Monday, September 24, 2012

Establishing Pack Leadership With Your Dog

It's important that you understand the mentality of a dog before you begin training and socializing. When dogs live together as a group, they have a pack leader, someone who is in charge. This leader, this alpha, decides when everyone eats, how much they get, where everyone sleeps, when playtime begins and ends, and what kind of play can take place. The pack leader also decides where the group will go and how fast they will get there. When you bring your dog home, you're essentially giving your dog a pack, even if that pack is only you and the dog. And most dogs will automatically look to you as the pack leader. In fact, you dog needs you to be pack leader. If you don't assume the role of leader, your dog will, and this will not lead to a harmonious existence for either of you.

So how do you go about establishing your role as leader? It's actually easier than it sounds. When you teach your dog to obey commands and to conform to the rules of basic etiquette, you are taking the first steps to establishing yourself as alpha. Be firm with your dog, but never harsh. You don't need to be mean to be in charge. Avoid using techniques such as alpha rolls (forcing the dog onto his back and staring at him) unless you know exactly what you're doing. These thing can backfire and cause aggression that will be directed toward you and other humans. Praise works better than punishment, at least most of the time. Most dogs crave praise and approval, so give them what they want when they do what you want. Be consistent with what you ask of your dog and insist that he comply, provided he understands what you want, of course. This will get the ball rolling.

But you're probably wanting something specific, some little trick that will allow you to show your dog that you are in charge. Training is one way, and a necessary way, but an easier way is all about food. Think about it. The life of a dog revolves around food. When do I eat? What do I eat? Who is going to feed me? Can I eat after I go outside? Before? Since food is the center of a dog's life, use food to establish exactly who's the boss.

Do this by NEVER letting your dog just free feed. By this I mean that you should not have a huge bowl of food sitting out for your dog to eat whenever he feels like it. Water, yes, but not food. Never. Under any circumstances. And if you bought an automatic feeder, shove it in the closet and leave it there. It's only use is if you're going to be gone for a couple days and can't convince anyone to feed your pooch.

Instead, divide the food your dog should receive into two portions and feed him every twelve hours. Insist that your dog sit nicely for a while (just a few seconds, really) before you give him the food. And make sure he sees that you are the source of the food. You get the bowl and you fill the bowl and you control when he gets that bowl. There's nothing mean about this. It's what we do to babies, even if we don't realize we're doing it.  You control the food. Therefore, you control the household.

By controlling the food and insisting on training and obedience, your dog will quickly learn that you are in charge. You are the alpha. This will make your home life easier on everyone involved and your canine companion will thank you for it.

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