Am I the pack leader?
December 12, 2009 6:42 AM   Subscribe

Am I the pack leader?

We got a new dog -- a rescue from the pound -- and he's a wild one. Over the last month or so, I think we've done a pretty good job taming him: two walks daily, time out in the yard, discipline and rules, and, of course, lots of affection.

When I first started our daily walks, he was constantly pulling on the leash. Now, I've got him to a point where I can walk him with a loose leash 90% of the time, but he's still at least a few steps ahead of me, sniffing the ground. When I tighten the reigns to keep him closer and attempt to either be in front of (or at least beside) him, then he's tight on the leash probably 90% of the time.

In the house, I feel I am leading him and he acts accordingly. He normally doesn't get wild or run around like a bucking bronco as he did before. He responds to commands, knows his boundaries (and is breaking those boundaries less and less each day), and is generally a well-adjusted dog considering what he was only a month ago.

But those walks -- that's where I lose confidence.

Since he is physically leading me on those walks, is he seeing himself as the pack leader? If so, what can I do to reverse that, as I feel it is while in the house? Any other tips or tricks for this situation?

posted by nitsuj to Pets & Animals (15 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Are you a male or a female? If you are a male you need to use your voice in a commanding manner. Speak sharply and succinctly and compel him to submit to your physical presence.

If you are a female speak from your diaphragm, not your chest (as most women do) in order to convey more authority.
posted by dfriedman at 6:51 AM on December 12, 2009

"Pack leader" is a very Cesar Milan way of training dogs, and it works, but it's not the only way. It sounds like you have a boisterous (and gorgeous! what pics!) dog who needs a little more time on the leash to get used to the way you want him to walk with you.

Pulling a dog closer to you, I've found, generally makes the dog want to pull away. A short, sharp tug on the leash to get him back in line, and then slack immediately works for me.

It could also be that he gets excited with new environments, so he's good while at home, but overstimulated when you go out in the world. I think with time, he'll get used to the idea that he's not going to miss anything by sticking close to you, and will deal with a slack leash just fine.
posted by xingcat at 6:56 AM on December 12, 2009

Being the leader is about a) controlling the resources (unless your dog has opposable thumbs, you have that covered) and b) acting like a leader. It is not about Cesar Milan-style bullying (we have much better understanding about dog-human interactions and ways to modify dog behavior now than old-school dominance theory), or where you walk. I would suggest you read Jean Donaldson's "The Culture Clash" and Patrica McConnell's "How to be the Leader of the Pack" to get a better sense of establishing appropriate dog-human interactions. You are not a dog, you do not want your dog to think you're a dog, you want to establish an appropriate relationship where your dog trusts you to make good decisions. Your dog walking in front of you is likely a result of the fact that your comfortable walking speed is a bit slower than your dog's comfortable walking speed. As long as the dog isn't pulling, I see no problem with it.
posted by biscotti at 7:19 AM on December 12, 2009 [5 favorites]

As you can tell by my screen name, I'm a dog person (also a very good typist). I've had good results with this simply by stopping whenever the dog strains the leash and saying No Pull! When the leash is loose again we start walking again. Rinse. Repeat. Until the dog catches on that if he pulls, he doesn't get to go anywhere. It never takes long.

As long as the dog is not pulling on the leash, I don't think it matters if he is behind you or not. Sounds like you're doing a good job with him.
posted by lazydog at 7:40 AM on December 12, 2009

Your dog walking in front of you is likely a result of the fact that your comfortable walking speed is a bit slower than your dog's comfortable walking speed. As long as the dog isn't pulling, I see no problem with it.


So long as he comes to heel when you command it and is otherwise well behaved, I don't see a problem with him being a few steps ahead when you walk him, in fact that's how I prefer it , I can watch the dog properly and still see where I'm going. Also, if he's a sniffer dog, that's kinda how they're suppose to behave, they're sniffing out a trail, that's no good if he's behind you. When I was a kid I had a couple of Lhasa Apsos, when they were out for a walk they would trot around and play in the grass and have a merry old time but sniffing meant they needed to go. My mum's new dog is a french hound and when he goes for a walk its 'serious business' - nose to the ground the whole way. We went on a merry old trail around the neighbourhood like that, he'd definitely picked up the scent of something but just a little tug on the lead and he knows that I'm taking charge again (when he wanted to trek through someone's flower bed!)

Part of the purpose of taking the dog for a walk is the give it some exercise. If he's limited to walking your speed or slower then its not much of an exercise for a dog.
posted by missmagenta at 7:55 AM on December 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

When we got our pound puppy he was well behaved until I took him for walks, or should I say, he took me for walks. From the sounds of things you just need to teach him that pulling will get him nowhere. As xingcat says a short sharp jerk on the leash (we used a choke collar and, a six foot lead) and, immediate slack off is a good way to teach the dog some leash respect. Or, you can try turning in the opposite direction and, walk back the way you came when he pulls. And, btw praise the hell out of the dog when he does it the right way, but don't say anything when he's gets it wrong.

Mine caught on fast, after about three walks he wasn't trying to pull my arm from its socket which was all I really wanted out of him.
posted by squeak at 7:59 AM on December 12, 2009

I would highly suggest a trying a Gentle Harness. My Golden was very well behaved in almost every situation, but she would still pull on her leash when she got excited. She quit within 5 minutes of putting the GH on and I have never had a problem again.
posted by Silvertree at 8:29 AM on December 12, 2009

If your dog is well-behaved and you both enjoy going on walks, it seems there is no problem unless you make one up.

I don't see why you want to have a contest where you have to be "leader" else you "lose confidence". Why exactly do you have a dog anyway?

