Clearly Defined Leadership

Written on February 4, 2020

Be the leader, never the follower. Be calm, in control, confident and be sure of your decisions. Be swift and decided in your movement and always follow through. Your dog can sense your doubt, and being a good leader means not having doubt. Being a good dog parent means loving your dog unconditionally, but also knowing how to effectively teach, set boundaries, praise good behavior, discourage negative behavior, and ultimately how to set your dog up for success through your confident leadership.

Your confidence as a leader should be first conveyed in your verbal communication with your dog. Use the commands (or cues) that your dog has been taught and that he fully understands. A clearly defined language that has been taught and conditioned properly will help strengthen you and your dog’s relationship. Use short, simple commands instead of long sentences, and give the commands in the direction of your dog (your face and voice should be projecting in his direction, not the opposite). Tone is also an integral part of overall communication with your dog. Change your tones according to what you are communicating to your dog – happy and higher pitch tones for praise, and cues like “Free”and “Come”, and lower and more flat tones for verbal negatives (“No”), and cues like “Off” and “Leave It”. This doesn’t have to be drastic, just a noticeable tone difference. It is important to give commands in a clear but calm tone and always follow through appropriately with any issued command.

Follow through is one of the most important parts of being a good dog- parent/pack leader. If your dog responds correctly to your verbal communication, mark their behavior with a verbal cue of “Good Boy!” or “Good Girl” in a high, happy tone and then provide a secondary reward like petting, a food treat, or a favorite toy. If your dog fails to respond, make sure there is appropriate and humane consequence following that incorrect response. For example: a verbal “No” paired with the removal of petting/attention, removal of food, removal of the high value toy, or introduction of a technical leash and collar correction (only if your dog has been properly taught this form of communication). Always use the lowest stimulus level of correction needed in whatever form is best suited for the situation and your dog’s individual temperament.

Body language is another way we communicate and convey leadership to our dogs. For example, if you have a territorial dog or a dog that guards their space, one helpful hint is to reclaim that space by following these steps. If you are walking past your dog and he happens to be in the center of the walkway or narrow hallway, directly in your path, shuffle your feet, face forward, and confidently walk in his direction. This will guide your dog to get up and move out of your path, instead of you stepping over him or around him and allowing him to claim that space. Another way to use your body to convey leadership is to teach your dog to wait and look up at you in order to go in and out of doors/doorways, and don’t allow your dog to squeak ahead of you down a narrow hallway/walkway, unless you have given permission for this to happen using the release cue, “Free” or “OK”. These types of behaviors will help your dog identify you as a confident leader with healthy expectations and boundaries.

It is important for your dog to learn that all positive things in their everyday life come from their confident leader… YOU.

Using the diagram below, consider the following..

A—> B —> C

A is your dog and C is what he wants. C can be food, attention, a toy, access to the backyard, his dinner, playing with or greeting another dog or person, etc. Anything that your dog desires at that moment.

You are B.

A (your dog) has to go through B (you) to get to C.

If you make this a lifelong rule, your dog (A) will always know that he can’t get to the things he wants (C) without going through you (B). You are the middleman that controls the outcome of each interaction with your dog, and each interaction must be structured in this way to achieve the highest level of training success. Commonly referred to as the “No Free Lunch” or “No Free Petting” policy, this process is called indirect access, and has been an effective way of training animals for many decades.

Your dog will begin to quickly understand indirect access as an effective way to communicate your leadership. Make him work for all their valuable resources, including food, play, free time, toys and petting. This will help you tremendously if you are consistent and clear; if your dog wants something from you, teach him that he must earn it. Conversely, giving things to our dogs for “Free” not only teaches them that they aren’t required to earn these positive resources, but it can actually destroy their mental balance. Dogs are a working species that love to accomplish a “job” in order to gain access to resources. If work is not provided for them, they can become confused, frustrated, insecure, and in turn can develop behavioral issues. Additionally, dogs as pack animals, truly understand pack order or a “chain of command”. If our dogs don’t have to earn anything, and are subsequently taught that they control the resources, they will naturally feel more dominant and position themselves higher within the “pack” or your household.

In conclusion, being a confident leader for your dog will not only build a strong relationship between you and your dog, but gives your dog the overall structure they need to be a balanced and well-behaved pack member.

See our Fifteen Steps to Becoming the Pack Leader article for other “Pack Leader” related articles.