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How to be a Pack Leader (or, how to fake it till you make it)

By Josh Abrams, Certified Professional Dog Trainer

Hey dog owners, answer this question: Does your dog know what the word sit means? If you tell him to sit at your feet right now, his rump will hit the ground, no questions asked, within two seconds? Without treats? Ok, please go ahead and try it.

Howd it go? How many times did you have to say Sit? Was he suddenly distracted by something? Did you give him a little assist by pushing down on his behind?

If your dog sat right away, it is one good indication that he sees you as a pretty good pack leader. If he didnt, it could be one of three things: the aforementioned distraction; he doesnt really know the command after all; or he is testing your leadership!

It is fairly well known that dogs are pack animals and highly social beings. When you bring a puppy or a dog into your home, it is in a dogs nature to try and sort out its place in the new family pack. So what are some fast and easy tips to remember about being a leader in your dogs eyes? First, some easy tips to remember regarding our MOST important training tool: our voice!

Give a command assertively and confidently. Dont be timid, but dont yell, either!

Have an objective tone

Dont sound angry or frustrated

Do not ask for the command to be done

Give one command-dont repeat (i.e. sit,sit,sit!)

Make your verbal praise sincere and meaningful

Now that weve found our voices, here are some other qualities that need to be present in order to be an effective leader:

Motivation: If I offered you an old sock tug-toy as a reward or motivation for running my dishwasher, my dishes might pile up in my sink. If I offered you $100 to do it, I probably wouldnt have to show you twice where the dish detergent is kept. From a dogs point of view, the value of the reward is everything. A good leader is effective at offering meaningful motivation to the dog in order to achieve a desired result; so whether its an old sock, game of fetch, or some off-leash freedom that your dog cherishes most, if your dog can enjoy his reward after a tough 15-minute training session, you will appear larger in his eyes as The Bearer of Things Great and Joyous. A note about treats: Nothing wrong in my opinion when trying to teach a new command, but try to wean off of them as things progress.

Consistency: Dogs are creatures of routine. Any dog owner can attest to their dogs internal body clocks at feeding or walk time. When it comes to training, consistency is crucial to giving your dog the opportunity to get it right. For instance: You have been letting your Golden up on the furniture without repercussions for months at a time. Then, he jumps on the couch with muddy paws on a few occasions; you lose it, yell at your no-longer-a-Buddy to get off the couch and swing a rolled-up newspaper at him. No consistency in expectations here! Dogs will thrive in a household where the rules are the same, all the time.

Emotional Stability: Dogs are emotional sponges; therefore, whatever sort of emotions you are feeling will likely flow down that leash, like a conductive wire. Had a tough day at the office? Try not to take your negative emotions out on Tiger, he will pick up on your emotional baggage and you both will be the worse for it! Leaders project an air of serenity to their dogs and present positive attitudes.

These are a mere sample of some of the essential qualities of a pack leader, and even when they are present some fairly common behavioral problems can STILL occur when your dog gets his alpha and omega mixed up in the hierarchal soup. How to address those problems is topic for another discussion!

Josh Abrams is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, member of International Association of Canine Professionals and owns Top Spot Canine Academy, LLC. At Top Spot Josh uses his background in training service dogs and their handlers for Canine Companions for Independence to help dog owners achieve their obedience and behavior goals. You can learn about Top Spot Canine Academy at and reach Josh directly at 561.496.5045 or

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