My guess is that since he's a dog he loves running around and sniffing stuff because it's exciting. When you walk with your dog, concentrate on enjoying your time together instead of worrying about whether you sufficiently dominate him. "with a loose leash 90% of the time" sounds like a very pleasant walk - you are doing a good job.
posted by fritley at 8:30 AM on December 12, 2009

I don't understand what the problem is here. As long as he is not pulling on the leash, it is totally normal for your dog to be a few steps ahead, sniffing out the path. It doesn't mean he's trying to be dominant, it means he's having fun doing what dogs do on walks. Don't worry about it and have fun along with him!
posted by purplemonkie at 8:41 AM on December 12, 2009

Thanks for the answers, everyone!

I'm new with dogs (I've been a cat person for a long time) so I've been absorbing as many theories and books and practices as possible to find what works best for my dog and me. So far, as some of you have noted, Ceaser's method has worked the best simply because, in the beginning, the dog was so overly hyperactive, he wouldn't respond to anything save for dominance. Positive reinforcement is a lovely idea in theory -- and I'm sure it works on many dogs -- but in reality, with our dog, you simply could not positively reinforce him out of nipping at you and jumping on furniture like a drunken monkey. However, now that he's settled down a bit, positive reinforcement works much better.

My main reasoning for posting this question is because I was afraid that, while he was doing good inside, him walking in front of me as the "leader" was counterbalancing our overall progress. Thanks for reassuring me that this probably isn't the case.

Silvertree: thanks for the note on the Gentle Leader/Harness. It's been recommended to us before, and seems like something we should definitely try!
posted by nitsuj at 8:45 AM on December 12, 2009

I don't let my dogs walk way out in front of me because I don't like letting them have that much slack to run into the street/catch an animal/jump on a child, rather than making them know that I'm the pack leader. A trained dog should never do these things, but better safe than sorry. If you can get him to a point where he's comfortably walking a few feet in front of you with slack on the leash, then that's great. If he's pulling, he'll need to learn to walk nicely beside you until he gets it. Beside you not because it'll make him understand that you're the pack-leader, but because I find that I have the most control of my dogs when they're walking there. When I'm training them, I want to have as much control over them as possible.

Like people, not all dogs are the same. Anyone who claims that a certain way of training is the right way for all dogs is incorrect. In all likelihood, you'll go through several different training regimens before finding one that the dog responds to. What biscotti says is great advice, except for calling Cesar Milan's style "bullying." I don't necessarily agree with some of his way of doing things, but I certainly don't think he bullies the dogs. It simply isn't, and calling it that is a little rude and irresponsible. I agree with the book recommendations, however.

Like all things in life, it's best to educate yourself in different disciplines and decide for yourself what works. You need to find a training style that matches you and your dog, and it sounds like you're well on your way there.

I am not a certified trainer, but I do manage a dog daycare full-time and see/handle all manner of breeds and types of dogs/owners. You sound like a responsible, intelligent person and that goes a long way into having your dog behave. The worst dogs are invariably owned by people who don't understand that they are dogs, not children and must be treated as such. (However, I do adore my first small-breed, Toby, a Maltese-Poodle.)
posted by InsanePenguin at 9:37 AM on December 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

What everyone else said, and also: my dog is a lot like yours. She pulls a nit, but has hugely improved from when we rescued her. But she's definitely a scent hound, and her nose goes first everywhere we go. I had the same conflicts: shouldn't I be the leader here?

But what changed my mind was walking with her off-leash in parks, on hikes, etc. It really feels to me like a more natural way for human and dog to interact, and here's how it usually goes: she trots out ahead as we walk – I see it as her being the pack's scout.

She will find interesting things to sniff at, and stop for a bit as we keep walking and pass her. She then runs to catch up, checks in, and gets ahead for a bit again. It's a cycle of taking turns in leading, but with no real leader - it's just the pack out or a stroll. Studies have found that this is also how wolves behave, trading the leadership role as they travel, despite those who use them as examples of maintaining a strict pack order.
posted by TochterAusElysium at 9:41 AM on December 12, 2009

There's a simple way to tell if you dog is mature and looks to you as the leader. Go to an off-leash dog park. After a while - once you dog has had time to calm down a little - walk away or hide behind a tree. If you dog is comfortable not knowing where you are, you have a problem. If not, everything is okay.

You've had this dog for a month - he needs some time to adjust to his new life.

If your dog is walking happily on a loose leash with a flat collar, your are okay. If not, time and work will get you there. You should also, if you possibly can, join a club or sign up for classes. Watching other people work with their dogs is very educational and having a training or people who have dogs with performance titles (obedience, agility, tracking, whatever) help you with your own style and your own dog is very worthwhile. The shelter may offer classes or be able to help you. (And if this dog is really a handful, don't be surprised if a pure positive trainer sends you to a combined trainer - happens all the time.)
posted by Lesser Shrew at 11:05 AM on December 12, 2009

Second the people who commented earlier that alpha dog theory has been debunked. Here is a good website explaining why it doesn't make sense, and providing resources on handling your dog. (I am also a McConnell and Donaldson devotee: all their books are great.)

As for walking your dog, this is my favorite harness for my Australian Shepherd, because it is easy to put on/take off, and is so nicely padded to avoid hurting him under his front legs. Manners are pretty easy to teach with the clicker method. Here is a great video that shows how to do it. (All this woman's videos about dog training are great). And here's a basic video on clicker training.
posted by bearwife at 12:20 PM on December 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

P.S. My Aussie is a rescue too, full of beans and very agile. He LOVES clicker training and has learned like lightning using it.
posted by bearwife at 12:22 PM on December 12, 2009

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