Pack Leadership

Pack Leadership

You’ve probably read or heard about “pack leadership” from several dog training sources. Most of the time, there’s no explanation of exactly what being a pack leader really means. The strength of a handler’s pack leadership can depend on variables like consistency, assertiveness, fairness, and his relationship with his dog or puppy.

In the real world, just because someone is your boss or manager, doesn't automatically make him or her a good one. This same logic applies from your dog’s perspective.

A pack leader remains calm in environments that can be stressful to your dog.

Imagine walking down the sidewalk and a group of kids on roller blades, bikes, skateboards or scooters are headed straight for you and your dog. The noise, movement, and stimulus are starting to overwhelm and confuse your dog. In situations like this, a pack leader stays calm and assures his dog that everything is alright by using various affirming signals. Examples are praising the dog for paying attention, consoling him during the noisy, stressful period, and redirecting his attention to something more pleasant. Remember, a dog is always willing to go from stress to comfort, but not from comfort to stress. Keep your feelings in check. Dogs can sense your energy. A nervous or frustrated “no” is very different from an assertive “no”. Stay calm, comfort your dog, and redirect his attention elsewhere or try to avoid the source of the stress.

How do we train this?

Cali K9® semi-private and group classes, which focus on obedience and socialization, simulate a variety of day-to-day experiences that can be stressful to your dog. We often use loud and obnoxious objects (and even other dogs) to create short, stressful situations and distractions. We coach you through the process of staying calm, calming your canine, and diffusing and/or redirecting his nervous energy. Our goal is to reinforce pack leadership skills that are applicable at any time, anywhere, and in many different real-life situations.

A pack leader corrects inappropriate behavior fairly, firmly and consistently.

There’s a lot to say on the subject of correction, but the main points you’ll need to remember are:

Administer corrections only when appropriate.

Your dog ignores a command he knows well. It’s not fair to correct a dog for ignoring a command he doesn't know. It can take 30-60 repetitions for a dog to learn a new behavior.

Your dog does something inappropriate like growling at you when you take away a toy. The best approach to teaching your dog acceptable behavior is to micro-manage that behavior and be very clear and consistent with your reactions and actions. This means: Bad behavior = correction. Good behavior = praise, a treat or both. Once your dog understands your cues for good and bad behavior, like “good boy!” in an excited voice, and “no!” in a firm voice, it will be much easier to communicate with your dog. Many people interact with their dogs only when they’re doing something wrong, and ignore them when they’re doing something right, like when they're sitting calmly or peeing in the right spot in the yard. Similar to interacting with children and teens, you can’t point out their every flaw and expect a good relationship.

A good pack leader always corrects at the appropriate level.

Corrections are spread across a range of levelsFor example, on a scale from 1-10, where 1 would be a verbal correction, and 10 would be light jerk of the leash connected to a correction collar. If a dog disobeys a command that puts it in harm’s way, it calls for a higher-level correction. However, if your dog simply sniffs the trash can, a low-level verbal correction is more appropriate.

Your dog’s temperament will define the set of corrections at your disposal. For example, “soft” dogs will get the point you’re trying to make with a simple verbal disapproval. At the other end of the spectrum, some dogs may scoff at you when you tug their leash. An e-collar can be used as a training tool, which gives you a wide range of corrections, but only if utilized appropriately.

Do not under-correct or over-correct your dog. Under-correction may lead to less respect, or even 'fuel the fire' in some cases. Over-correction can shut down a dog’s enthusiasm.

Be consistent! Always correct your dog for inappropriate behaviors. Otherwise, dogs will learn that they can sometimes get away with those bad behaviors.

On the flipside, always reward your dog for good behavior.

How do we train this? Our trainers will help you understand your dog’s unique temperament, teach you how to time your praise and corrections, and then demonstrate how this is done. Articles and videos may be helpful, but nothing beats the hands-on experience of having an expert dog trainer give you individualized feedback on your dog training actions, as they happen.

A pack leader sets boundaries.

You may have heard you should never allow pets on your furniture or bed. While it is not a rule set in stone, setting a boundary between where it’s appropriate for your dog to be, and where it’s not supposed to be, is a great way to display pack leadership. It tells your dog that YOU establish the rules, and he will be fairly rewarded or corrected on a consistent basis, based on those rules.

How do we train this? Semi-private sessions, Zoom sessions, our online training course, and if needed, one-on-one dog training sessions, will give you the tools and techniques to help you set those boundaries at home. Our methods can adapt to any environment, as long as you're willing to put the time and effort into training your dog daily on a consistent basis.

A pack leader builds structure to everyday activities.

A good way to add structure is to create rituals for certain activities.
  • Make your dog sit prior to setting out its food.
  • Put the leash on in a ritualistic way...the same way, in the same place, every time.
  • Put your dog in a "sit and stay" prior to going out the door.
  • Walk out the door before your dog.
  • Schedule daily home training sessions with intermittent play time.
  • Stick to a consistent schedule.
Create rituals and a schedule, and be consistent. When you stick with predictable daily activities, it will help release some of your dog's stress.

How do we train this? Our training sessions have, and repeat. Each “work” phase contains a cycle of exercises that emulates real-life situations. For example, you will recall your dog through various distractions, recall to the front and side positions, leave your dog on a long down, and step away from your dog while on a down, etc. The list goes on, and the variables we can throw into training sessions are limitless. Our most successful clients are dedicated and reinforce what they learn by repeating the same exercises at home gor 15 minutes every every single day. This is the formula for success!

In conclusion…

Bring your dog to weekly group classes on a regular basis. Becoming a pack leader at home doesn’t mean the virtue stays at home. If pack leadership is exercised and reinforced everywhere, it will become a way of life.