Leader/Follower pt.3


New Member
To develop your new attitude you're going to have to think like a dog! When your dog comes to you for attention think of it as his way of saying "I'm still in charge, right? I want you to confirm that for me". Now, think of all of this from his viewpoint. Way down in his little brain he's thinking "geez... I hate this ... all I want to be is the adored house pet, can't one of you take over?" Compare this attitude to a 13 year old child who says "Get out of my life, I can make all my own decisions, stop telling me what to do". The kid really does feel that way, he's not making it up. Imagine what would happen if you said to the kid "Here ya go honey, here's the address where you send the mortgage payment and here are the utility bills and you do know how to do your own grocery shopping, right?? I'll be in my room, you're on your own!" As sincere as the kid is about wanting to be in charge, he knows he's not equipped to handle all of that. He needs an adult to be in charge of most things; he needs guidance and leadership. One of the differences between dogs and children is that dogs don't grow up and move away and start their own packs. They are our responsibility forever. We have to be their leaders forever.

You need to get your dog's attention and do it quickly and let him know that he's no longer in charge. This will free him of the responsibilities he now feels as pack leader and make him more relaxed and happier and much easier to get along with. He is pleading with you to take charge. His behavior is a way to push you and push you and push you some more and make you take the leadership position.
Ignore your dog for a full 48 hours. If you want you can start this tomorrow morning, or you might want to take a day to think about it or pick a day that's more convenient for your schedule. Just be sure that when you start it you can give the technique a full 48 hours of your time.

Give him nothing at all for those two days. No attention, no petting, nothing. Don't say his name. Pretend that you have an invisible dog that needs to eat and go outside. Put his dinner down, but don't call him or talk to him or anything. If he'll go outside to pee and come back in on his own, without you calling him, you can do that, otherwise put him on a leash (without saying a word) and take him out to go potty and bring him back in, all without interacting with him in any other way. Do not physically isolate him from you by crating him (other than the normal times he'd be crated) or putting him outside or in a garage. The reason this technique works is because it involves social isolation, not physical. The very important part of this technique is the part where you ignore him. If he nudges you for attention, do nothing. Nothing! Don't tell him to go away, don't tell him "no", pretend you don't notice that he's there. He may try harder, at first, to get your attention and this is where you must ignore him. If he's able to get your attention by trying harder then he will be rewarded for that behavior and you'll have a much more difficult time getting him turned back around. If he gets so pushy that you have to do something, you can use physical isolation for a short time. Go into another room and close the door or put him in his crate. If he scratches at the door or does anything that you feel you have to respond to then put him on a leash, tie the leash to your waist or your arm and go about your business without talking to him or interacting with him. I can't emphasize enough how important it is to not let him get your attention -- even negative attention like yelling at him.

By the middle of the second day you may find he's sleeping most of the time. This is the relief period. He's convinced now that you really do intend to be the alpha and so much responsibility has been lifted from his shoulders that he just crashes. That's OK-- let him sleep.
Start the day the same as the previous two days. Let him out and feed him or whatever your normal routine is, all without saying a word to him or interacting with him in any way. Then, call him to you. If he comes to you right away, tell him to "Sit", pet him and tell him what a good boy he is, then walk away. If he doesn't come to you when you call, turn your back on him (this is important!) and leave the room. No matter what he does that first time (come to you or not) wait an hour and do it again. Call him to you. When he comes to you and sits spend at least 5 minutes interacting with him -- petting, talking, whatever you want to do. Then, end the attention time. Walk away. For the rest of the day call him to you at various intervals (an hour, 20 minutes, 2 hours, 10 minutes) and give him about five minutes of attention each time.

You can relax things quite a bit today. Give him attention any time you're in the mood, but still ignore any attempts on his part to demand your attention. Because of his history of biting you will probably have to make this a life long rule --- attention on your terms only, not ever on his, but that's not too difficult a rule to live by. He can still get all of the attention a dog would ever want, it's just that you're going to initiate the attention and end it. If, months from now, you feel he's been so good that he can start asking for attention you can give it at try. The way you test it is to let him ask for your attention once or twice and then the next time ignore any attempt at getting your attention. If he accepts your decision (no attention) then he's probably OK. If he gets more pushy, then he's probably on the road back to his old ways. It is quite natural for a dog to try to make his way up the pack ladder as far as he can go. He may test the rules every now and then for the rest of his life. Don't worry about it. Just say no.

Now that the issue of leadership has been resolved, it's time to start the Nothing in Life is Free program. NILIF is a useful technique for all sorts of behavior problems, not only for those dogs that have a history of dominance confusion. For that reason, it gets it's own page and is not repeated here.


The alpha gets the prime sleeping spot. If your dog didn't already have a history of aggression you could let him share your spot, but the bed thing can be all it takes for him to hang on to his aggressive ways. How you go about accomplishing this during the initial 48 hour isolation period is going to be tricky. If you can close the bedroom door at night without him going ballistic on the other side, that's what I'd recommend. If you can't do that I'd try putting him on a short leash and tethering him to the bed frame. If he's crate trained, put the crate in the bedroom and have him sleep there. I don't think isolating him from the bedroom is as important as isolating him from the bed. What I don't want is for you to set yourself up for a bite, so do whatever you have to do to keep him from reaching the bed. Keep the door closed during the day. Have him on a leash before you open the bedroom door so he doesn't run in and get on the bed. If he's successful at getting on the bed you're going to have to interact with him in some way to get him off of the bed and that's what you need to avoid for the first 48 hrs.

One of the things I like about the study of canine behavior is that no one really knows much of anything! It's all theory and conjecture based on our observations of how dogs react to stimuli, how they interact with each other and the nature of their inter-species interactions. This treatment plan is based on my own observations of dog behavior and what I've learned from other people's study of the subject. I've been using this technique since 1990 and have had a great deal of success with it. However, there is room for error even in the most classic of situations. Keeping that in mind, I don't want you to do anything at all that you're uncomfortable with and, especially, anything that you think could cause you to suffer a bite. If this treatment plan doesn't make sense to you or if you think it's the wrong course of action for you or your dog don't do it. It's that simple. There are more theories and techniques having to do with canine behavior than you can throw a stick at, so if one doesn't work it's time to try another. If your dog has other issues (food guarding, dog aggression, fears) you may have to work on those separately. However, working on other issues without resolving the leadership issue first won't work. Also, it's time to sign up for group obedience class! Class will help you show him what the new rules are, show you how to enforce the rules in a positive manner and class is a ton of fun for both of you.
©1991 Debbie McKean 02/22/06