Establishing Pack Structure and Leadership

This article is meant for people already living with a dominant dog or people that are bringing an adult dog in to the household that might be thought to have dominant or aggressive tendencies. Establishing pack structure with a puppy is very different.

Most behavioral problems are caused when we as owners don’t take the necessary steps to establish a healthy pack structure. Too often owners make the mistake of trying to get their dogs to “be good” by loving the dog. It is a known fact that with dominant and aggressive dogs, you cannot love them into respecting you. You can pet, praise and treat the dog as much as humanly possible but the dog still won’t respect you as an authoritative figure. He may love you but not respect you. It is important for owners to understand this and know the difference between love and respect.

When I talk about establishing leadership or pack structure I’m not talking about obedience. Im not talking about the recall or the down stay command. I’m talking about how we as humans need to learn how to live with our dogs. The way we interact with our dogs on a day to day basis says a great deal about us as pack leaders to our dogs. It shows the dog guidelines, rules and how things are going to be run in the household.

When we bring a new dog into our house or if we are trying to reestablish pack structure with a dog already living in our home, every decision we make on how to live with the dog and how we train him/her has long term implications on what to expect from the pack and how it’s going to be run.

I try to explain to people that every time they are around their dog they are teaching him/her something. Dogs are very smart and pick up subtleties that you yourself may not even realize. Whether you like it or not you are in fact a dog trainer. You teach and train your dog everyday and don’t even realize it which is a big reason why dogs develop certain behavioral issues with out you even realizing it. Unless you are rescuing a dominant or aggressive dog, the only reason why you have a dog with these issues is because you haven’t established appropriate leadership and structure for the dog.

In many cases behavioral issues can be resolved by changing the way we live with our dogs. I talk about this in my other article called Why is my dog aggressive? To pack animals, there are certain very valued things to the dog that empower them and create an over confident and dominant dog. By simply understanding how pack animals think you can begin to build appropriate boundaries for your dog. Dogs are much happier and less anxious when they know their place in the pack.

A few things dogs relate to being the pack leader:

The pack leader always gets the best place to sleep. This is why letting your dog sleep on the bed and or even sleep on furniture can give them false information that they are in charge. With dominant dogs and dogs in general, it is a good idea to find them a place to hang out besides your furniture.

A pack leader always eats first. The other members don’t eat before the leader or even while the pack leader is eating. Only after the pack leader eats is it appropriate for the members to eat. This is why when you feed dogs from the table they get a sense of empowerment. Or when you feed them kibble before you sit down for your own meal.

A pack leader always walks through doorways first. Most dogs I see always walk through the door way first. These things to the average person might seem trivial and meaningless but after a year or so of consistent and unstructured living the dog will begin to think the bed is his, the couch is his, that he should be fed first or that he’s supposed to walk through doors first.

Imagine an adolescent girl who’s parents haven’t established any guidelines or rules. There’s no curfew, no set dinner time or no “check-ins”. The girl will soon learn, if she hasn’t already, that she can do whatever she wants when she wants. So one Friday night she throws a party at the parents house. When her parents catch her they scold her and ground her for a month. How unfair and confusing is this for the daughter? Parents should have rules in the house. Like good parents, good dog owners should have rules and structure. If not, the dog will be running the show. This is when behavior issues go unchecked and digress.