Is Your Dog In Charge?

When training your dog, it’s very important to understand how a dog thinks. They are pack animals with a complex social structure and and a clear hierarchy and that fact is something you need to aware of in order to have the best relationship possible with your dog. Keep this concept in mind and it will help you train your dog more effectively.

I know the phrase "pack" gets overused but in the wild, it essentially means "family". In the wild, a wolf pack is a family where the alpha male and female are almost always the breeding parents and the rest of the pack is mostly their offspring.

There are those that say dogs are not wolves and all that "pack mentality" stuff is not relevant. I agree that dogs are not wolves but they descended from wolves and they still possess many of the instincts and drives of their ancestors. (“The domestic dog is an extremely close relative of the gray wolf, differing from it by at most 0.2% of mtDNA sequence….) Maybe it would help if we called it "family mentality." The need to belong to a family is still very strong in our dogs.

Dogs want to be part of a family

Puppies as well as most adult dogs are quite happy to be around humans and this is one of the main aspects that makes them different from wolves and excellent companions. Because of this innate instinct to be part of a pack (family) they readily take to the people they live with as their family and therefore they need to find their place within that group. All pack animals have different levels within the pack, often determined by age, with the parents at the top as the leaders. The leaders set and enforce the rules. These rules are necessary for the success and survival of the pack.

The second level is usually the oldest offspring, and each level down has less dominance within the pack. Dogs understand where each individual in the group fits in that hierarchy, and they can easily assume their role naturally as long as there is a clear chain of command in place.

It's really not any different than a human family where the parents are the leaders, providing love, protection, direction, discipline and all the needs of those children. Older children have more responsibilities than younger siblings but the concept is the same.

When you bring a puppy or adult dog home, it soon learns that everyone in the household is part of their new family. It then needs to learn where it fits in. It’s critical that your dog understands not only that there is a leader but also, who it is and who he is to follow. He also needs to understand that every human in that house holds a higher position than him. A pack, a family, a business, or any group must have a leader in order to function properly.

We run into problems when there is no clear leader. You need to establish yourself as head of your dogs new family, the head honcho, the top dog,… right away, or your dog will be uncomfortable that there is no leader. If there is no clear leader, he will follow its instinct and become the leader, so as to ensure that the group is strong. You'll even see a puppy attempting to fill that leadership role, because they instinctively know that there must be one.

So who is Top Dog in Your House?

If you establish yourself as leader from the beginning, your dog, without too much fuss, will settle into its spot in your family and happily view you as the one in charge. There are several things you can do to ensure that your dog knows that you’re the boss. And again, every human in your household must hold a higher position than your dog, no matter their age.

Set and Enforce BoundariesLet your dog know from day one, where he can and cannot go and what he can and cannot do.

Set and Enforce Ground RulesBe consistent. Don’t let your dog chew on your shoes because it’s cute, unless you want him to chew on your shoes forever. He’ll be confused later for being punished for doing the same thing.

Physical Contact – It’s important that you pet, groom and handle your dog. Even if your dog isn’t thrilled with being brushed or having his nails clipped, don’t give up.

Be ConsistentWhatever it is you don’t want your dog to do, stop him every time and don’t ever let it go. Be consistent with your praise, and always praise your dog when he does things the right way.

Socialize Your Dog  Expose your dog to other people, animals and places so he can learn how to be sociable in all situations. Teach him that the same manners expected at home also apply everywhere else.

Be PatientAlways remain calm and be patient with your dog. Repetition and patience is the key to successfully teaching a behavior. Impatience will just make it harder for your dog.

Be Fair Never expect your dog to obey a command he hasn't fully learned yet. Have reasonable and fair expectations.

Never ever hit your dog. You don't want him to fear you, you want him to trust, respect and love you. I've found in 40+ years of training dogs that positive reinforcement works the best.

Following these basic rules to establish yourself as the leader will save you a great deal of frustration for you and your new dog. Firmly redirecting bad behavior and consistently praiseing good behavior will go a long way in successfully training you new buddy.

** It’s extremely important that everyone in the house teaches and enforces the same rules with your dog. This is also true of guests. This will avoid confusion for your dog and accelerate the learning process.

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