, and limitations, and enforce them.Rules determine what a dog can and cannot do — such as whether they’re allowed on the furniture or not, or whether they can come near when the family is eating, and so on. Boundaries determine where a dog can and cannot go and what a dog does and doesn’t “own” — for example, the dog can’t go out the front door uninvited, or can’t go into the baby’s room. Finally, limitations determine how long or how intensely a dog can do something — when the Pack Leader decides that playtime is over, it’s over.
- Be consistent
Animals learn by making associations between cause and effect — “If I touch my human’s hand with my paw, I get a treat,” or “When I sniffed the oven door, it hurt my nose, so I must avoid the oven.” There’s even an old folk saying that describes the idea perfectly: “A scalded dog will run away from cold water.”Making these associations is how animals survive, but it’s also how dogs try to figure out what you want from them. It becomes confusing for them, though, when a particular cause does not always lead to the same effect. If you only make them get down from the couch once in a while, then the dog will always get on the couch. When you create those rules, boundaries, and limitations, you need to enforce them consistently — and consistency doesn’t mean just when you’re at home with your dog or just when you’re on the walk. It means all of the time, and from every human in the pack.
- Fulfill your dog
A Pack Leader’s job is to provide protection and direction. Consistent rules are part of the direction aspect, while a big part of protection is providing for a dog’s needs. This doesn’t mean just food, water, and a safe place to sleep. You also need to fulfill your dog’s psychology needs, which are for exercise, discipline, and affection, in that order. Exercise drains excess energy from the body, while discipline helps your dog’s mind. Affection comes last, as a reward for calm, submissive behavior.
- Feel, don’t think
Dogs are primarily instinctual, not intellectual, so we can’t negotiate with them using words no matter how hard we try. It also doesn’t help if we try to interpret a dog’s behavior in terms of human emotions — a dog that’s bouncing all over the place and jumping on people is not happy he’s over-excited and doesn’t know what to do with all the extra energy.Since humans are animals, too, we have the ability to communicate with energy in both directions. We’ve just lost touch with that ability over time, but we can regain it by turning off the voice in our head and listening to our gut instead.Dogs are not complicated creatures. It’s the humans who create the complication. All they want from us is leadership. In return, they will give us all the love and loyalty we can take.
Are you your dog’s Pack Leader? Tell us in the comments.
What Type of Care is Best for Your Dog?
Of course you want to make sure your dog receives the best care possible while you’re away, and there are several options available to you, depending on where you live.
The important thing is to find the situation that will work best for your dog — one that closely resembles their home environment.
A nervous dog who is the only household pet will probably not feel secure in a highly social environment with lots of other dogs.
On the other hand, your dog’s happiness should not be your first priority.
When you’re weighing your options, the most important considerations are keeping your dog safe and well cared for. Happiness, while important, isn’t critical.
Let’s discuss your boarding options and the pros and cons of each one:
Board Your Dog with Your Local Veterinarian
Many veterinarians offer boarding services for cats and dogs.
This is a great option if your dog needs regular medical attention or careful monitoring. Otherwise, there is no reason that your healthy dog should be kenneled with animals that are sick, injured, or in distress.
I know you love your dog’s veterinarian, but you can find a better option for boarding your pup.
Leave Your Dog Home with a Dog Sitter
If there is someone that you trust to stay in your home, this is a great choice for your dogs (and cats too).
Your dog’s routine will change very little, and they will likely receive top notch care. Having someone in your home while you’re away will also minimize security risks.
Friends and family members make great house and pet sitters, but you can also hire a professional.
In the USA, you can hire a certified pet sitter from the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters, whose members have a reputation for ethical behavior and professionalism.
The downside to professional pet sitters? They’re relatively expensive.
Bring Your Dog to a Sitter’s Home
Another great option is bringing your dog to a pet sitter, for care in their home.
This allows your dog to experience the comfort of routine in a home environment, and this option is also less expensive than paying someone to stay in your home.
Once your dog establishes a relationship with your trusted sitter, they may actually look forward to their own “vacation” away from home.
Leaving your dog with a friend, family member, or professional pet-sitter is a great choice for well-behaved, well-socialized dogs.
If your dog has behavioral issues or doesn’t get along with dogs, cats, people, etc., this might not be the best option.
DogVacay is a website that helps match dog owners with sitters all over the United States.
Board Your Dog at a Kennel
Kennels were once the only option available to folks who wanted to travel without their pets.
