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How To Become Your Dog’s Pack Leader

Matt Hendricks

Matt Hendricks

Dog trainer and behaviorist.

A lot of people ask me, “How do I become my dog’s pack leader?” There are many aspects to being a pack leader such as your energy, your body language, your ability to read dogs and communicate clearly with them, and more. That being said, it really comes down to two main things. The first is being able to mentally control the space you are in.  The second is being able to mentally control your dogs position.

Those two things can be broken down into what I call, “The Six Relational Behaviors”.

  1. Follow me
  2. Stay where I ask
  3. Yield space away from me
  4. Come back to me
  5. Yield to downward pressure
  6. Be submissive of resources

These should all be done silently using only body language (spacial pressure) and touch (leash pressure).  Once you can do this with the dog, then that dog will see you as the pack leader at a basic level. Any dog in control of another dog would easily be able to get the other dog to do these.  If you want a dog to take you seriously, trust you, and respect you, then you need to be able to at least do this with that dog. The first four behaviors help you take control of the space you are in mentally.  The fifth behavior is important since down is the most submissive position a dog can be in. The sixth behavior is related to resources such as food and toys since a more submissive dog would defer to a more dominant dog when they were eating or playing.

I almost always cover the first four of these behaviors during my first lesson with a new client.  The fifth one I usually wait to teach until somewhere around lesson four. This is because this is the hardest of the six behaviors for most dogs, and I find it is easier for people to do once they already have a better relationship going with their dog.  The sixth one is covered in various spots in the training program depending on the dog’s needs.

Once you have gotten through at least the first four of The Six Relational Behaviors, here are four more concrete exercises that you can do that will go a long way in helping you get even more established as a pack leader. Those four foundational exercises are:

  • The Structured Walk
  • Place Command
  • Thresholds
  • Feeding

I would start by teaching your dog to follow you when you walk him, yield to you at thresholds (gates, doorways, etc.), teach him a really solid place command, and make him focus on you before you give him his food. Three of those exercises have to do with you being able to control the space you are in. If you do them properly you should end up with a dog who will follow you (the structured walk), yield space to you (thresholds), and stay in one place (place command) when you tell him to. The feeding is important because a dog would never take food away from the pack leader, and making him focus on you before getting it makes sure he knows that he has to pay attention to you to get what he wants.

Once your dog knows those four things, it is important to have your dog practice place command for an hour or two at a time (less if he is a young puppy). This teaches him impulse control as well as helping him to realize that his job is to just rest and relax while you worry about the world going on around him. If you watch some of my videos, you can get an idea of how all these exercises should look.

If you can accomplish The Six Relational Behaviors and the other four foundational exercises consistently, then at that point, you have established yourself as the pack leader. Not all of your dogs behavioral issues will be gone at this point, but this is the point where you actually have enough clout with him to really work on them. Of course, there is a lot more stuff you can do that helps, and I cover that in person with my clients, but these four items would be the most important ones (and the most basic ones) to start with.

I should note, that it is important to have your dog follow you every time you walk anywhere with him from now on. Also, you should continue to feed your dog this way and make him wait at thresholds for the rest of his life. As for the place command, you won’t have to do quite the durations of it that you do initially after you get your dog’s behavioral issues under control. That being said, it is still important to practice duration place command regularly even if everything seems to be going fine.

Being a pack leader is really a lifestyle. It is something that you are constantly living while you are with your dog. Some people are able to figure out how to do this on their own, and that is great. However, many people do need a professional to help them establish a better relationship with their dog and teach them how to maintain it. Keep in mind, that when you have both an inexperienced dog and an inexperienced trainer/handler, it is going to take longer than if you work with a good professional trainer.

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