The Role of a Leader 

Recently, I had an in-home consultation with a young woman that was trying to get her aggressive Australian Shepherd trained and under control. The dog had bitten her boyfriend and was becoming more territorial over the owner. As we were talking about her dog’s background history and behavioral issues, the owner made the comment on how she knew she had to be the “leader” and that she had failed to “establish dominance” with her dog, hence “this is why my dog runs my life”.

The next day, I had yet another consultation for another aggressive dog, though this time it was a Boston Terrier. Yet again, the dog’s owner brought up how he wasn’t a good “pack leader” and that the dog was the “top dog of the pack”. I remember distinctly that as the owner was bringing up his attempts at all treat-based dog training in the past, the Boston Terrier came up and nipped the owner in the leg. The owner threw a toy in the other room to get the dog to go away, and nervously chuckled about how I needed to show him how to dominate his dog into submission.

There are many trainers out there that would have told these owners that the dog needed to be in a dominance training program, which would have the owner physically and mentally dominate their dog until the dog realized that the owner was the true pack leader and therefore could no longer misbehave and act like they were in charge. While this can be an effective training method, this is not how I train. I also am not looking to make owners into “alpha dogs” or telling them to “dominate” their dogs into submission. Instilling fear into a dog and dominating them is something that I find unnecessary. What’s most important to me is that the owner is a leader for their dog and showing them what the dog needs to do and what they should not be doing.

To me, the role of leader should be to simply lead, not overpower the dog physically or set them up to be scared of the owner. I think this could lead to a damaged relationship for the dog and owner. And while many dog-owner relationships might be a complete wreck in the first place, there are ways to repair it without harsh techniques. Positive reinforcement training is a great philosophy, and I always aim to set dogs up for success. I also have no qualms about showing a dog that bad behavior is inappropriate, and that they need to correct their bad behavior. There is a balance that needs to be reached, and I always aim for the positive. I also aim to not only train the dog, but also the owner!

The owner is the most important person in the dog’s life. The owner is the one that must be a consistent and effective leader for their dog. I can work with a dog and make them into a perfect angel, but if the owner cannot, then the problem has not been solved. Being a leader is really not that difficult – there just needs to be communication between dog and owner, where they are set up for success, yet boundaries are still in place and enforced. This is where I as a professional Pittsburgh dog trainer come in – I help clear the communication avenues so that the owner can show their dog what they need them to do. Owners also learn how to humanely correct inappropriate behavior, without having to make themselves into a scary figure for their dogs. Once the behavior is corrected, the dog soon learns the benefit of being well-behaved. We not only work to eliminate poor behaviors, but also to improve the quality of life for dogs and their humans.

If you are struggling with communicating with your dog, then training might be for you. There’s no need to scare your dog or to dominate them…with balanced reward-based training and consistency, you can find the solution to you and your dog’s behavioral problems, while also retaining the love and trust in your relationship with them. Be a leader for your dog, not an alpha…show them what they need to do, don’t scare them into it!

If you need professional dog training that is based on balance and commitment, call us at 800-649-7297!