How to be a good leader

When people discuss dogs and their behaviour, you may hear comments such as “My dog is very dominant,” or “My dog always tries to dominate me.” Often when we think a dog is trying to dominate us, it is simply doing ‘what works’. Unfortunately, this may result in the dog believing that their inappropriate or aggressive behaviour is accepted in the pack. Dogs thrive when they understand their position within the family and they benefit from having clear and consistent boundaries. This does not mean you need to forcibly dominate your dog to be a good leader. Leadership is about setting reasonable boundaries without intimidating the dog.

You are in control

To be a good leader, you must always remain in control of all your dog’s resources. Like humans, a dog’s level of interest and desire for certain things constantly changes and it is important that you take advantage of this. This does not mean taking all the fun and excitement from your dog’s life, but rather ensuring you are the one in control. If your dog wants a pat, ask it to sit first. If it wants to go for a walk, make sure it sits before you clip on its leash. If it wants its dinner, ask it to perform a trick or wait for your command before eating. Doing these things helps to establish boundaries. It teaches the dog that in order to get what it wants, it must first do what you want. If the dog becomes pushy or demanding, the best thing to do is ignore the behaviour.

Obedience training

Basic obedience training will help you and your dog learn to communicate in ways that you both understand. It is important that you integrate the training into everyday life. Training is most effective when it is carried out in several short sessions, but it will still require time and patience. Obedience training will reinforce to your dog that you are in control and it will help strengthen your bond.

Exercise and play

Exercising and playing with your dog will also strengthen the bond between the two of you. As the leader, you should be the one to initiate and end play sessions. Keep a couple of special toys aside for play time – toys that will only come out when you play with your dog.

Maintaining harmony in multiple-dog households

If you have more than one dog, it is important that you spend quality time with each of them. This can be as simple as spending time together indoors while the other dogs (or dog) are out walking or playing. A short training session or quick walk can also be valuable.

It will be beneficial to teach your dog that life is not always ‘fair’ and that sometimes a dog might receive attention that others will not. For example, you might have a young pup that needs to be confined while its brothers and sisters run free. It is up to you to teach the dogs that this is acceptable. Remember to make confinement a positive experience. Teach your dogs that spending time alone can be just as rewarding as spending time with its friends. You should also teach the dogs that it is a good thing when fellow pets receive attention from you. When you pat one dog, reward the others with treats if they remain calm and do not try to get in the way.

Don’t play favourites

It is very important that you do not show favouritism if you have more than one dog. Rather than feeding the ‘Top Dog’ first, have all of the dogs wait until you give permission for them to eat their dinner. Rather than having one dog enter the door first every time, have them all wait and call them in a random order.

Prevention is better than cure, so try to avoid situations that may cause a fight. If you have a dog that is possessive of toys, don’t let it play fetch with a dog it might see as a threat. If your dogs fight over a toy, take it away and remove yourself from the game. Teach them that inappropriate behaviour ends the game. If two dogs are growling and snapping at each other, do not yell as this can make things worse. Instead, give both dogs some breathing space and time to calm down away from each other.

Make sure you praise your dogs for getting along with each other. If they are sleeping or resting calmly together, reward them with a treat. Let them know they will be rewarded for co-operating and being calm around each other.

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