How to Be Assertive With Dogs

Do you walk your dog? Or does he walk you?
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Don’t be a puppy pushover. If you constantly give in to your dog, he could soon be controlling you instead of vice versa. Being assertive doesn’t entail being a bully or growling back at your dog. It does mean, however, that you need to establish yourself as the boss.

Step 1

Remain calm. Cesar Millan of “The Dog Whisperer” fame advises dog owners to imagine a famous leader or mentor and imitate that person’s confidence and physical posture. Take deep, controlled breaths. You’ll project assertive energy that your dog will recognize.

Step 2

Walk ahead of your dog. In dog language, the pack leader gets to go first. You can subconsciously establish your position as the boss by walking in front of your dog or at least keeping a step ahead. Using a short leash and holding it slightly behind you on walks makes this easier. The official “heel” position is on your left with your dog’s head even with your hip.

Step 3

Reward a job well done. As the official giver-of-treats, you have a lot of power. Wield it wisely. When your dog performs a task correctly, praise him and give him a treat.

Step 4

Ignore attention-getting antics. You might feel like screaming at your dog if he exhibits unwanted behavior like begging for food. Dogs love attention as much as they love table scraps. Turn away, don’t make eye contact, don’t scold your dog and don’t pet him. Eventually, he’ll learn that he can’t get your attention and he’ll modify his undesirable behavior.

Step 5

Reinforce lessons consistently. Establishing yourself as the assertive one in the family is a full-time proposition. Whether you’re housebreaking your dog, teaching him to heel or training him to sit, be firm and be consistent.

Step 6

Save affection for good behavior. Petting and tummy tickles are rewards for the times when your dog follows your instructions and displays the desired behavior. Don’t scratch your dog’s ears just because he’s adorable; make sure he’s behaving first.

Step 7

Save the best seat in the house for yourself. Make a comfortable bed on the floor for your dog, but save the sofa and the recliner for humans. Sitting or standing at a higher level puts you in a position of authority. The same goes for letting your dog sleep on your bed. Don’t do it.


  • Setting clear behavioral boundaries and limitation elevates you to the position of pack leader in your dog’s eyes.

  • To be effective, assertiveness is always calm and authoritative. Yelling, scolding and physical punishment can temporarily stop bad dog behavior, but it won’t establish you as a respected leader so your dog will continue to challenge your authority.