Leader of the Pack

book review by Pam Green, © 2006, 2019

This book is a detailed program of methods for establishing yourself as the respected and trusted leader, or Alpha, of your dog or pack of dogs. I consider it valuable reading for those who already have a "problem" dog or think they may be on the way to having one, but less relevant to those whose dogs clearly respect and trust their leadership. I give a detailed discussion with special emphasis on the parts I consider debateable.


How to Take Control of Your Relationship with your Dog

By Nancy Baer and Steve Duno , 1996, published by Collins

reviewed by Pam Green, © 2006, 2019

This book is a detailed program of methods for establishing yourself as the respected and trusted leader, or Alpha, of your dog or pack of dogs. I consider it valuable reading for those who already have a "problem" dog or think they may be on the way to having one, but less relevant to those whose dogs clearly respect and trust their leadership or who have timid dogs.

The book is aimed at those whose dog has shown symptoms of considering himself or herself as being unquestionably the leader or as being in contention for the top spot in the home. This is the dog likely to be described as "dominant" or even as "dominant-aggressive" (two terms which do NOT mean the same thing but which are too often confused and too often misused altogether !). Such a dog is usually now perceived by the owner as presenting a serious problem. For such a dog , the full program in all or most of its details is generally appropriate as a non-confrontational and non-bullying way for the humans in the household to regain the leader role without getting bitten in the process and without making the dog fearful of the people. But the full program in all its rigor is , I think, overkill for the more common case of a dog who is a bit "pushy" or the owner who is a bit too lenient by nature.

For the more typical case of a dog showing lesser symptoms of being unsure who is really in charge here or a dog trying to see if he can re-write the rules to better suit himself , a modified , less rigorous, version of the program would be more appropriate. And for a dog who is has already accepted human leadership, a considerably less rigorous regimen will be quite ample, with only some of the concepts being useful.

The program also includes aspects that are appropriate and necessary for all dogs, even very mild mannered ones, even timid or submissive ones, because these aspects relate to the safety and health of the dog. The book is certainly worth reading as a precautionary "be prepared" knowledge-base, so that you will be more likely to notice incipient problems and thus deal with them promptly and easily.

Each chapter begins with an imaginative fiction of life in the wolf pack to set the stage for comparable issues in the dog-human pack.

Some aspects of these stories are questionable (eg it is not always true that the highest ranked wolf is male , and certainly in dog packs the highest rank is at least as likely to be held by a bitch as by a male). It is also important to recognize that wolves take hierarchy issues a great deal more seriously than dogs do, probably because domestic dogs are behaviorally equivalent to juvenile wolves and juvenile wolves are not yet fully serious about hierarchy. Even the wolf Alpha does not need to assert dominance as obsessively as the book implies, but rather the other wolves frequently give displays of deference to the Alpha, which the Alpha graciously acknowledges.

However, the main point is still valid : dogs are genetically hard-wired to rely on a clear hierarchy of rank and privilege to maintain social harmony within the living group. The presence of an established hierarchy makes dogs more contented and peaceful, and prevents or reduces the potential for serious behavior problems, especially problems involving biting humans.

It may be important to distinguish between the highly self-confident dog who is sure he is in charge and the anxious or un-self-confident dog who is unsure who is really in charge or the dog who finds himself in charge and does not feel comfortable being in charge.

Respected veterinary behaviorist and brilliant author Dr Myrna Milani, in her two day seminar "Taking the Bite out of Canine Aggression", said that the great majority of her aggression cases involve dogs for whom abdication of leadership by humans has promoted the dog into a position of leadership that he really does not have the self-confidence to feel comfortable holding. The truly self confident dog, if self promoted or owner promoted into the top spot, is far less likely to be a biter. Veterinary behaviorist Dr Jacqueline Neilson , speaking at the 2nd Behavior Symposium at UC Davis, challenged the usual concept of dominance as a cause of aggression, saying that it may be a better to recognize that the dog aggressive towards family members is more likely very anxious about its status in the family, anxious because unsure of what the hierarchy really is. These views are compatible with Baer and Duno comment that a controlling dog may never need to bite or threaten to keep the humans in line, because it may well be able to simply train them to give the dog whatever it wants. (I think this pattern of simply manipulating the owner especially applies to bitches, as I've known some who could give lessons to Machiavelli ! I have also noted that truly self assured dogs of either sex are unlikely to bite people or to start dog-fights without a damned good reason.)