Are you picturing a row of tiny cages, all full of miserable, barking dogs? While this scenario hasn’t entirely disappeared, the modern dog kennel has been totally re-branded.
Now you can bring your dog to a clean, spacious kennel in just about every good-sized town. You can also board your dog at a rustic retreat, doggy spa, or upscale resort if you live close to a metropolitan area.
Kennel offerings are available for every type of dog at every price point.
Standard kennels will still make use of individual cages or rooms for your dog, but well-socialized dogs will normally be allowed out for playtime, and most kennels provide plenty of exercise for the pups who stay with them.
Because every kennel is unique, it’s important to do your research. References and reviews from people you trust will help you decide which kennel is right for your dog.
Kennels are often the cheapest option for boarding your dog, and the price drops even further when you board more than one. Many kennels are also a good solution for dogs who are untrained, poorly socialized, or aggressive.
Lucky Dog Animal Rescue
Bringing a new dog into the family is an exciting time for the human “pack” members, but can create stress for the non-human pack—whether dog (both new dog and resident dog), cat, bird, or other small pet. Understanding how to manage pet introductions can help ensure a lifetime of harmony for everyone.
- Set reasonable goals when you bring a new dog into your pack. Knowing the dogs’ backgrounds as to how well they were socialized will help you manage what might happen. Remember and respect that your resident dog and/or cat may perceive the new dog to be encroaching on their established territory, which can be very stressful.
- Proceed slowly and calmly. Slow-paced introductions may help prevent any fear-based or aggressive reactions from developing. If bad behaviors are not reined in from the start, they can become habit and be very hard to change in the future.
- Never leave new pets unattended, even if a pet is caged. When two pets meet, it is imperative you watch them at all times. The situation can change suddenly.
- If you have more than one resident dog, introduce each dog one at a time to the new dog to prevent them from overwhelming the newcomer.
- Stay in control of the introduction. If you are not sure how your pet will react, take the necessary precautions to keep him (and you) safe.Be patient and adaptable. You will need to teach your new dog to trust you while communicating to your resident pets that you will continue to keep them safe. Building good relationships takes time.
Dog to Dog
Before you bring the new dog (or puppy) home, bring home his scent so your resident pets can be introduced to his smell first. Rub the new dog with a cloth or use a blanket he has slept on and bring it into your home and place it where he will be sleeping.
In addition, be sure both your resident dog and the new dog are up to date on their vaccinations to avoid any risk of infection.
Introduce in a Neutral Location
Introduce the dogs in a neutral location that is unfamiliar to both dogs, such as a park. This prevents your resident dog from feeling his territory is being threatened.
Each dog should be on a loosely held six-foot leash and handled by a separate person. Try to stay relaxed so the dogs don’t pick up on any tension you might be feeling.
Don’t force an interaction between the dogs. Just walk near each other for a few minutes. One or both of the dogs may ignore each other, which is fine. Just stay upbeat and give the dogs time to get comfortable with the situation.
Now, allow the dogs to sniff each other for just a few seconds, with the handlers offering high-pitched, happy praise if there are positive signs from the dogs. Then lead the dogs away from each other. Do several more sets of brief introductions, which prevent the dogs from focusing too hard and escalating to an aggressive response. Refocus each dog’s attention with obedience commands or short walks.
There are two goals with this exercise:
- To allow the dogs to meet and be tolerant of one another without exhibiting any bad behavior.
- To keep the meetings pleasant and friendly so the dogs learn to associate good, relaxed things with being together
Watch the dogs’ body language. Things are going well and you can proceed to the next step if you see:
- Loose body movements and muscles
- Relaxed open mouths
- Play bows or other playful posturing
However, take caution if you see:
- Stiff, slow body movements
- Hair standing up on the back
- Tensed mouth or teeth-baring
- Prolonged staring
If you see any of these types of reactions, quickly lead the dogs away from each other and try to get them to focus on you. Then you can try a very brief introduction again, at a further distance. Only proceed to the next step when you see the dogs are tolerating each other.
Managing the New Dog in Your Home
Pick up all pet toys, food bowls, beds and the like before you bring the new dog into the house to prevent any tiffs over prized possessions. You can return the resident dog’s toys to him in a few weeks, and give the new dogs some new toys of his own. In the meantime, give the dogs toys only when they are in separate areas or their crates.
