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Why It's Important to Be Your Dog's Leader

By Linda Cole

A strong pack leader knows who their dog is and understands that in order to have a stable and happy dog, it's the human who needs to take control of the pack. Even one dog makes up a pack with his family. Being the pack leader involves understanding how dogs view their world. Because we domesticated dogs, it's our job to provide stability and a safe environment for them. Taking the lead role is what dogs expect us to do. If we don't take the lead they will, and that's when behavior problems begin.

It's up to us to teach our dogs how we expect them to act around the home, both with other people and other family pets. According to local and state laws concerning dogs, it's our role as owners to make sure we are capable of keeping them under control to keep the public safe as well as the pet. Dog owners have their pet's best interest at heart, but too many people have problems taking the lead role. Dogs are individual creatures and some definitely have a mind of their own. Each one has their own personality, and few dogs are shy about trying to move into the lead spot if they believe their owner hasn't filled that spot.

Like the wolf pack, dogs also have a hierarchy in their family and one member of their family must be the leader. It's a simple concept for the dog, but dogs aren't wolves and our interactions with our pet are different than how wolves interact in their packs. Dogs are considered to be juvenile wolves that are dependent on us for their safety and needs. If we want our pet to be calm and stable, we have to be their leader.

Raising a dog isn't always easy, and dogs that learn they can intimidate their owners by snapping or growling at them are heading down the wrong road. Too many dogs end up in shelters because their owner couldn't handle them or were afraid of them. Owners who don't take the alpha role will have a dog that's not happy.

Small dog syndrome, aggression issues, jealousy or possessive actions, food aggression and other bad behavior happens because the dog doesn't know who is in charge, and it's confusing for him. He's happiest taking commands from you, his leader. Medical conditions can cause bad behavior too, so the first step is to make sure they aren't suffering from an illness or condition that's causing them act out. A dog that bites, growls at and ignores his owner isn't showing respect or trust, and doesn't see that person as his leader.

Dogs are experts at reading our body language and they are smart. I'm a firm believer in knowing how to read a dog's body language, and having that knowledge has helped me control my pack. When you understand what they are saying with their actions, it's much easier to stop unwanted or bad behavior and correct it. That's what they expect us to do. If we don't step in to deal with problems, behavior issues can escalate to the point where the dog becomes difficult to handle, which can also create a dangerous dog.

Taking the lead role has nothing to do with showing him who's boss through harsh treatment. All they need and want is someone to teach them how they should act. Stepping in with fair and positive discipline when it's needed and staying calm, consistent and respectful at all times teaches a dog that you are qualified to lead him. Being your dog's leader isn't as difficult as it seems, and I will be addressing how to be the top dog in an upcoming article.

Dogs need to be taught what the rules of the house are. If you don't teach them what you expect, they won't learn. My dogs are my kids and I will do what I need to do to protect them and keep them happy, but they also know I'm their leader. When you know who your dog is as an individual, it's easier to train them and correct them. What works for one dog may not work for another one, but they all respond to the basic concept of fairness and leadership. Don't be afraid of the lead spot. Your dog expects and wants you to take it. Dogs just want to be dogs and have fun. As the leader, you have to earn your dog's trust and respect to prove you are worthy of the lead position. Once you have his trust, you have everything you need to give your dog a well balanced and happy life.

Photo by Brett Davies

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