The best overall aspect of the program is that it does NOT advocate bullying or domineering tactics and does NOT advocate the kinds of physical confrontation that can so easily make a dog fearful and/or make the dog self-defensively aggressive. In recent years, some dog behaviorists have gotten a bit gun-shy about the term "dominance", because unfortunately too many dog owners (especially those with a Y chromosome) too easily equate acting dominant with acting in a dominating and domineering fashion. In dogs the dominance hierarchy is NOT about physical force, but rather about character, self-assurance, intelligence, and benevolence. True leadership is as much about being trusted as it is about being respected. A true leader (canine or human) is self-assured, generally calm, and almost always benevolent. Yes, the leader has privileges, ie the right to claim any resource that the leader wants that is in short supply, but even more the leader takes responsibility for the welfare of the pack.

The best discussion of what Alpha is all about is given in the marvelous book "The Other End of the Leash" by Patricia McConnell, a book that anyone concerned with dogs should read as a pre-requisite to all other study material, including the book under present review. Dominance is the right of the higher status being to claim access to a resource that is both scarce and valuable. The Alpha thus has the right to claim or not claim anything that she and another both consider scarce (not enough for both to have) and valuable (both of them really do want to have it).

I want to go through the book chapter by chapter, indicating the main points and which ones I regard as more relevant to the relationship of most people to their dogs and which ones I consider superfluous or silly or possibly having drawbacks. I should add that the various points at which the authors recommend getting professional help are absolutely appropriate : that professional help should be a certified Applied Animal Behaviorist or a board-certified veterinary behaviorist, and you will find links to some sources for these on my Farewell page.

Chapter 1 : "Leaders eat first".

The authors are quite right that the human monopoly on sources of food for the dog can and should be a powerful tool to establish and maintain human leadership. Many of the specific suggestions are sensible, but a few are a bit silly, though harmless.

The suggestion to always eat something in the sight of your dog before you feed anything to the dog strikes me as silly rather than useful. However the suggestion that the dog must keep a given distance away while you are eating is practical and useful. It's not distance per se that matters ; it's the dog's lack of intention or interest in grabbing some of your food.

(So far as my personal practices go, I generally eat my breakfast off a low table, lower than my dogs' head heights, and generally eat my dinner off a tray while sitting on my bed watching TV. So yeah, my dogs learn very fast not to even look like they are thinking of putting their noses too near my plate; and generally my food is safe even if I leave the room briefly. Now that is a show of respect for my ownership. But I usually feed the dogs rather late at night (in hot weather, perhaps earlier in winter), just before we all sleep, so that is a long time after I ate my own meal. Baer and Duno would have me eat some token snack just before I feed them. But as I send each dog to its assigned feeding station, be it crate or bathroom or wherever, before I pick up bowls and head to the feed-bins, they certainly know that I am orchestrating the whole show. I get whatever food I choose, the good smelling "best" food and I eat whenever I want to (from their pint of view). They eat only what I provide and when I provide, except for whatever might fall on the floor -- or caught as it is falling.)

The suggestion that the dog be put on scheduled (and measured) meals, once or twice a day, rather than "free fed" is an essential health regime for every dog, whether or not that dog tends towards dominance. Only with measured meals set down before each individual dog , left for moderate time , then picked up again, can you be sure you control how much each dog actually eats and know if a dog is showing less than normal appetite, which is so often the early warning sign of illness --- even a sign of very serious illness that may result in death if the dog does not go to the vet right away. (I have saved dogs' lives on several occasions by reacting to food left uneaten.). While occasional single dogs will self-regulate amounts of food when free fed, most will become obese ; and obesity has serious bad consequences for health. In multiple dog households, some may become obese while others do not get enough; furthermore quarrels over food are a real risk, and can even result in injury to the human who gets in the line of fire.

(update note. I was involved in the rescue of Layla, a Bouv bitch found on the streets very close to death from starvation. It turned out that she actually had a home, but the owner did not separate dogs for feeding and the other dog in the home ate both dogs' meals, becoming obese while Layla was starving. Layla had another health issue that was highly visible and for which the owners had refused to follow diagnosis and treatment advice from several vets. Animal Services was able to terminate ownership and , with the help of several in our Bouv community, Layla was returned to her very loving breeder.)

The suggestion to feed multiple dogs in order of their rank makes sense, assuming the owner actually correctly assesses relative rank (and many owners are mistaken as to the actual ranks within their pack), but is superfluous if dogs have already gone to separate feeding areas.

