In her book, “How to be the Leader of the Pack”, Patricia B. McConnell, Ph.D states: “I know you love your dog. But if you love your dog you will do him no favors by catering to him, continually cooing over him or providing him with no boundaries. Dogs need to feel secure to be truly happy; that means they need to feel secure that you will be the leader, and that they can count on you to take charge.
"But being the “leader” is often misunderstood. It doesn’t mean that you forcibly dominate your dog. Rather, leadership is more of a mental quality, in which you set boundaries without intimidation. Good parents and good teachers know that children need kind and benevolent direction, and good dog trainers know that dogs need the same thing. Like children, all dogs need love, but there is a big difference between being loved and being spoiled. It will do your dog no good to live in a house where she can get anything that she wants by being pushy and demanding. If you are comfortable being a benevolent leader, your dog can relax, and will love you all the more for it.”
The HUMANE SOCIETY lists these benefits of using this technique:
- Requiring your dog to work for everything he wants is a safe, positive, non-confrontational way to establish your leadership position.
- Even if your dog never displays aggressive behavior such as growling, snarling, or snapping, he can still manipulate you. He may be affectionate to the point of being pushy, such as nudging your hand to be petted or worming his way onto the furniture to be close to you. This technique gently reminds the dog that he must abide by your rules.
- Fearful dogs may become more confident by obeying commands. As they succeed in learning more tricks, their continued success will increase confidence and ultimately lead them to feeling more comfortable and less stressed.
You can establish yourself as the benevolent leader by instituting a protocol known as NO FREE LUNCH. This protocol is also called the NOTHING IN LIFE IS FREE program (NILIF) and the SAY PLEASE program. This protocol suggests that before you do something your dog wants, you ask him to do something you want first. As the benevolent leader, you are asking your dog to work for his resources. Resources include meals, treats, toys, affection, games, access to potty areas, car rides, walks, playtime, etc.
Some specific suggestions to implement this protocol include:
- Daily basic obedience sessions using positive training methods. Keep your training sessions short and sweet and be sure to end on a positive note. Pay extra attention to cues that teach your dog control and restraint, such as down, sit, stay, leave it (or give) and come.
- When walking your dog, keep the leash loose and try to keep your dog from forging.
- When feeding your dog, ask him do a "sit" and "wait." Don’t let him eat his food until you release him with the "OK" cue.
- Be the one who controls the dog’s toys. Before you give him a toy to play with, make him work for it (for example, ask him do a "sit" and "shake" or "down" and "stay". Put most of your dog’s toys up at night, and then make him work for each toy again the next day.
- Before you let the dog out (to go potty), have the dog do a "wait" at the doorway (unless you are still potty training). Do not allow him to run out (uncontrolled) until you release him with the "OK" cue.
- If your dog loves to go for a car ride, ask him do something for you first before you allow him to jump into the car.
- If your dog nudges you for attention and wants to be pet, ask him "sit" or "down" before you touch him. (Do not let your dog demand that you pet him now!)
- You should initiate play sessions with your dog (not the other way around). When playing with your dog, make sure you are in control of the game. Before you throw the tennis ball for a game of catch, for example, have your dog "sit" or "down" first. During a game of tug, be sure your dog releases the tug toy when asked.
- Most dogs love to be brushed. Ask your dog to do something for you before you start grooming your dog.
- Don’t allow the dog up on your bed or sofa (anywhere level with you) unless you have invited him up.
- Try to get out of the habit of giving your dog treats “for nothing.” Treats should be earned, even if it’s just by doing something as simple as a "sit" or "watch me."
By being a benevolent leader, your dog will feel confident and secure, knowing you are taking care of him.