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DOG / training & behavior

Establish Yourself as Your Dog's Leader

PetSmart trainer: How to (nicely) show your dog who’s boss


Act like an alpha dog

Dogs need a leader and in your “pack,” the leader is you. Whether you have a stubborn doggie who needs to be reminded of proper manners, or a nervous dog who needs reassurance, your pet will be happier, better behaved and relaxed knowing you’re in charge.

Here’s how to make it clear who’s boss:

  • Set consistent rules. Dogs should be expected to behave themselves — in fact, they’re naturally people-pleasers who want to be “good.” Your job is to establish rules and enforce them patiently, firmly and consistently, whether you’re at home or out.
  • Try to keep rules very simple and clear. For example, if you don’t want your dog to jump on you with muddy paws, teach them not to jump on you at all.
  • Teach etiquette. To establish who’s boss, your dog needs to know that before you do anything for them, they have to do something for you.
  • Let’s say it’s mealtime. Before you put down your dog’s food dish, have your pet perform a behavior they already know like “sit” or “lie down.” If your dog doesn’t comply, don’t force the issue; just set the dish out of reach and walk away. Then try again in a few minutes. Dogs are smart and will learn quickly that they have to do what you want in order to get what they want.
  • Encourage self-control. If you have an unruly dog, always reward behavior that requires your pet to be patient and disciplined, such as “down,” “wait” and “leave it.”
  • Never allow a stubborn or disobedient dog free access to fun stuff like food, toys and the backyard; those things should be contingent on good behavior, which will also make it clear to the dog that you’re in charge. (Of course, if your pup is well behaved, free access is just fine.)
  • Be generous. Your dog will work hard to please you, so hold up your end of the bargain by always being kind and providing lots of love, exercise and fun. There’s no such thing as cuddling or petting too much (unless he or she is misbehaving; in which case back off for a while or you’ll inadvertently reward the bad behavior).
  • And if your dog is routinely bored or naughty — chewing your shoes, strewing garbage or otherwise getting into trouble — it’s your job to provide an outlet for all of that pent-up energy. Go for walks and play fetch with your dog daily, and provide stimulating toys.

For information on PetSmart Accredited Training, please visit the PetSmart training page.