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Be the Leader of the Pack: How to Make Your Dog Feel Safe

Dr. Mark is a veterinarian. He has been working with dogs for more than 40 years.

Your dog will thrive with leadership. Help him feel more secure by establishing yourself as the alpha.

Your dog will thrive with leadership. Help him feel more secure by establishing yourself as the alpha.

Are You Leader of the Pack?

Your dog needs to feel secure in you and your abilities. He needs to feel like you are the type of person who can take care of him and keep him out of harm’s way.

If your dog has psychological issues (like aggression, excessive barking, separation anxiety, lick dermatitis, or eating his own stool), you can treat him medically (antidepressants, sterilization, chemicals), or you can make him happy and teach him how to follow you.

Many trainers speak about the use of “leader” therapy so that you can control your dog. I want more than just control. What I really want for my dog is to feel secure so that he can be happy. How do you go about teaching him to follow and thus making him feel secure?

How to Make Your Dog Feel Secure

  1. Control feeding time
  2. Control feeding interval
  3. Take control during "danger"
  4. Control your dog's environment
  5. Provide plenty of exercise
  6. Take your dog to obedience classes

Easy Steps to Becoming Leader of the Pack

1. Control When Food Is Given

One way that she'll know you are in charge is by taking control of her feeding. Most dog lovers feel like they are in charge since they decide the diet and put it out every day, but the dog does not see it that way. The leader of the pack enjoys his meals in peace and when he is finished the other dogs get to eat.

In order to accept you as the leader, he needs to see you eating and needs to realize you are done so he will get whatever is left over. Since most of us don’t want to dine on dog chow, and will not feed our dog the leftovers from our own plates, it makes more sense to just keep his bowl in the kitchen (up on the counter) and give it to him when you are finished with your own meal.

2. Control the Amount of Feeding Time

Also, plan on giving him about five minutes to eat and then take away anything he might have left in the bowl. Don’t worry about him starving! (He’ll just eat more at his next feeding.) Never leave his food and do not allow your dog to eat “free-choice.” It is okay with chickens but a dog is quite different and leaving the food out just teaches him that food comes from the dish, not the leader of the pack.

3. Lead During Times Your Dog Considers Dangerous

You can make her feel more secure if you are the leader that is willing to face situations she considers dangerous. Fireworks or thunder? Just ignore the noise and go about your normal routine. Leaving the dog alone? Don’t whine and tell her how you’ll miss her; as the leader, you can come and go when you want and do not need to make a big deal about it. Your dog will be happier with you in charge.

All dogs need to feel secure to prevent this behavior.

All dogs need to feel secure to prevent this behavior.

4. Control Relative Positions

He’ll recognize you as the leader of the pack if you walk through the door first; make him move if he is in your way (instead of stepping around him), and provide him boundaries in the house.

5. Provide Plenty of Exercise

Long walks are great to show him that he can count on you. When going for walks, your dog needs to be beside you if off-leash or just behind you if on the leash. He might wander a little when he is free but will come when called and follow you when you make a turn.

6. Take Your Dog to Group Obedience Training

When I am obedience training my own dogs, I enjoy going out on the beach and teaching each new command individually. For your dog to see what a leader you are, however, nothing beats taking him to a group class.

No matter the size or age, dogs need to feel secure.

No matter the size or age, dogs need to feel secure.

Can I Use These Steps to Be the Alpha Dog?

You can become the alpha dog in your household just by being the leader of the pack. You do not need to dominate your dog and you do not need to practice dominance exercises. If you lead correctly, your dog will follow.

Do I Always Have to Be Leader of the Pack?

As your dog gets older and used to the secure situation, you can relax more often and not worry about following all of these "rules." A dog is not a wolf, and will not be watching you every minute to see if you let your guard down. Your dog will know that you are leader of the pack.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.


DoItForHer on June 27, 2012:

I would love to read that! For me it is such a powerful training tool.

Mark dos Anjos DVM (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on June 27, 2012:

I am working on a hub about walking your dog off leash; I think that this is an important part that you understand and why you are able to walk your dogs off leash. Even giving others the mechanics of off leash walking may not be enough. I will try, but...

DoItForHer on June 27, 2012:

When a species of animal is part of a group, herd, pack, pride, or whatever, some type of hierarchy nearly always exists. Some horses lead the heard. Each lion has its place and certain ones eat first. Hierarchy is almost universal.

Except the Naked Mole Rat; those ugly little critters live more like insects.

As soon as I read the title, I was getting ready to write my input, but you already wrote it. Lol.

When people ask me, "How do you get your dog to do that?!" I tell them how I provide leadership and how that takes a great weight off the dog's shoulders and allows the dog to spend its energy on other pursuits instead of trying to figure out the human's crazy environment.