Establish Yourself as Your Dog's Leader
PetSmart Debbie McKnight/ Accredited PetSmart Trainer
There is a lot of talk about being your dog's "pack leader." It's true that dogs need leaders. The best way to become a leader is to establish routines and rules with outcomes that are predictable for your dog. Whether your dog is too pushy and needs to be reminded who is in charge or whether your dog is nervous and needs reassurance, consistent rules will allow your dog to relax. Here are some ways you can establish yourself as your dog’s leader:
- Don’t change the rules: This means, no matter who is present, where you are or what’s going on, your dog should know what to expect. For example, if it’s not okay for your dog to jump on you when his feet are muddy, he shouldn’t be allowed to jump on you when they aren’t.
- “Say Please”: This program means that before you do anything for your dog, he needs to do something for you. For example, say it’s dinnertime and Fido is hungry. Before you put his food down for him, have him perform a behavior he already knows like sit or lie down. Once he complies, set down his food bowl. If he doesn’t comply, don’t force the issue or manhandle him into compliance, just put his food away and leave (you can try again in a few minutes). He will learn quickly that he has to do what you want in order to get what he wants. The best part about this program is that anyone in your family can do it. It doesn’t require any strength (except persistence) to show the dog who is in charge.
- Encourage self-control: If you have a very pushy dog, the best behaviors to encourage are those that show self-control and deference, such as down, wait, leave it, etc. If rewarding your dog for good behavior is important to establish your leadership, you can imagine how allowing a problem dog free access to food, outdoors (through a doggie door), furniture, and all his toys makes the Pet Parent almost irrelevant. Of course, if you don't have a problem dog, that free access is just fine.
- Meet your dog’s needs: In addition to setting and enforcing rules, a leader should meet the dog's needs. This means you need to exercise your dog every day. Exercise him with tiring games like fetch or Frisbee and on-leash walks with you (a combination of the two is ideal). Besides physical exercise, your dog should receive mental exercise every day. You will be getting some of that in during your "Say Please" program, but you should spend some time teaching your dog new tricks or playing games that use his mind (like finding hidden treats or figuring out a puzzle toy).
- Shower him with attention: Lastly, don't ever feel like you are spoiling your dog by giving too much affection. As long as you meet his needs and don't give affection (reward) while he's misbehaving, you can pamper him all you want.
Debbie McKnight is an accredited PetSmart trainer in Hurst, Texas.
For information on PetSmart's Accredited Dog Training, please visit PetSmart's training web site.