Ten Ways to Become Your Dog’s Leader

Ten Ways to Become Your Dog’s Leader

In This Chapter

  • Discovering how a good leader communicates
  • Understanding why every dog needs a trusted leader
Leaders do more than boss their underling around; they set an example of good behavior and maintain a sense of calm authority, even in the face of excitement. If you’re eager for more respect, try the simple steps in this chapter.

Control the Resources

In any group of dogs, the leader controls the resources, from food, to choice resting areas, to drinking locations. Because your dog views your relationship as though you (and your family) were other dogs, emphasize this authority by organizing structured feeding times, even hand-feeding a portion of your dog’s meal to accentuate your authority.

Teach Your Dog to Mind Her Manners

Ordering anyone about, whether you’re a dog or person, is poor form. “Get this, do that, scratch my back, over here!” — a person who made these epithets would be quickly put in their place, and yet many dogs get away with saying as much with their behavior.
Assess how your dog demands your attention: pawing you, whining, scratching your arm, or staring. You must stop these unruly interactions must stop; you’re enabling your dog’s incivility.
Before offering your dog anything she would consider a treat (food, your attention, toys), instruct her to sit. If she ignores you, position her calmly and then continue your interaction.
Each time she requests your attention, instruct her to sit until her manners improve to the level that she’ll automatically sit whenever she wants something.

Reserve High Places for Humans

Woe is the temptation to invite your dog into your bed. An extra warm body on a cold wintery night — they didn’t call them “three dog nights” up north for nothing! That said, however, your dog may read a lot into your resting positions. Young dogs and those who are showing aggression should be level trained. This formula highlights that you rest on higher sleeping ground — a bed or couch, in essence, being equivalent to a mound or hill. Your elevated level commands respect.
As your dog matures, and her respect for your direction improves, you may invite her to join you on permission. (Any sign of aggression would preclude this honor.) Teach your dog to “Sit and wait” and then encourage her to lie in one space by tapping that spot and saying “Up, up.”
Your dog may inch her way up to your pillow or the back edge of the couch. Don’t allow her to do so. Designate one area ahead of time. If she excites or rearranges herself, tell her “Off” and direct her back to her own bed on the floor.

Emphasize Your Right of Way

The most common and passive way dogs organize a hierarchy is through spatial definition. If you catch yourself stepping over or around your dog, or changing direction as not to avoid her, you’re paying homage to her presence. Leadership (at this point) isn’t within your grasp.
To reclaim your authority, teach your dog the definition of “Excuse me.” Every time your dog crosses your path (on a walk, stairway, or about the house), calmly but clearly say, “Excuse me” and knudge her out of your way. You may need to bump your dog with your knees or scotch your feet under her body until she moves.
So be it. One of you must move about the other: If your goal is leadership, don’t defer. As long as your dog cooperates, you don’t need to do anything else other than just move along nonchalantly.
If your dog’s chosen resting spots are blocking your footpath, the same rules apply. If you walk around her, you’re saying that you are more aware of her than she needs to be of you. The result? Your dog will consistently place herself in your pathway in order to get attention and redefine your spatial respect. In this case, it’s far easier to teach your dog to lie at the specified location or along the edge of the room.
Does your dog trip you on the stairs, slide in front of you during a walk, or position himself in front of the TV or the stove? These actions are as rude as a loved one stretching out to work or exercise in the middle of your stairway or kitchen floor. You owe it to your dog to teach her better manners!

Use Time-Outs to Control Unruly Behavior

Bringing your dog to her crate, small room, or station calmly isn’t punishment unless your inappropriate behavior makes it so. The calm act of escorting your dog to her kennel, station, or quiet room is a very acceptable way to handle normal frustrations. Losing your temper is far worse than to separate and regroup.
If you feel your frustration coming on, with no improvement in your dog’s behavior, don’t hesitate to put your dog in a time-out. Grab a favorite toy for your dog, direct him by voice or collar, and simply say, “Time out, my love,” as you seclude him. Your authority to make these decisions and isolate your dog when she’s unruly is both respectable and required. The duration of time out will be determined by how long it takes you to calm down, and whether your dog naps or is restless. These quiet times should not be more than 30 minutes, unless your dog is resting.
You can also use time-outs to help children control their impulses around the dog/puppy, too. In this case, simply remind the children that when a situation gets out of hand, the dog will need to go to her quiet space (which in truth, she’ll probably welcome), but that if they cooperate, you’ll reward them with a sticker or other prize.
Here are several times when a time-out can help ease the situation:
  • If your dog/puppy is getting overly excited with a situation. Isolate her with a displacement bone or toy.
  • If an outdoor situation is overstimulating your dog, causing frantic barking, pacing or patrolling.
  • When children interactions are getting out of hand.
  • If you suspect that her inattention or poor behavior may be due to exhaustion. Puppies nip the hardest when they’re overtired.


Your dog wants to be understood and, above all, be respected for her life experience. An ounce of empathy can give you a special rapport with your dog. Once you can imagine life from her perspective, you can tailor your direction and become the leader you’d want to have if you were in the same situation.
Consider life from your dog’s perspective. Why does your dog jump, for example? If jumping occurs during greeting, she’s trying to get closer to your face, as is a normal canine ritual. Shouting or kneeing her introduces confrontational energy between you. Don’t go there. Instead, consider your dog’s reaction and what she may be trying to communicate and then comprise a direction that satisfies her needs while maintaining a structured home life. See Table 18-1 for examples of possible redirections.

Organize Space and Activities

A good leader, like a good team captain or parent, organizes the space and activities of those she’s responsible for. Organization leaves little to question and provides a tremendous sense of security and calm.
Help your dog organize where to go and what to do in every situation, from family time activities, to meals, to a visitor’s arrival. Consider your life’s flow and organize a game plan for each situation. What should your dog do, for example, when you come in from errands? Where should she go, and what should she do when you’re watching TV, or playing with the children on the swings? Consider Table 18-2 and copy it or add to it.

Practice Full Body Handling

It’s the leader’s prerogative and responsibility to physically check her group members. Other dogs know this fact and will allow a dominant dog to thoroughly examine their body. In your vigil to assume authority, physically touch your dog each day, from head to toe.
Your daily attention to your dog’s body allows you to note any growths, parasites, or skin alterations. Bring anything suspect to your veterinarian’s attention.

Restore Predictability

Dogs enjoy predictability: Connecting to an experience when their role is defined. Your dog feels most safe in your home when predictability reigns, distractions are low, and your mood is stable. Though you may enjoy a more spontaneous schedule, your dog will not. Like a young child, he enjoys eating, toileting, and playing at similar intervals.
If you work during the day and your dog is left alone, hire a dog walker who you can call in case an emergency precludes you from getting home at your usual hour. Though your dog can’t read the time, his biological clock highlights your arrival time. If you don’t make it home, your dog may soil or become destructive.

Highlight the Positive

Consider playing on a team. Would you choose a captain that belittled your weakness or exalted your strengths? A benevolent leader plays a similar role: Emphasize your dog’s good qualities and cooperative behavior, and she’ll be a cheerful member of your family circle. For each negative behavior you encounter, establish a positive alternative.

by Stanley Coren and Sarah Hodgson