Does Your Dog Need a Pack Leader?

Pop psychology has told us this for years: your dog needs a strong pack leader. Is that actually true? The short answer is no, but it’s actually more complicated than that.

First and foremost, most species have a social hierarchy, including domesticated dogs. Our dogs are often compared to a group of wolves; however, your dog is not a wolf, so the comparisons to how wolves behave are not valid. That being said, wolf researchers have found that wolves don’t actually live in packs at all; they live in family groups. Those groups have a hierarchy, but it’s the mom and dad keeping order and teaching the pups the life skills they need to survive.

The social order of a group of dogs is not only very different from that of wolves but it is also different from a dog with his people. Social orders are made up of conspecifics, meaning the same species. Dogs view humans by nature as natural leaders because we not only give them tons of love, but we also control their resources (food, water, toys, shelter). Fido naturally sees us as in charge; there is no need to use harsh punishment to establish that concept.

Dogs that are aggressive or guard their resources often do so out of fear, not because they are dominant. To establish the best relationship with your buddy, you need mutual respect. Instead of spending your time trying to be a pack leader, be your buddy’s advocate – in his corner and protecting him.

Rather than use dominance and fear to train your dog, use love and understanding. The more you and your dog understand each other, the better your relationship and training sessions will be. Do you want your dog to sit because he’s afraid of you or because he wants to make you happy (and get a treat)? Teach your dog the rules of the road with positive reinforcement (treats and love), consistency, and structure. Those are the things your pup needs.

If you don’t have a lot of background with positive training methods, these two links will help you get started.

Humane Society Positive Reinforcement Training

How to Train Your Dog with Positive Reinforcement

From here on out, let’s do away with the pop psychology of the alpha dog; it doesn’t apply to dog/human relationships. Your dog should be your best friend; make sure you are his! Set your dog up to succeed with love, respect, and communication that he understands.