You give your dog everything it could want. You share your steak with him, your favorite chair, and even make room on your bed. So, why does your dog act so grumpy? He growls if you brush him, snaps if you try to touch his toy, and refuses to give up his spot on the couch. Didn’t you make his life perfect? Sadly, the answer is no. As much as we make our dogs a part of the family, they are still dogs. The live by pack rules, which are different than our family structure. Many difficult and dangerous family dogs are living confused lives. We have given them the impression that they are in charge. If they are overly submissive or fearful, they are in a state of panic due to the apparent lack of leadership. No amount of punishment can change the subtle signals we give them each day. It is very simple to integrate pack rules into our everyday lives. This can be done without regimented practice sessions or physical force. All you need is to know how a pack functions and blend it into your daily routine.
The leader of a pack always eats first and no other dog would dare to steal its food. This does not mean you can’t share with your dog, only that he gets the last bite. Try to always eat something before your dog is fed. Either rearrange his mealtime or grab a small bite of something for yourself first. Do not allow your dog to beg, paw, or try to steal your food. A great solution is to put your dog on a leash, have your dog lay by you, and then place your foot on the leash to keep him down. Ignore barks or whines, and tell him no if he paws at you or tries to get up. Once you are done eating, tell your dog he can get up and either hand feed him his bite or place it in his bowl. Your dog will learn very quickly that waiting patiently will result in a reward. One hint: Don’t look directly at your dog while you eat. Eye contact means entirely different things to dogs and people. If you refuse to make eye contact, you are basically acting like he’s not there. Once you make eye contact, your dog will start to whine and beg. Also, too many owners lose their resolve when looking into those sad eyes.
Leaders always go first. If there’s a tight space, the other dogs always yield. This goes for exterior doors, interior doors, cars, stores, and gates. To begin with, you will need to show your dog what you want. Put your dog on a leash and approach a doorway. When you get within a step or two, stop and tell your dog to wait. You can have them sit if it will help them stay put. Take a step through the doorway, walking directly in front of your dog. As soon as you are through, turn to your dog, say OK or come, and give him lots of praise. If you come to a doorway and your dog rushes through, call him back to you or pull him back with the leash. Have him wait while you pass first. Keeping some treats handy helps for callbacks at the beginning. Be Prepared! Once your dog learns this, you have to remember it too. Otherwise, you will find yourself tripping over your dog when he stops to let you pass.
Leaders get the highest position. This means you don’t allow a dog on the furniture, especially the bed. One of the best ways to prevent a dog from thinking he owns the place is to give him his own sleeping area. This can be a crate, dog bed, or a special room in the house. If started early, your dog will consider this his safe place. If your dog is a dominant personality, or you have a pup from a known dominant breed, you should refrain from laying on the floor with the dog during training. Dogs have distinct body postures they use to communicate. A dog that stands over or on another dog is showing he is the boss.
A leader has clear passage. You should not have to walk around or step over your dog. No one wants a dog that panics when someone gets close, but they shouldn’t hold their ground, either. This is easiest to train with a puppy or easy-going dog, but it can be accomplished with a bossy dog. If your dog already knows he rules the roost, you will need to use a leash or treats for this exercise.
You don’t have to go out of your way to make your dog move, since a dog that lies out of the way has already given clear passage. For dogs that lay in doorways, hallways, and high-traffic areas, you will need to show them what you are asking. Walk at a normal pace until you are two steps from the dog. As you take the next step, say “Move”. If they move even a step, praise them since you are trying to guide their response. If they do not budge, stop and repeat once more. If the dog still holds it’s ground, you have two options. For a young or non-dominant dog, you slide your foot up to touch them and say your command again. This usually will get them moving. Be sure to praise as soon as they move so they will relate the command and action. If you already have a doggy dictator, or your dog growls and refuses to move, try treats to lure them as you say the command. If they are stubborn, leave a leash on them when you are home so you can use it to guide them.
Having a dog obey you before doing something enjoyable is a great way to have the dog look to you for leadership. If the dog has to sit or lay, or even do a trick, before receiving a treat, going for a walk, or playing a favorite game, he learns to relate your decisions with positive experiences. Having a dog sit before putting down his food bowl accomplishes two things, since he has to obey to be fed and he learns you control when he eats. Keep in mind a few things when giving commands. A dog looks at body language and listens to the vocal tone. Don’t ask your dog to do something. Say it clearly and firmly with no upswing of tone at the end. Look directly at your dog when you speak to him, since dogs read a lot from eye contact. Be sure to stand tall any time you are working on leader training. Leaders puff themselves up and walk boldly. A shy dog slinks and stoops. Leaning over or crouching takes away your leader appearance.
The day a new puppy arrives at your home is the best time to start this routine. The puppy learns this as a normal family behavior and is less likely to think he can be in charge. All is not lost for older dogs, although a dog that has achieved the leader position does not give it up easily. First, access your personal situation. Is your dog large or small? Does he growl or bite if he doesn’t get his way? Has he had any formal training? Are you a confident enforcer of the rules or a softie? If you feel you can safely handle your dog, try adding a new rule each week. Don’t act like it is a forced rule. Try to make the dog see it as something new and interesting. These rules don’t require real punishment, just guidance. If the dog doesn’t understand, show him. If you have any doubts about your dog harming you, seek a local trainer to help. If your dog has not been spayed or neutered, consider having it done to lessen the hormonal influence on their behavior.
Once you have become the leader of your house, your dog will have a personality change. Many owners worry their dogs won’t love them if they act too strict. The opposite is true. Your dog will act more like a puppy, wiggling with excitement when it greets you and being eager to please. You will notice your dog is a lot calmer and relaxed since it isn’t always on guard for a threat to its leadership. If done properly, your dog will not fear you. He will seek out your company since the leader is the one with all the position and the benefits.
This article was written by Doris Mow and is used with her permission. Doris is the moderator for Wildpaws Alaskan Malamute Discussion Form, http://www.wildpaw.com/forum. She has worked as a Veterinary Technician, Dog Groomer, and Small Animal Nutritionist. Doris lives with two Alaskan Malamutes: Kodiak, 8 years old, recently retired from weightpulling after earning his Working Dog Superior title; and Wookie, 18 months, is just beginning his weightpulling career. Doris also operates an organic garden business, Mow's Garden, http://www.mowsgarden.com, which specializes in butterfly and songbird gardening.