The canine social structure is one (loosely) built on a hierarchy of dominance and submission. Even when dogs meet one another in passing, pecking order is quickly established. Within the home, it is important for the owner to establish him or herself as the dog pack leader, especially in multi pet households.
One of the first steps in asserting yourself as the dog pack leader is to be mindful about the energy you use with your pets. Your demeanor should always be calm yet assertive and never nervous, fidgety, or angry. Animals, particularly dogs, primarily communicate by reading one another’s body language and energy cues and reacting accordingly. If you are calm, your dog(s) will remain calm, as well.
The next step in maintaining proper pack leadership is to set boundaries with your dogs. Dogs crave order in their lives and many behavioural problems can arise from poorly defined boundaries. For instance, in a wild wolf pack, the alpha always eats first before the rest of the pack can eat. For some domestic dogs, it can be confusing to follow orders from the owner (i.e. get off the couch) yet still engage in dominant behaviour (i.e. being allowed to eat dinner before the family eats.) Common boundaries that effective pack leaders have in place for their pets include not being allowed on furniture, not being allowed to “lead” the owner through a doorway, never pulling on a lead and respecting each family member’s personal space.
You should develop the idea among your dog pack that nothing in life is free. For instance, instead of simply giving your dog a treat, you should always ask him or her to sit or perform another command; ask your dog to lie down and stay before setting down the food bowl; make sure your dog calmly has all four feet on the floor before attaching the lead; and be sure your dog is sitting patiently before you open the door to let him or her outside. By teaching your dog that the rewards he or she seeks (i.e. food, a walk, etc.) can only be attained when you give the signal to do so, you will assert yourself as an effective dog pack leader.
There are numerous benefits to being the dog pack leader of your pets. Often, behavioural problems among dogs begin to subside because your pets are no longer confused about their hierarchy within the household. Aggression or reactivity may also diminish because your dog will look to you as the role of “alpha,” which holds the responsibility of providing protection to the pack. Additionally, your dogs will feel more at ease and comfortable in the household because they will feel more emotionally balanced.
It should be noted that being a dog pack leader is not about asserting overt dominance over another animals or simply seeking to control the dog’s every move. Being a good dog pack leader means assuming an important role in your dog’s life, one that will help him or her feel safe, loved, and protected, but not scared or intimidated.