The suggestion to "handle the dog's food bowl fairly" , which is actually a prescription for preventing development of food bowl guarding by occasionally approaching and adding a yummy treat while the dog is eating, really applies to all dogs and ideally begins when the dog is still a puppy. Note that if the humans have already eaten their main meal before the dogs are fed, there are likely to be a few leftover goodies , be they chunks of fat or chunks of vegetable , available to be added to the dog's bowl while it is eating. The accompanying program for retraining a dog who is already food-bowl aggressive is a sound protocol.

The suggestion to use food treats to positively reinforce good (desirable) behaviors is perfectly sound and applies to all dogs, though the reader needs a lot more information (a whole book, such as "Excel-erated Learning" by Pamela Reid) than can be given in a few paragraphs. Likewise the advice to always make the dog obey some simple command, such as "Sit", before giving a treat is sound advice for all dogs, though I think that "most of the time" or "often" are more realistic than "always". (Personal note : I have two dogs who are adept at catching tossed food "on the fly", so they may or may not be required to Sit before I toss a treat. My control of the toss is obvious.)

Chapter 2 : "Leaders Initiate and Control Action"

Chapter 2 has mostly advice that is appropriate for dogs generally, but one item that is questionable or at least needs more thought in its application.

The general concept advocated by the book is that the human should be the one to initiate and terminate interactions with the dog and should be the one to set the rules of engagement for all interactions. I would emphasize the issues of terminating or aborting an interaction and of regulating the manner in which the interaction proceeds.

As to initiation , I think it might be better to say that while it's usually OK for the dog to invite or propose something, the human should always have absolute right to accept or decline. Normal dogs often make suggestions, eg "isn't it time to go for a walk ?" or "wouldn't you like to pet me now ?", but if the human responds "no, not now" then the dog has to accept that this interaction has ended before it has begun. The dog should not become a damned pest. Of course if the dog is trying to tell the owner that the house is on fire or the baby has stopped breathing, you'd be very grateful if the dog persisted and escalated into a demand ! Stories abound of dogs who have saved their peoples' lives by such demands. Likewise the dogs who teach themselves to do seizure warnings.

The advice to generally control and supervise the dog's interactions with dogs and humans in the home and in the outside world is wise for every dog. There are simply too many situations where the dog's own ideas of what to do would be disagreeable to humans or unsafe to dog or human. One has to be a lot more vigilant and ready to intervene with "problem" dogs than with well behaved dogs of course. The advice to have some kind of lead on the "problem" dog indoors as well as outdoors to give you the power to intervene is very wise, as is the advice to remove the lead when no human is home. (The indoor lead preferably should have no hand loop and no knots in it , to lessen the opportunities for snagging on something.) Keeping a puppy or newly adopted dog on an "umbilical" leash attached to oneself is an even better technique , used by the dog-sophisticated.

The advice to have predetermined times to take the dog out for potty breaks rather than responding to dog's signals that he needs or wants to go out or having a dog door available is highly debatable. Yes, it does put you "in control" of one of the dog's basic needs, but it may do so at the cost of real discomfort or suffering for the dog if intervals between breaks are too far apart or else at the cost of "accidents" in the house that you will have to clean up and that may establish a pattern of potty-ing indoors that could be hard to break, especially if the dog is not already well house-broken or lacks a very strong den-cleanliness instinct. It also requires that humans be home enough to provide potty breaks at reasonable intervals, and for many people this is not possible.

Quite frankly I am a big advocate of having a dog door into a safely fenced area, which can be fairly small, possibly a potty yard within the greater yard. Given that more dogs are condemned to the pound and to eventual death there because they never got reliably house-broken than because they bit someone or were deemed unacceptably dominant, I vote for having a dog door (unless there is some other reason not to do so, eg small children who should not go out unattended or wildlife that might enter) and focusing on the many other modes of maintaining leadership.

The advice that the human be the one to decide when petting begins and when it ends , requiring the dog to first obey a simple command before it gets petted, is reasonable but, to my mind, for most dogs there can be some leeway for the dog to ask , but not demand, attention.

Polite dogs , like polite children, should be allowed to ask for physical affection or play or attention, but the polite ones can accept being told "no, not now" (or even "go away, I am busy") without getting pushy or demanding. Spoiled brats of both species may start by asking but escalate to demands and tantrums if refused. Most housedogs can be pretty shrewd about distinguishing when you might be amenable to petting or play versus when you are busy and might actually rebuke them for pestering. The advice, later in the chapter, on "giving affection as an earned reward" goes along with the advice about petting generally.

