How to understand your dog now there’s no such thing as a pack leader

Now the idea of the “pack leader” has finally been debunked, owners are asking me how they solve behaviour problems and understand their dog. There is no need to worry, in fact, deciphering dog behaviour is easier without the worry that your dog is in a constant take-over bid.

One simple fact helps: dogs live in the “here and now”- their short-term memories are poor, but their long-term memories are fantastic. This means that dogs are not as sneaky as some would have us believe… they don’t plot or scheme a dominance campaign. It also indicates that a task may take some time to learn (depending on the dog), but once learned, it will be in their memories forever.

Do some training and make the lessons a game, this will increase your communication and trust, strengthening your bond and understanding of each other. An occupied dog will keep out of mischief.

What’s gone wrong when a dog misbehaves?
To foster acceptable behaviour then there needs to be good communication between owner and dog. Do they understand that the behaviour is unacceptable to you? Have you said what behaviour you’d prefer? 

Commands and tricks can be used in a preventative way to stop bad behaviour occurring. If a dog jumps up at visitors, there is no need to knee or kick your dog (as my parent’s neighbour suggested when Poppy was “slow” to learn ethically). If you train a dog to sit when they want to say hello and when they fancy cuddles instead of jumping up, then the dog is able to communicate their wishes politely and get their needs met, making dogs happy and owners proud. It takes time, and can sometimes get worse but is cured forever once the dog realises what’s going on. Kicking your dog may teach them faster, but as we have seen on the debunking the pack leader page, they are more likely to get stressed, misunderstand and bite you back. Click here to see how to stop jumping up by positive reinforcement/ force- free/ ethical training- it’s used as a detailed example in our methods page.

If you want your dogs to sit on your sofa then let them if you don’t mind their hairs. If you want your dog on your bed then that’s OK, it’s up to you. Teaching “on” and “off” will help convey your expectations.

If it’s safer and/ or easier, go in the house after your dog, feed them whatever time suits you (rather than worry about who goes first) and if you want, bring your dog up to your bedroom. There is no scientific reason not to- it’s entirely up to you.

Alpha rolls
Please don’t ever force your dog unto it’s back, it’s just not a very nice thing to do. Most dogs will willingly roll over for treats and tickles, though.

Related articles:

an indepth assessment and evaluation of dog training methods (with detailed examples) is here

Check out our information on the more academic ideas of the debunking of the pack leader.