What Does It Mean To Be A Pack Leader?
In the dog behavior world, there has been many debates about the relevance of the pack theory. Many dog trainers and behaviorists argue that this theory is long outdated, based on scientific reports and studies. Other trainers and behaviorists will say that dogs still are pack animals, and that we must still approach behavior training and modification with this theory under our belts.
The pack theory with dogs is going back to pre-domestication, when their ancestors were wolves. It is believed with the pack theory, that dogs acquired that same pack mentality from wolves, where that either a wolf or dog will find ways to determine a hierarchy within their pack and family. Many people believe that at the top of the pack is the figure known as the “alpha” or simply “the pack leader”.
Because of the pack theory being somewhat of a hot topic, stirring controversy within the dog training community, many trainers will go with the assumption that the pack theory exists, rather than saying either way is pure fact. Some trainers will point to scientific-based articles debunking the pack theory, but others will point to their live evidence of a dog acting as “pack leader” among its human (and sometimes other canine) family members. Whether the pack theory truly exists, I still believe that an owner MUST be a leader for their dog. We don’t have to call the owner “alpha” or be “pack leader”. They can just be the family leader, head of the household, etc.
I believe one of the major reasons why some trainers are also so anti-pack theory is because there are people that will take the pack theory, and use it as reasoning to apply full-force dominance training on their dogs and puppies. There are ways to be a leader for your dog, without using dominance training or harsh punishment techniques. A leader does not equal merciless dictator; a leader is simply someone that leads. In the case with my Nashville dog training programs, I encourage fair, consistent leadership where the relationship between dog and owner is based on trust and respect, not fear or aggression.
To be pack leader (or simply a leader) for your dog, you must show him/her what they need to do. They must be presented with boundaries so they know not to cross them. Consistency is HUGE and you can be a leader that can “whisper” (bonus points to those who get this reference!) to your dog, but if you are inconsistent with your messages, then the dog will not understand and progress. A successful leader, to me, is someone that leads their dogs to better choices and more rewarding situations, where consequently, the dog will understand and learn to make those better choices on their own volition.
Along with getting those pesky behaviors out of your dog’s personality and out of your house, I always work to instill confidence and leadership with my clients. If you are unable to lead your dog to success, they will take it upon themselves to try to find it themselves. Sadly, nearly all of those “leaderless” dogs will end up failing, and possibly on the verge of being surrendered or euthanized. A dog wants to do what he/she wants to do, but we must guide them to make decisions that will ensure their happiness and safety. You wouldn’t want a child to grow up without an education, so why shouldn’t your dog get the proper, reward-based training that he/she and you deserve?
If you need help with training and becoming a successful, reward-based leader for your dog, give me a call at my office at 800-649-7297. There are ways to be a leader without dominance or constant treat bribery – call me to find out how!