The advice to get your dog used to being ignored at times applies to all dogs, because after all there are times when you are doing other things and cannot pay attention to the dog. The advice to use a water squirt as a rebuke for rude attention seeking behavior is however very questionable, as to some dogs (eg almost every Lab or Chessie or Portie, and many Bouvies) this would be received as a reward, not as an aversive.

The advice that you must be able to handle any part of your dog's body for grooming (including toenails), for inspection, for doctoring, etc applies to every dog. The extremely submissive and the very timid dog will need careful and gentle work on this to build trust, just as the more controlling dog will need firm but not rough work to build respect and submission as well as trust. The advice to use massage to get your dog to absolutely enjoy being handled physically is very good. T-touch is likewise good for this.

The advice to teach your dog to greet people politely and to be in control of such interactions is very sound for all dogs. The very friendly dog and the exuberant dog need this whether tending to be submissive or domineering. (The highly submissive dog also needs to be calmed and steadied to avoid submissive urination; and you may need to do all greetings outdoors until this is solved.)

The advice on teaching your dog good behavior when meeting other dogs applies to every dog regardless of rank.

The advice on teaching calm departures and returns to prevent or resolve separation anxiety while humans are gone is good advice for all dogs whatever their rank. The main predisposing factor for separation anxiety is an anxious temperament, and this can occur in a low ranking dog even more easily than in a high ranking one.

The sections on types of aggression are good enough. A thorough discussion of causes of aggression and possible remedies is beyond the scope of this book.

Chapter 3 : "Leaders Maintain a Dominant Posture"

Chapter 3 discusses the role of body language


The advice that the human should avoid being in a position that places the human lower in actual height than the dog may be appropriate for the problem dog , but may be overkill for the rest. It is perhaps reminiscent of the wonderful scenes in "The King and I " in which the King states emphatically that no one's head may ever be higher than his. Thus the dog is to be evicted (by using the attached leash, not by grabbing the collar, as the latter can trigger a bite in dogs who are fearful or have some pain in the neck area even more than dogs who are dominant) and prevented from occupying sofas , stair landings, and other high areas.

Now most dogs who like the sofa do so because it is so comfortable , rather than because they seek world or household domination. For the mere comfort seekers, the owner's concern would be dirt on the sofa, for which a bedspread covering the sofa would be a good answer, though I certainly have no argument with those who ban their dogs from all furniture, so long as there are ample dog beds on the floor. (For discussions of allowing the dog into your bed, see below in discussion of Chapter 5.)
One might however add that for timid or under-socialized dogs, it can be very helpful in beginning to reduce the dog's fear for the person to get into a low position, sitting on the floor with side or back to dog and avoiding direct eye contact or even lying on the floor.

The advice that the dog is not allowed to lean on you nor to step on your feet or mouth at your hand , nor to otherwise invade your personal space in a rude pushy manner, is important for the pushy or controlling type of dog and appropriate to a lesser degree for the more subordinate dog.

The advice to prevent jumping up onto peoples' bodies is valid for all dogs. There are many reasons for a dog to jump up on people other than to be controlling. Many dogs jump up to be affectionate and many dogs do so because licking upwards at a high-ranked dog's mouth is a normal way subordinates greet superiors. However every dog, regardless of status issues, should be trained to sit rather than to jump up on people : it is a safety issue to prevent accidental injury to people , eg a fall resulting in a broken as an extreme consequence .

When dogs lean on you or infringe on your personal space, in addition to the advice in the book, you can pre-empt the dog by boldly moving into his space first and praising him when he yields. Personal space issues are covered very well in "The Other End of the Leash".

The advice to not permit "mouthing" is in harmony for what most people want from all dogs, though some of us find very gentle mouthing acceptable or endearng. Certainly the advice in books such as Dr Ian Dunbar's "How to Teach a New Dog Old Tricks" on teaching the dog to be very soft and "bite inhibited" in touching humans with its mouth is the best way to prevent problems. Baer and Duno advocate similar methods, noting that these will not work with a dog that is already biting in earnest, for whom professional help is needed.

The advice to avoid the "bad games" of wrestling, and chasing games is generally sound and should apply to all dogs, but the advice to avoid tug-of-war games is debatable. There are safe ways to play tug in a way that increases your control over the dog and increases his self-control when excited : these are described in Dunbar's books and in Jean Donaldson's "The Culture Clash" and my personal experience is the same.

