Canine Hierarchy- Being the Leader of the Pack

Applicable For:
  • Dogs

Almost all animals living in a group establish a hierarchy to help regulate relations between individuals; this helps to keep order within the group. Dogs are no different; they need a set pack hierarchy to help them feel confident and stable.

Dogs look to their pack leader to know how to react to situations and behave, without a solid pack leader to lead and guide them they often behave in a way that is unacceptable to society. Ideally, the alpha human in the household will be the pack leader and all other humans will be higher on the pack hierarchy than the dog, but unfortunately, this often does not happen.

Dogs that are very strong willed and dominant, and dogs that live in households with humans that do not know how to be a pack leader will take over the role themselves. When a dog is leader of the pack instead of a human many problems arise; the dog will ignore commands, may guard food and toys, become aggressive and/or overprotective, and could become dangerous.

Well-behaved obedient dogs have solid pack leaders they respect. Depending on the breed and the temperament of the individual dog, becoming and staying the pack leader can be very easy or may entail a lot of work. Breeds like German Shepherds, Rottweilers, Mastiffs and other strong working type dogs need experienced owners who know how to be solid pack leaders. These dogs will take over the role if they do not feel their owner adequately fills it; often these breeds will test their owner their entire lives. Breeds like Cocker Spaniels, Bichon Frise, Beagles and other gentle breeds tend to happily to accept their place in the pack and usually do not push to become pack leader.

Dogs need a pack leader who is stable and calm, and always consistent and fair; someone they can respect and feel confident following. It does not take great physical strength to be a pack leader and there should never be a need to be aggressive, harsh or physically abusive. Owners who yell and scream, hit their dogs or are harsh or abusive will not earn the respect of their dog, and will often end up with a fearful or aggressive dog.

Training is one of the easiest ways to establish leadership over a dog. Taking the dog to obedience classes or doing daily obedience with the dog at home is a great way to establish leadership. For difficult or extremely dominant dogs, a daily obedience workout may not be enough, it may be necessary to institute a “nothing comes for free” policy in the house. This is when the dog must do a command, usually a sit and stay, before he gets anything he enjoy. Owners should make their dogs sit and stay before going out, getting attention, being fed or being played with; this helps the owner to constantly reaffirm him or herself as the pack leader.

In the canine world, pack leaders always go first; so owners dealing with dominant dogs should be sure to go through doorways first, up and down stairs first, eat first, and should never allow the dog walk in front of them when walking on lead.

Dogs also show dominance by being demanding for attention and play, so owners should ignore their dog’s demands. Play and affection should only be given on the owner’s terms, never the dog’s. Places like couches and beds can also be a problem with dominant dogs and are best kept off limits or at least the dog should only allowed on after the humans give permission.

Good pack leaders are confident and calm, and always in control of their emotions; they are someone the dog can trust and feel safe with. Being a solid pack leader is essential to the well being of the dog and part of being a responsible dog owner.