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July, 2010:

The Lead Dog

by John Bruce, DVM

Why is leadership important? Dogs are social animals that live in packs or families. When you bring a dog into your family you become a pack. packs come in all sizes; you and your dog can be a pack of two.

It is important for a dog to know where he stands in the pack, and even more important that you be the leader of the pack. Questions or confusion about leadership can lead to undesireable or even dangerous behaviors.

Dogs, like people, have different comfort levels when it comes to taking a leadership role. Some dogs fit easily into lower social orders and do not challenge augthority, while others are social climbers and like to test the waters. Regardless of your dog’s personality, your leadership is required. Lack of leadership is stressful to a dog. The leader of the pack communicates safety and trust, and makes decisions that keep the pack secure.


Attaining Leadership

Physical or confrontational methods to establish a leadership role do not work and can be dangerous. It may work for one member of the family, but not for weaker members of the pack. Physical, confrontation methods may lead to fear-based problems with your dog.

To become a good leader,  first gain your pet’s trust.  This is done by setting expectations and being consistent and fair. Your dog needs to know what to expect every time it behaves in a certain way.

Leaders Control the Resources

Attention is a valuable resource to your dog;  you give the attention on your terms to reinforce a desirable behavior.  You can ignore an excited dog and only provide attention when he settles down and sits;  if he stands, the attention should stop.

Leaders Control the Food

Asking your dog to sit, or sit and stay, prior to feeding helps establish you as the leader.

Leaders Are in Control

The leader dictates the pace and direction of your leash walks.

Leaders Control Space

Teach your dog to wait at the door, not barge through it when going outside.

Leaders Control Resting Places

If you dog sleeps with you, at least make sure you give permission for your dog to get on the bed, and that he will get off the bed when asked. If your dog is not willing to do this, it is better to have him sleep in a crate.

Leaders are Consistent and Fair

Set family rules and stick with them.

Leaders Communicate Without Words

Your dog is constantly reading your body posture and motions. Stand tall, be confident, and think positive.

“If one is not the lead dog, the scenery never changes.”