Pack Leader Mentality
Dogs are social creatures that are used to living in packs when in the wild. If you notice your dog behaving badly, it may be because he needs the guidance of a pack leader. By establishing yourself as a pack leader (the "alpha" dog), you can control his behavior and create a stable, comfortable environment for your dog. This can relieve his stress and anxiety, but if you notice him becoming fearful or competitive, you may need a more positive method. As pack leader, you control major decisions for your dog and will receive respect and loyalty in return.
Determine if your dog is struggling for dominance. If you've noticed your dog showing common behavioral issues, like pulling on his leash during walks, having bad manners around other dogs and people, or barking and whining, your dog might be looking for a leader. Without an established pack leader, your dog will feel the need to take over this role himself, which can cause the behavioral problems. If you take on the role of pack leader, you can reduce your dog's anxiety and nervousness. Your dog will also be less likely to act out, potentially harming you or others. Fortunately, you can make changes to the social structure of your household no matter how old or young your dog is.
Think like a dog. To better communicate, realize that your dog tends to live in the present much more than you do. This means your dog is much more comfortable with learning new things or new situations, regardless of any trouble he may have had with them in the past. If you start to think in the present too, you'll understand your dog better. Since dogs don't communicate the same way as humans do, understand that you don't need to show affection just by touching or feeding your dog. Understand that you can discipline or praise your dog by simply glancing at your dog. Know that your eyes and energy can convey a wide range of messages.
Create boundaries. Since pack leaders take the best resting and sleeping spots, you should control your dog's use of things like couches, chairs, and beds. Your dog should look to you before entering these areas. If your dog usually decides when to use these areas, then the boundaries are not clear within your pack. Make pack rules clearer by removing your dog from these areas. You should also set boundaries by only responding to calm behavior. For example, teach your dog that he will only get his food if he's relaxed, not jumping up on you begging to be fed. Occasionally, you can let your dog join you on a reserved space if you really want him to. If you allow him to sleep in your bed, you must officially control the bed area. Be firm with the boundaries you set and don’t give conflicting messages. If you never allow your dog to play in a certain room, offer him alternative spaces to play and make sure he never plays in an off-limits area.
Have fun and play with your dog. Don't forget that playtime is important for your dog's mental stability and your relationship with your dog. Part of your job as pack leader is guiding your dog through life by being a confident, loving, tough, and fair leader. Remember that as pack leader, you decide when it's time to play and when playtime is over. Your dog should look for your permission to begin playing. For example, your dog might quickly glance in your direction or bring his favorite toy to your lap. Then, you can decide whether it's okay to play or not. If your dog respects you as pack leader, he will realize that you may not say it's alright to play.
Remain calm. In the wild, pack leaders enforce rules and boundaries with a calm and assertive energy. Pack leaders don't bully or use violence to show their authority, and neither should you. While it's easy to become frustrated with your dog if he continually breaks rules, never lose your patience. Remember, your dog can sense changes in your attitude and energy better than humans can. This makes it especially important to stay calm during emotional situations.
Controlling Your Dog – Part 2 Acting Like a Pack Leader
Control your dog's food and water supplies. In the wild, the pack leader decides who gets to eat, when they get to eat, and how much they can have. You too should control your dog's food, but make sure water is always available. If your dog shows aggressive behavior or is protective of his food dish, it's because he doesn't see you as the leader. To avoid food aggression, occasionally pick up your dog's food dish while he's eating and return it to him later. This shows him that you control his food and he'll respect you as pack leader. Have the mindset that everything belongs to you and you're only loaning things to your dog, like food, food bowls, toys, dog beds and crates. You should be able to move, clean, or handle any of these without your dog getting upset.
Show your dog that you're the leader. One way to prove yourself as pack leader is to always walk through doorways or gates ahead of your dog when entering or leaving your home. This shows your dog that you are in charge and he can be confident with you as his leader. This trust and confidence in you helps reduce the likelihood that there will be any separation anxiety in situations where you leave your home without your dog.
Set rules for walking your dog. As an alpha figure, set the rules for an enjoyable walk with your dog on his leash. Don't allow your dog to walk in front of your or pull and tug on the leash. Instead, have your dog walk beside or behind you. To do this, you should walk your dog with a standard, 6-foot, non-retractable leash. Hold the leash so that there's only enough room for your dog to stay by your side without being able to move in front of you. As pack leader, you should always be the frontrunner in any walk. This will signal to your dog that you're in control.
Train your dog in basic commands. As pack leader, you're responsible for raising a good canine citizen. Teach your dog basic commands including, "sit," "stay," "come," and "lie down." Your dog should eventually learn to respond quickly and correctly to your commands. To encourage your dog, use positive reinforcement techniques, by rewarding your dog with treats, affection and positive words, such as "good dog." Commands show your dog that you're in charge, help you keep your dog's behavior in line, and teach your dog how to be a well-rounded member of your pack. You can start training puppies at 1 to 2 months old and even old dogs can learn new tricks. If positive training techniques don't work, try another training method that doesn't involve strong discipline during training.
Keep your dog active. It's your job as pack leader to make sure your dog stays active and healthy, allowing the pack to thrive. Take your dog on at least one 20 to 30 minute walk a day. This can keep your dog mentally and physically healthy. If your dog is inactive, he can become restless and bored. This can lead to unwanted behavior, like chewing, or barking.
Be consistent. As a leader, you need to be consistent and clear with your rules. Occasionally bending rules only confuses your dog and sends the message that you're not a reliable leader. Your goal is to always remain strong and fair in your dog's eyes and show him that you are the best choice for a trustworthy pack leader. Repetition and consistency are best ways your dog will learn. For example, if you reprimand your dog for begging at the dinner table today and then feed him scraps from the same dinner table tomorrow, you are not being clear and consistent with your pack rules. This can plant a seed of doubt in your dog's mind that you may not be a very strong leader.
Respond to misbehavior. Your dog will likely act up at some point and as pack leader, you'll need to put him in his place. To do so, immediately deal with the misbehavior; don't wait even a few minutes. Calmly and in a firm voice, give your dog a basic command. Your goal is to reassert your authority and remove him from the bad behavior. For example, if your dog jumps up on other people, calmly and firmly tell him to "sit." If he still misbehaves, remove him from the area, withdrawing your attention. If establishing yourself as a pack leader isn't improving your dog's behavior, try treating him as an equal member of the family. Your dog may respond better to this approach.
Never yell, shout, or harm your dog. Dogs won't learn through punishment. It will only confuse them and damage your relationship.