Establishing leadership and pack structure is probably the single most important thing to do when you own a dog. Whether it’s your long time family pet, a new puppy, or one you rescued, you will want to start off with this basic foundation. Dogs without leadership and structure can start to display signs of dominance, show aggressive behavior, become fearful, and have separation anxiety. If you notice that your dog shows behaviors like these, you may need to step back and re-evaluate where you stand as a leader. Great leadership and structure may not completely fix or “cure” the unwanted behaviors in your dog, but it will certainly make a great impact.
Whats is leadership? At some point in our lives we have been given specific rules to follow; for example: curfews, bedtimes, manners, etc. These were all tools to help pave the way of how we live. The same guidelines are used with our dogs. Dogs need to understand who to look up to for guidance. A good example of this is when you give your dog a command or tell him/her to do something. Does he or she do what you ask every time? If so, that’s awesome! However, I will be willing to bet at one point he or she will not do what you ask. This is where many dog owners fail because they don’t always follow through with a command or task. Whenever we let our dog get away with not doing what we ask, they don’t see us as a strong leader, and overtime notice that every task does not have to be done 100%. This is why we must follow through with simple commands, big or small, and take the necessary time to ensure they understand us. Small tasks go a long way in displaying leadership with our furry friends.
What is pack structure? If you have ever seen a pack of 20 wolves on a wildlife show, or even a small pack of dogs roaming together at an off-leash park, there is rank between each pack. Picture a totem pole with the higher importance being at the top and the less important working its way to the bottom. Its through structure and leadership that each member of the pack knows his/her place. Dogs don’t have to be mean to each other or fight to show pack structure. And with some groups of dogs it can be fluid. Dogs have their own way of showing structure; for example: mounting(humping), biting legs, and barking are just a few. . These are signs of dominance; however, through this dominate behavior is how they determine rank. You are probably thinking now, how can I show my dog his “rank” with in my home? No matter the size of the household, your dog should never “rank” above any family member. A very small cue that dogs pick up on, but most dog owners ignore, is letting your dog go out the door first and having him/her go inside before you enter. It may not seem like much, but the dog views the home as “mine” and not a shared environment. Once you start to reverse these roles, the dog begins to see that the home is not “mine”, but instead is your “den” that you allow him/her to live in. This is just one simple example of giving structure to your dog’s environment.
Some trainers disagree on pack structure with a pet dog. However, any experienced trainers agree that clear structure, rules and consistency make for a well-adjusted and happy dog (and owner). As you can imagine, thinking of yourself as a fair, balanced and consistent [pack] leader will help you be clearer and more structured with your dog.
Now that you have a better understanding of what leadership and pack structure is, you can see how they go hand and hand. It is never to early or late in a dog’s life to start giving them this foundation. Dogs need structure and a good leader, and without this they may act out in various behaviors and be left trying to determine who is in charge. So next time your dog chews up the couch or runs for the neighbor, take a step back and think as a leader what you could be doing to help him/her see you differently. Being a leader does not mean being mean, or dominant but rather provide consistent rules and direction. Remember with any kind of training and leadership, commitment on your part is going to play the biggest role for success.