All healthy relationships hinge on respect. This rule holds true for humans and their dogs. Earning your dog's respect starts with establishing yourself as a caring authority figure, which is what makes a good pack leader. A dog's respect must be earned and maintained; with it you can have a long, healthy, loving relationship with your canine companion.
It's All in the Attitude
You must look at your dog's body language to understand how he's feeling, for instance raised ears, a tucked tail, panting, staring or averting of the eyes. Your dog does the same to you. He, like all dogs, is an expert at reading body language. Simple things like a tremor in your voice, avoiding eye contact, faster heart rate or shaky hands tell your dog how you're feeling and whether you can lead effectively. The key to becoming an effective pack leader is confidence in yourself and your ability to lead. If you are feeling unsure of your control over the situation, your dog can feel that uncertain energy and see it on your face. If you are unsure, your dog will be unsure of you. However, if you go into dog training confident that you are able to get the result you desire, your dog can sense your confidence and will inherently trust you to lead him.
Commands and Communication
What you say to your dog is not as important as how you say it. When you give your dog a command, the goal is for you only to have to say it once. Establish that you have your dog's attention before giving the command, otherwise it will be lost on him. Dogs can usually only focus their attention on one thing at a time. After you give a command, hold your dog's attention through eye contact and body language until it is carried out. Relenting will lead your dog to realize he doesn't have to listen to you. Individual dogs respond to different tones of voice, specific commands and rewards more than others. Once you settle on a means of communication to which your dog responds readily, use it consistently.
Rules and Routine
If your dog can trust you, he will follow you to the ends of the earth. Maintain a regular routine with your dog as much as possible to earn his trust. Establishing rules and remaining consistent with their enforcement is another way your dog will learn that you are in control and he is safe relinquishing control to you. For example, feed your dog at the same time each day, in the same place. If he doesn't eat within his meal window, take away the food. Your dog will trust that you will provide for him, as well as learn the rule that he must eat when you feed him, not whenever he pleases.
What's Mine is Mine
Behaviors that help humans get along well with one another don't always translate into healthy relationships with dogs. People who share their belongings are considered good friends. But not establishing control or possession with a dog can lead him to challenge your authority. Feeling that he has more ownership over an item, or even another person, leads the dog to think he has some power over you, and might be able to challenge your top spot in the pack. Every object in your home belongs to you, even if it is a chew bone, dog bed or food bowl. Practice taking objects from your dog, and correct your dog if he resists. Every game of tug-of-war should end with the human winning. If this is a problem area for your dog, don't engage in the game at all.
- Beyond Obedience: Training With Awareness For You & Your Dog; April Frost
- Be the Pack Leader; Cesar Millan
- Dog Behaviour, Evolution, and Cognition; Adam Miklosi
Madeline Masters works as a dog walker and professional writer. In the past she has worked as a fitness columnist, fundraising copywriter and news reporter. Masters won two Pennsylvania Newspaper Association Awards in 2009. She graduated from Elizabethtown College with a Bachelor of Arts in English.