Donaldson adds that "playing tug is about dinner, not dominance" because tug is the method by which wolves rip dead large prey into edible portions. Certainly dogs playing tug with other dogs show happy playful body language and vocalization ( which often includes the "play growl") rather than the body language of dominance challenges, and the winner is as sometimes the lower ranked dog sometimes the higher ranked one, and adults will often allow a puppy to win. More recently research by Goodloe & Borchelt (1998, J. applied Animal Welfare Science ,v 1 : 303-338 ) showed that tug of war does not increase the likelihood of biting. An experiment with 14 Goldens playing tug with people showed that both the dogs allowed to win and the dogs who lost in a series of tug games were more obedient to their human playmates after the game than before.(reported as "Pull, Fido, pull" in New Scientist v 19, pg 24, 2002 and discussed in "Animals in Translation" by Temple Grandin). It's quite possible that the game in this experiment was structured in a way that the dogs felt the humans were referee as well as playmate, and indeed that seems to me to be the best way to play any game with a dog.

The advice to play "good games" such as Fetch, Flyball, round robin recall, agility, and tricks (including rolling over and playing dead, which Dunbar calls "the Omega Rollover" and rewards with a tummy rub) is good advice for all dogs. I would add to these games such games as scent searching to find hidden toys or treats and scent searching to find a hidden family member or friend.

Chapter 4 :"Leaders Go First"

This chapter is really about safety rules that apply to all dogs regardless of status issues. I don't see anything in this chapter that does not apply to all dogs, though I wouldn't argue with the idea that the status-competitive dog can use a double or triple dose.

The advice to teach waiting for permission to go through doors, gates, and out the car is very sound for safety reasons, and the methods suggested are good ones (see "The Other End of the Leash" for yet another method). Likewise the advice that the dog should walk without pulling on leash.

Dogs actually rush through doors and gates and pull on the leash for many reasons other than their desire to control their people. The do so because the are excited, because they smell or hear things they are eager to get to, and so on. But exiting the house or yard or car off leash and out of control can get a dog killed. Pulling on the leash can injure the dog, can injure the person, and makes walking very unpleasant for the person.

While the authors stress that the dog not walk ahead of the person on leash and that the leash be loose, to me it is the latter that really counts. A dog who accepts that he must not tighten the leash has necessarily accepted the need to go wherever the handler goes and to pay attention. If the dog accepts that he must keep slack in the leash, then all you have to do to keep him from being ahead of you is to shorten the leash so slackness puts him at your side.

( I sometimes am walking 4 or 5 very big and strong dogs, so there is not room near standard heel position for all of them, but some are on one side and some on the other and some behind me , and yes, some might be partly or fully in front of me; but so long as they keep the leashes loose, everything is fine.)

I might add that there are many situations in which you might want a well trained dog to go ahead of you and even to pull on command, though in most of these cases the dog would be pulling via a body harness so he can pull strongly without risk of injury to his neck : eg, the guide dog must pull at times, the tracking dog should pull, the sledding or ski-jorring dog should pull, the hiking companion could benefit you by helping you get up a steep or slippery hill. To pull on command is hardly an insubordination.

The advice to teach your dog to come when called is , of course, essential for every dog. "Come" is the single most important lifesaver command that exists, and if your dog only obeys one command this is the one ! (The second one would be "Down" or any other immobility command, such as "Whoa".)

Chapter 5 :"Leaders Control their Space and Possessions"

This chapter's advice about territory , including furniture and bed applies full measure to dogs that do have dominance issues and conflicts or are on their way to having such issues. I think it is far less relevant to those dogs who have already accepted that humans are the leaders.

The advice to keep the dog off the human's bed is , sadly , prudent for the dog who has a pushy nature or has already shown problems over status or has issued challenges to invited guests or lawful spouse (or "significant other") entering your bed. It's also good advice for the adopted dog's first months in the new home. But for the rest of us, with dogs who clearly accept our leadership and who are generally quite obedient, I think it is really a matter of personal choice .

