Who's the boss - you or the dog?

Do you really need to be the 'Pack Leader' of your dogs?

To start, let us recognize that your dog knows perfectly well that you are not a dog, so the concept of us pretending that we are one of them by being the pack leader is simply silly.  The concept of pack leadership, or you being the alpha dog,  has long been debunked by veterinarians, animal behaviourists and the Association of Professional Pet Dog Trainers. 


This is not to say though,  that there is no need for us to provide leadership and training for our dogs. Of course we must! Setting the ground rules is essential in establishing a happy household with your dog and prevent negative behaviour traits. But statements such as “never allow your dog to eat before you because in the wild, the alpha dog always eats first” are ludicrous. 

According to the Association of Professional Pet Dog Trainers, “there is no scientifically validated data to uphold the belief that you must eat before your dog, or keep them from sleeping on your bed, or walking in front of you. The vast majority of dogs and owners have wonderful, mutually-rewarding relationships—even if the dog is allowed to sleep on the bed, eats alongside the owner, and does many other things erroneously labeled “dominance.”

So how do you go about setting ground rules for your dogs? The most important advice I can give is to train your dog!

Training your dog helps you to bond with your dog. The more you train him, the more he will understand you. And the more you work with your dog, the more you will understand him. Training can be a fun and enjoyable experience by using positive reinforcement techniques such as treats and enthusiastic praise, or even toys, for desired behaviour!

Give simple and confidant commands,  and as you would do with children, ensure that you do not let your dog get away with not obeying. That does not mean punishment for not obeying, but rather ensuring that you have taught him what is expected of him and that he does it on command. When teaching new commands, always reward the behaviour, preferably with a treat in the beginning and later with praise such as “good sit!” The word “good” should refer to the desired behaviour, such as “sit” rather than “good boy”. Even a simple happy sounding “yes!” will suffice.

Daschund on a chair

Decide on your house rules and stick to them. Everyone in the household should stick to the same rules. The following are rules that make for good house pets.

  • No jumping on people.   Do not allow your dog to jump on you or other people. If he knows it is okay to jump on you, he will think it is okay to jump on other people as well, and of course they may not enjoy that! Teach him from the outset that this is not acceptable behaviour, and teach him an alternate behaviour using positive reinforcement. 
  • No begging at the table.   A dog that sits and begs for food while you are eating is very annoying when you have guests! Never feed your dog from the table and he will not engage in begging. You may certainly give him table scraps, but only after you have finished eating and always in his own food bowl. 
  • Sit before receiving food.   If you apply this rule you will avoid a dog that jumps on you or anyone else for food or treats.

These are other rules that you may wish to enforce, depending on your personal situation or preferences:

  • No jumping on the couch
  • No sleeping on the bed

Finally, always Be Consistent!

If your dog is not allowed on the bed during the week,  then he should not be allowed on the bed on weekends. If he is not fed from the table by you, he should not be fed from the table by another family member.  

Do not confuse your dog by changing the rules from day to day.

Click here for further reading on dominance and dog training.

~ Toronto Pet Photography ~