The Pack Leader

Everyone comes from some kind of family, and every family has a structure comprised of different members with different responsibilities to the family. Today, the members of a family can be very flexible, but the fact that each member has some responsibility to the family remains unchanged. Some members are responsible for financial resources, while others are responsible for caretaking or managing the household. Even small children are responsible for being mannerly, picking up their toys, and getting an education.


Not too long ago, common, everyday dogs were responsible members of the family with important jobs to do. They were expected to perform task's such as guard property, handle personal protection, herd livestock, assist with hunting, eliminate vermin, locate lost people or pull carts and sleds.


Because most people had less disposable income and there was no dog food industry, dogs ate our leftovers. Since houses did not have electronic alarm systems, dogs slept outside so they could patrol around the house. Because there was no forced or central heating, doors were kept closed as we moved from room to room, and only the occupied room was heated. Dogs were expected to follow us and had no opportunity to move about freely in the house. Because people were more frugal, one set of living room furniture had to last 10 or 20 years. Dogs were not allowed on the furniture so it would not wear out prematurely. Because people expected their dogs to work at one of the jobs listed above, they were respected members of the family, not surrogate children. Yes, training methods could have been kinder and some dogs could have been treated with more empathy, but many believe there was not the degree of behavior problems we frequently see today. Nervous disorders, idiopathic aggression, lack of desire to fetch or learn obedience, separation anxiety, incessant and useless barking and severe phobias were less common because dogs lived within a consistent social order and breeders still bred for working ability -- not just looks.


Today, dogs are frequently and unknowingly treated like group leaders by:

  • being allowed to get up on beds and furniture
  • eating out of an overflowing food bowl whenever they’d like
  • coming and going as they please
  • having lots of unearned possessions to guard
  • having subordinates fawn over them with constant free petting
  • being able to demand to be played with, petted, taken out or left alone
Sometimes owners treat their dogs like kings and queens one minute, and then wonder why their dogs aren’t obedient when they take them to class and ask for a Down-Stay. K9Den Solutions offers training programs that will help your dog regain his rightful place as a respected, responsible member of the family.


Approximately 25 to 30 years ago, behaviorists observed that dogs had a definite pecking order. This is where many old-school confrontational training methods came from. The alpha roll-over, scruff shake and direct eye stare were thought to be the "natural" ways to exert your dominance over your dog. However, we now realize that those are extremely threatening behaviors that a sane leader would only use as a last resort and not as a way of "training" or relating. Dogs have a much more civilized method of "training" and relating to one another that relies on posturing, social ritual and avoiding confrontation. Avoiding confrontation is very important to dogs. They understand that if they are injured in a fight, they cannot hunt, forage and travel to get food and if they cannot do those things, they will die. Therefore, it is important for you and the other humans in your family to appear as strong, dependable, consistent, non-confrontational leaders who know the posturing and social rituals that make sense to your dog. Being strong, dependable, consistent and non-confrontational are all excellent signs of a good leader.


 It is extremely stressful to most dogs to be without a leader. Because of this, dog owners should learn how to become kind and benevolent leaders, or role models, for their dogs. My job is to help you do that. Most dogs will develop a more relaxed and confident demeanor with a strong desire to please their new role models once the leadership role has been assumed. Most of you have heard the saying, “follow the leader.”


Some trainers classify all dogs in the leadership role as being “dominant” or “aggressive.” The K9Den does not believe this is the case. A dominant dog  is defined as assertive, independent, and sometimes controlling while an aggressive dog is hostile, combative or even offensively or defensively antagonistic. The words “dominant” and “aggressive” are not interchangeable. Remember, a submissive dog can become aggressive if provoked.


When a dog looks to his family unit for a leader and sees no leader, he figures he must fill the position himself because every group needs a leader and a pecking order. Some dogs are forced into the leadership role and become stressed with the responsibility. Some dogs with dominant temperaments will manipulate their way into the leadership role, taking advantage of their uneducated owners. In instances when a dog is forced into the leadership role, he will use aggression to maintain order and consistency. In instances when the dog is self-appointed into the leadership role, he will use aggression to maintain his status in the family unit.

Whether a dog is forced into the leadership role or manipulates his way into it, his maneuvers are the same. Dogs assume leadership in a very canine way.

They may:

  • become pushy at the front door
  • attain the most central and elevated sleeping station
  • require that they not be disturbed when resting
  • bark at anything they think needs barking at for as long as they think it needs barking at
  • have first dibs on any food or possessions within reach
  • have the right to defend any food or possessions they come upon
  • expect to not be touched in any way they do not like
  • expect to be able to demand various forms of attention or behaviors from you, their subordinate.


It is very important to establish house rules and enforce them firmly and fairly.

Here are some simple guidelines that will allow you to show a dog that his humans are good leaders and that he has a responsibility to the family to serve and follow his leaders.

The Duties of the Pack Leader
• Establish the rules
• Enforce the rules
• Maintain social order (leader of the pack chooses who is in the pack, and what authority each pack member does or does not have)
• Lead benevolently. In dog packs, the leader is seldom the most dominant or physical member. Very few dogs would try to manipulate themselves into that role by exerting their dominance if they could see evidence of a leader. Those that did were quickly overthrown by the pack. Dogs are not happy under tyranny.

Specific Things We Can do to Show Dogs Who the Leader Is
1. Leaders become "alpha" by controlling the packs valued resources (food, freedom, playtime, toys, attention, etc.)
2. Leaders eat first
3. Leaders go through doorways first
4. Leaders stay calm and in control
5. Leaders set the pace and the direction
6. Leaders say when play begins and when it ends
7. Leaders do not beg for attention
8. Leaders do not offer free treats
9. Leaders assume the higher ground (i.e. beds, couches, chairs, etc. )
10. Leaders never change their direction or step over the dog
11. Leaders assign resting spots for other pack members
12. Leaders do not let their personal space be invaded

We've all seen or heard of situations in the workplace where a person was placed in a management or supervisory position without proper leadership skills or development. There would be evidence of stress, tension and insecurity as the unskilled leader would employ methods such as "management by intimidation" or force as a cover up for his or her lack of qualifications. Our dogs display similar behaviors when forced into a leadership role that they are unqualified to fill.

Most dogs actually don't want the role of "pack leader". Some dogs feel   pressured to assume that role because they see no evidence of a leader. They will then take that role because they know that every pack has to have a leader in order to survive. These dogs generally become stressed and develop various behavior problems similar to the humans who find themselves in the same situation. Most dogs will gladly relinquish the position when they discover the presence of a leader and relish the security as the relationship blossoms.


Den Solutions Dog Training LLC
Happy Dogs + Happy Owners = Happy Trainer
Monday - Saturday: 8 AM to 8 PM Sunday: 1 PM to 5 PM

Dog Training and Puppy Training by Certified Dog Trainer in Frisco, Little Elm, Denton, The Colony, Plano, Lakewood Village, Oak Point, Aubrey, Prosper, Carrollton, Celina, McKinney and surrounding areas
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