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Pack Leadership – Are You The Pack Leader ?

Your dog is constantly seeking the answers to these questions:

  1. Who’s in charge?
  2. What are the pack rules?
  3. How do I fit in?

Who’s the boss in your household?.... Answer this question and you’ll have the starting point for successful dog training.

Understanding ‘Pack Leadership’

  • Dogs are highly social animals.

  • It's totally natural for a dog to look for a stable pack environment where harmony and rules are controlled by a consistent pack leader(s).

  • Dogs expect leadership from you, otherwise they will compensate and assume the role themselves.

  • When you look at dogs in the wild, you will witness discipline and order instilled into puppies from their first days on Earth. The adult pack members set limits and boundaries for the pups in a firm and loving way.

  • Remember, the status of “Pack Leader” is earned

  • Pack leadership is not magically bestowed on you just because you love, feed, groom and walk your dog.

  • Dogs are exceptionally happy just being dogs. They never think of themselves as human. So don't humanise your dog. 

  • If you do, then you are handing him the role of pack leader.

  • Dogs don't want to live in a Democracy - they don't want an equal say in how your human household runs.

  • They are hard-wired to expect a clearly defined social framework with a consistent leader at the helm.

  • Only then will they trust and respect that Leader

  • Disobedience or aggressive behaviour is a sure sign that your dog doesn’t see you as his pack leader. He doesn't respect you.

  • Dogs are always watching you. If you become inconsistent in the handling of your dog, your leadership status is downgraded 

Pack Leadership Issues

Pack leadership issues develop predominately from mistakes or laziness on the part of the owner when handling their dog.


Your dog will downgrade your leadership status if you fail to consistently apply the Pack Rules !!

These are some examples of behaviours that can change when your status is downgraded:

  • Your dog would always come when called, but now he's become slow to respond and sometimes, he doesn't come to you at all.


  • your dog would happily play and share his toys with you, but now he displays assertive or possessive behaviours over these items he now deems “valuable”.


  • your dog displays stubbornness and is now disobedient over basic commands such as “Sit”, "Lie Down" or "Stay”, where previously he would have happily complied with your commands.


  • your dog is now pulling on the lead when walking and resisting your attempts to stop this behaviour.


  • your dog is showing aggressive or assertive behaviour towards other dogs or people where previously he would tolerate and enjoy the social interaction.


  • The worst case scenario is where your dog becomes aggressive towards you or your family. In this situation, he no longer tolerates lower-ranked pack members displaying dominant or assertive behaviours towards himself. 

These are just some of the many changes in dog behaviour that can occur if your status as pack leader is downgraded.



What are the Attributes of a Good Pack Leader:

         You must be able to direct, control or stop your dog’s general behaviour -

                  To gain control over a well trained dog normally means using firm voice commands and appropriate rewards

For dogs with little or no training, it means both voice commands and physical control with the attached lead.

         You must intervene to protect or control your dog in threatening situations -

                  Be watchful and be ready to take control of tense or potentially unpleasant situations.

Look for the body-language signs that tell you your dog is stressed and possibly about to react.

Understand your dog's temperament & always have your dog on a lead.

When another dog approaches in an assertive manner, try to warn the dog away, don't leave your dog feeling that he has to manage the situation on his own. And then try to get your dog to pay attention (focus) on you.

In this way you can usually prevent or at the very least, divert “aggressive” or “possessive” behaviours from being displayed.

         You must always be in control of your dog’s “resources” (valuables) -

                 This means balls, toys, food, bedding, freedom or anything else your dog regards as valuable.

Control your dog’s access to these ‘valuable’ items and your dog will see you as his pack leader.

This control over valued items means you can develop the Switch On/Switch Off technique....

You switch your dog “on” by introducing say, a toy and giving a command that says 'let's play'.

The game is played according to your rules and then you stop the game (switch off) by using a 'finish' voice command and removing the toy. 

You’re in control of the toy, you control the situation - you are seen as the pack leader.




How to Re-establish Pack Leader Status


         Ownership Style

The key to successfully changing your dog's perception of your status in the pack is all about your "ownership style". 

A soft, easy-going ownership style will never convince your dog that you're pack-leadership material.

To the other extreme, brutality and heavy-handed treatment will only create fear and this never generates respect.

So, it's about taking the middle firm but be fair.

How you handle & control your dog every day of the year will determine whether your dog sees you as his pack leader.



         Be Consistent

Apply your training, house or pack rules in the same way every time.

Use the same command words, the same tone of voice & the same body language.

All members of the household must use this training system.

Be consistent, be firm but be fair !

         Stay Calm

Don't allow frustrating dog behaviour to irritate you.

Stay cool and be in control of the situation.

Anger and violence will destroy your dog’s trust in you.

Remember, force & punishment creates fear, it never creates respect.

         Use Obedience Exercises to Control Resources

Use obedience exercises so the dog can 'access' the things he values. For example: he must sit before he can jump into the car. He must drop before his lead is removed to allow free running in the park. He must stay in a sit position before he gets fed. Increase the number and frequency of these obedience responses and mix them up to avoid anticipation.

Your dog learns to listen and respond to commands in order to get what he wants.

He develops a willingness to co-operate with you....the pack-leader.

         Be Determined

Don't give-up just because you aren't getting the results you want.

Contact a professional trainer and get some help. Everybody benefits !!

A pack leader has the respect of his pack members and this means his authority is never challenged.

Remember, respect from a dog to his owner is EARNED.

Most people don't understand this concept.

They get very frustrated when their dog sometimes obeys them and at other times he just wanders off into the distance.

The truth is most dogs love their owners, but very few dogs respect their owners !

I have a saying...........a handler always ends up with the dog they deserve !


   Have a clear ownership plan.

   Be consistent when applying the pack (house) rules.

   Stay calm, but be firm and fair with your dog

   Use obedience exercises to control what the dog values.

   Be determined to succeed.   

​A Word of Caution

If your dog has displayed aggression towards you or a family member then it's critical that your training to re-establish pack leadership is done slowly and thoughtfully over a short period of time.

Don't attempt to demote your dog overnight. This will definitely not be tolerated by a dominant or aggressive dog!

Get professional help if the situation is beyond your skill level or if you have lost confidence in your dog.

Don't guess, it will always end badly!




         Mark Murray

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