When you bring the new dog home, put your current pets in a separate area of your home then, walk the new dog around your home on a leash to show him where he will sleep and eat, where the other pets sleep and eat, etc.
Establish boundaries in your home by using baby gates and closing off rooms and areas while all the pets acclimate to the new situation. This way they can see and get used to one another. Allow the resident dog to roam the house, while confining the new dog behind a barrier at first.
Keep the resident dog’s areas for sleeping and eating separate so he doesn’t feel his territory is being threatened. Feed the dogs in separate areas, and pick up their food bowls after feeding time is done. Keep the dogs confined in separate areas of your home any time you are away or can’t watch them.
While your dogs may enjoy each other as playmates, supervise their play to prevent them from getting over excited, which can lead to injury of one or both dogs. Interrupt their play if one dog begins to bully or growl at the other, and separate them for a few minutes. Praise them when they are playing well together.
Remember to devote plenty of time to each dog individually for both training and play. If one dog is much older or less energetic than the other, be sure you give him time and space to himself so he can rest and feel secure.
Dog to Cat
The prey drive in some dogs is exceptionally strong. In order to ensure your cat or other small pets stay safe, you must get your dog to look to you as his leader so that his desire to please you overcomes his desire to chase another pet.
As with a dog-to-dog introduction, take things slowly, calmly and cautiously. If you can, bring home an item with the new dog’s scent on it so the cat can learn about the dog through his smell first. Plan to place the cat’s things somewhere the dog can’t reach (such as up high) and be sure there is always an escape route so the cat can get away from the dog and feel safe.
While holding the dog on a loose leash, at first allow the dog and cat to see each other. If you fear the dog may get away from you quickly and hurt the cat, use a muzzle if necessary.
With the dog in a down-stay, let the cat wander and come to the dog, if she chooses, for a sniff. Then call the dog away to get him to redirect his attention from the cat, and then allow them to greet again.
Remember, you also need to keep the cat from getting afraid and then running away, which will only trigger the dog’s desire to chase. If the dog begins to fixate on the cat or lunges to get at it, quickly give him a command or just lead him away from the area for a few minutes.
Your goal is to help the animals learn to trust each other, as you yourself work on building a relationship of trust and leadership with the new dog.
In the meantime, don’t allow your dog to chase any type of small animal, but do let him chase a ball or other appropriate toys.
If your dog begins to chase the cat, do not run after the dog. Instead, try to get his attention with a loud hand clap or command (“Leave it!”), or even a shake of his dog food bin. Redirect his behavior so you can leash him and allow the cat to get to a safe place.
Dog to Other Small Pets
If you are not sure of your dog’s background with regard to being around small pets, plan the introductions carefully to avoid risk of the pet being harmed. Introduce the animals as you would dog to cat. If you must hold the animal in your arms, take care not to let the dog to get too close. Just let them sniff each other’s scent and learn to tolerate one another’s presence.
Some dogs get jealous if they see a small pet such as a hamster or bird perched on your shoulder. The dog may see this as an unfair advantage and therefore feel challenged and want to harm the pet. Other dogs, however, may be totally accepting of the pet and its perceived higher status.
Always keep small pets in a secure, sturdy cage out of the dog’s reach, and always supervise your dog even when the pet is caged. When you’re away from home, do not allow your dog to be loose in the same area as the caged pet.
Puppies to Adult Dogs
Not all resident dogs will welcome a new puppy into the home. Puppies are notorious for looking for attention from adult dogs (and everyone else), and so must be supervised when they are with other animals. Very young pups may not pick up on an adult dog’s body language that says he’s had enough playing. A well-socialized adult dog may growl to tell the pup to back off, which is appropriate behavior that helps the puppy learn boundaries.
However, an adult dog with poor social skills may present a danger to the puppy, as he may only know to bite rather than growl. Thus, do not leave the dog and puppy alone together.
Respect the adult dog’s need for puppy-free quiet time, and be sure to spend one-on-one time with him as well.
Handle the puppy-to-dog introduction as you would between dogs. Keep both animals leashed, carefully watch their body language, allow brief sniffs, and offer praise when they behave well.
Know When to Get Help
People keep household pets because they enjoy their antics and companionship. However, if your dog doesn’t get along with other pets, this only creates tension and disharmony in your home.
A qualified dog trainer such as a Bark Busters Dog Behavioral Therapist can help resolve conflicts your dog may be having with other pets, and can provide ways to help you live in a peaceful, happy household of pets and people.