Leadership means that you and your dog know and follow the house rules that you have established by teaching them to your dog and then enforcing them routinely. Your dog should look to you for guidance and happily listen to you. You have the leader position, but you must do things to make that clear to your dog. Clear boundaries give a dog security and confidence, so that he can just be a dog and leave the rest up to you to handle.
1. The Leader Controls the Resources: Providing the things your dog values, rather than giving them for free, encourages your dog to listen and cooperate with you.
Food: Food is a major resource and should come from you, not just appear in the dog’s bowl and be left there for him to enjoy at his leisure. Feed your dog twice a day. Ask your dog to sit and wait. Reward your dog with his food. Any food that is still in the bowl after 10-20 minutes should be picked up and put away. If this is new for your dog, you will see him adapt to the new routine in about 2-5 days. For dogs with real leadership issues or to train quickly, feed your dog all its food from your hand. Have your dog come, sit or down to earn each piece of food.
Toys: Leave only one or two toys out at any given time. The rest should be kept where only you can reach them. When you’d like to give your dog a toy, ask him to sit and reward his good behavior with a toy. (See Chewing Handout for more info.) Play with your dog to increase your value in your dog’s eyes. Games are great, but make sure you set the rules and the dog obeys them. Teaching your dog to drop it and take it makes this easy.
Door Access: When your dog wants to go out, simply ask him to sit and reward his response by opening the door.
You: You are the greatest resource of all because your dog needs you to get all the other resources! Don’t waste your position –remind your dog all the time that you are important. If he wants to be pet, don’t let him tell you when. Ask your dog to come, sit or down and reward him with your affection. For everything your dog wants, that you provide, ask him for a behavior and then provide him a reward.
2. The Leader Control Spaces and Places: Dogs should earn the privileges in their lives. (we do!)
Furniture: I don’t mind if a dog takes a place that is available, but if it’s my lap, a dog should be invited, not just jump up. It’s also important that a dog get off something when asked. If you can’t get your dog off furniture without your hands, you’ve got a leadership and resource dispute. Any dog with leadership issues should not be allowed on furniture. He will need to earn this privilege and then come up only when the issues are cleared up and he is invited.
Space: Doorways, hallways, and prime sleeping spots need to be managed by you, not the dog. If you ask your dog to move (body block, come when called or other way), it should move for you. This includes during exciting situations like getting a leash on, in and out of the car, while on a walk, etc. If your dog refuses to move, you have work to do. Your dog can be trained to get back, leave it, or come to help with these issues. With effective teaching comes good listening. The goal is to move the dog with our influence…not our hands.
3. Other Areas for Leadership:
Handling: Dogs should be taught to accept handling from you and others to be safe and manageable.
Training: Taking time to train the dog establishes leadership by having lots of mini lessons for the dog to take instruction from you and be rewarded for it. It’s practice for real life.
Other Dogs: If you have more than one dog, you should be the leader to all of your dogs and they should all receive equal rules and be treated the same to prevent squabbles. No dog should have the position of “alpha” because that is your job.
If you are and your dog aren’t seeing eye to eye on how the house is run or who is really in charge, you are having leadership issues. You need to take the time to establish the above rules so they are easy and accepted by the dog. You will know when he sees you as his leader (or parent or owner or alpha –pick the description of your choice) because you won’t be having any difficulties any more.
Good leaders are clear, concise and consistent. Through training you will learn how to influence your dog’s behavior without needing to intimidate or punish him. True leadership is earned not forced.