The idea that letting your dog share your bed will turn your dog into a canine tyrant has been challenged and shown to be false by the research of Goodloe & Borchelt (citation above). However your bed may not be large enough for additional occupancy given that even a small dog can sprawl out over a great deal of space. Likewise negative, a shaggy dog can transport a fair amount of grit and dirt into bed with him. Likewise negative, the presence of a dog may be a deterrent to human guests you might invite to an evening of reckless romance. Ahh, but the comforts of a warm and friendly dog's body next to one's own can be irresistible to some of us, myself included. (My own precious soul-mates Chelsea and Bones slept with me almost every night of their lives, which included our competitive partnership that earned an impressive compilation of titles and awards at various types of working dog trial. My current bedmates Pixel and Chris may not have earned as many titles, but they too have been unfailingly well behaved in social situations. (update 2019 : and now it's Fox and Bug sharing my bed, with Velvet sharing only when Fox and Bug allow. Fox is a wonderful "under cover agent" to get under the blankets to warm and sooth my body on cold nights.)

The advice to keep the dog off the furniture is quite appropriate for "problem" dogs. Certainly any dog who has ever growled at a person approaching or attempting to sit near the dog should be banned from the furniture forthwith. Leave a leash or cord on the collar so the dog may be evicted safely. Do not grab the dog by the collar with your hands, as this risks a bite.

The advice to keep the dog out from under tables and chairs and out of corners, while appropriate for dogs who guard these areas or who take objects that they guard into such areas, could be very inappropriate for timid dogs who see these as out of the way safe refuges.

Dragging a frightened dog out of his hiding place really can get you bitten very badly. Always remember that a frightened animal has only two choices, to flee or to fight ; so when flight does not work, they switch to fight, ie bite. Such a dog has to be slowly desenitied to whatever he fears. Besides, if the dog is not to be on the furniture and must move out of your way wherever you walk or sit , thus implying he will not be left in peace in the middle of the room or hall, where else is there for him to go except under the table or in the corner ? I'd suggest that in every room enough dog beds be provided on the floor and out of the general traffic pattern, so that the dog does have a legitimate place to go. Likewise you can provide crates that are generally left open and available as dog resting places. (I find that some dogs love to go into a crate for their naps and others seldom do so.)

The advice to "teach the dog that everything in the home belongs to you" including all dog toys seems to me to be overkill for most dogs. To me, it's better to teach the dog that his toys are legitimate for him to play with, though when you ask him to relinquish one to you that is OK because you will give it back. (Dunbar and Donaldson cover this very well.)

Having provided the dog with toys of his own, you are in better position to interrupt him for messing with anything else, eg chewing on the piano leg, and re-direct him back to his own toys. The constant availability of legal chew toys is a great help in avoiding damage to your furnishings and in providing an anxious dog with relief and likewise the bored dog with amusement. Now of course if the dog should begin to show signs of "object guarding" with any of his toys, you will need to begin remedial procedures (again see Dunbar and Donalson ), and there may be some category of too highly coveted items that must be eliminated from the dog's life. (Note : dogs can live a long happy life without ever having a "pig ear" or a "bully stick" (you may be happier not knowing what a "bully stick" is) , and indeed potentially dangerous bacterial contaminants in these treat are all too common.)

The advice to teach the "leave it" command , ie combination of the drop it command and the don't touch it command, is wise for every dog as any dog might be attracted to pick up something that you consider potentially dangerous. I think teaching every dog to "take" (pick up), to "hold", and to "give" (release to your hand) or "drop" (to the floor) any item you designate is a good part of dog education, having many practical applications, but for dogs that are not naturally inclined to fetching tasks this work requires a lot of sustained effort to accomplish.

The advice to teach the dog to move out of your way is a safety and convenience issue that applies to every dog. I teach mine to "move" on command to ensure that I can get them out of harm's way if I am carrying anything that could hurt them if spilled and to ensure that I don't hurt myself and them by tripping and falling. And yes, it is both a convenience and my right as the one who pays the rent, to have dogs move out of my way in the tighter spaces of hallway and so on.

But when my dogs get old or have disabilities, then I don't ask them to move unless I really need them too, because it is harder for them to do so than for me to step over or around. I do teach all my dogs to be calm when I step over them or stand with one foot on each side or even brush my foot on them as I step over. This can be taught as part of a down stay exercise and practiced in daily life.

The advice to be very controlling about when and where the dog urinates and defecates is overkill for most dogs. Now it is good advice to get your dogs in the habit of relieving themselves in your own yard before you set out on a walk because it is easier to clean up , though you should still carry a few baggies just in case there is a later deposit in a public place. You may want to encourage defecation to occur in some particular area within your yard, rather than some other areas. For dogs that tend to be territorial , having all or almost all urination and defecation within the limits of your yard will also tend to help the dog to recognize those limits rather than claiming the surrounding neighborhood as well. Teaching your dog a word of invitation or encouragement to eliminate here and now is easy to do (by simply saying the word just as you see the dog preparing eliminate) and can be very convenient when traveling or at dog competitions.

The advice to limit the dog's freedom of access within the home is a matter of safety and common sense for every dog. Every home contains areas that include potential hazards to the dog, so the dog must not have access to these areas. For example we all keep medications and cleaning chemicals totally out of reach of dogs and young children. Some wise owners don't want the dog in the kitchen while they are cooking for fear of spilling boiling water or oil on the dog , and some see no need to tempt the dog with food on table tops right at dog nose height. And many homes contain areas with items that we don't want to risk having the dog damage, and some of us may have areas we want to keep especially neat and clean and free of dog hair.

For example, I keep the dogs out of my combination office and guest room, because there are always too many books on the floor and because I don't want dogs chewing or tangling in my computer cables and so on. The best and most flexible way of managing access is stretch gates (also called "baby gates" for reasons those of us who have chosen to be child-free might not understand) in various doorways, to be opened or closed as needed. I also use sections of "X-pen" as a barrier around my wood-stove during the winter to protect elderly or disabled dogs from accidental contact with a hot surface.

Chapter 6 :"Leaders Protect their Packs"

Chapter 6 is about owner responsibilities that apply to every dog regardless of status conflicts : responsibility for the dog's safety , veterinary care (especially preventative care) , diet , and exercise. The reality of course is that owners tend to take even better care of "nice" dogs than of "problem" dogs because they enjoy the former and want them to live as long as possible. ("live long and prosper, my dear pointy earred Bouvier.") For a truly disagreeable dog, there is always the temptation to welcome a premature demise.

Note however that sometimes a dog's "problem" behavior or "disagreeable" disposition is really due to an underlying medical issue. Veterinary diagnosis and treatment may make a huge improvement.

Chapter 7 :"Leaders are Calm, Fair, and Confident"

This chapter is about owner attitudes and responsibilities that apply to every dog, not just the dominance-tending ones. Calmness and self-assurance and fairness and predictability (consistancy) in the human leader is every bit as important to the timid or anxious dog as it is to the dog who would be king. The principle of setting the dog up to succeed (and to be rewarded for success) rather than to fail is the essence of all good training and management programs.

Conclusion :

In conclusion, this is a good book for all or most dog owners to read, but the advice has to be applied judiciously, taking into account our own individual personality and lifestyle as well as the dog's individual personality and needs.

Afterword :

After I wrote this review it occurred to me that I should emphasize that it is not just the dog's propensity to dominance that matters. No indeed ! The human's propensity for leadership is equally important. The real cause of "dominance problems" or "hierarchy problems" or "status conflict problems" or "relationship problems" , or whatever term might be used for it, is that the human and the dog are a personality miss-match, a miss-match as far as natural tendency to take charge goes. In my terms , it is when the owner or another family member lacks "Alphatude" , the attitude and aptitude for being the calm and benevolent Alpha, that trouble becomes likely. So rather than thinking of this book as a guide for the person who lives with a dog that tends towards dominance, it makes more sense to think of it as a guide for the person who lacks natural Alphatude to re-train himself to act in a more leadership manner and to acquire the attitudes to go with the actions.

A person with no Alphatude will have problems with just about every dog, even a very meek dog, since no dog can cope well with a leadership void. A person with moderate Alphatude will do fine with most dogs, but will have problems with some dogs, including a fair proportion of Bouviers (and other breeds known for jobs that require assertiveness, such as cattle herding, large flock sheep herding, and police work). A person with naturally high Alphatude will seldom have serious "dominance" problems with any dog. Most of those who become trainers or sucessful dog trial handlers are people who either have plenty of natural Alphatude or who have studied and learned leadership so thoroughly that it now feels natural. The very great trainer Job Michael Evans was not a natural Alpha but at New Skete learned to become one according to his autobiographical stories; so there is hope for everyone in that regard.

As Shakespeare surely would have said had he written a play about dog training : "Some are born Alpha, some achieve Alpha, and some have the necessity to become Alpha thrust upon them by their pushy dog."


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site author Pam Green copyright 2003
created 4/03/06 revised 4/05/06, 12/01/2019
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