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Introduction to Leadership

<--Applied Behavior Analysis

Leadership exercises are the most overlooked and important prerequisites to solving and preventing virtually every canine behavior problem and disobedience issue that exists. Not understanding or practicing the concepts found in this section, will almost guarantee that you will not achieve the type of success you desire with your dog.  Not only do these exercises communicate to your dog your intentions of leading the relationship in a way that they understand, but the activities also help control many of the primary factors needed to motivate your dog, thus effectively establishing operations. This layer represents the heart of the training foundation.

These leadership exercises are modeled directly after the behaviors exhibited by canine "leaders," and can be observed whenever canines form successful social groups. Wild and captive wolves, domestic dogs within a home, and domestic dogs that form feral packs, all exhibit these similar behaviors.

Provide for the Dog

Controlling limited resources and making decisions for a social group as a whole, are keystone characteristics of leadership.  A successful and benevolent leader will provide security to the pack, with the least amount of conflict.

Using a system that focuses on "providing" has proven to be hugely successful with everything from raising a puppy, helping problematic shelter dogs, and getting on the right track with common aggression problems.

A dog that is "provided for" will have minimal worries in life and more naturally follow the guidance of the leader that provides those needs for him.

Do Not Entitle Dogs

A dog that is "entitled to" his basic needs will be difficult to motivate.  From a scientific perspective, the owner/trainer will have less ability to establish operations which is fundamental to applying Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA).

From an ethology perspective, "entitled" dogs do not get the chance to undoubtedly experience dominance (control of resources) and leadership (decision making for the group) from a human. At the very least, many dogs get mixed signals which can lead to conflict and problem behaviors due to nothing other than confusion.

An entitled dog will be prone to virtually every behavior problem that matches the tendency of his natural temperament type if left without the ability for us to motivate, guide, and take a load of worry off the dog's chest.

If a dog's basic needs are not met, they are considered "unprovided" for, which will leave the dog prone to other behavior problems.

A dog that is considered "unprovided for," will also be prone to varying types of behavior as well as health problems.  It is important that once we decide to provide for our dogs, we do not accidentally over-control their needs.

A dog has many basic needs, but the ones we strive to control that help everything else fall into place are affection, work/play, food, resting places, and access to outside for potty, activity, and travel.

Here are some guidelines to go by:

Affection Don’ts

1. Do not reward bossy, soliciting with affection. This includes mouthing, jumping, pawing, leaning, etc. To do this, undermines the nature of your desired relationship and diminishes the value of your most abundant reward.

2. Do not give affection to a dog that does not desire it from you. Take your time to establish a bond through interactive activities – such as walks, treat training, play, etc. If a dog does not respond to your open palms and invitations with a low tail wag and engagement, do not force affection. To do so, makes you the one wanting acceptance and not the other way around. You will become the asker and not the controller of the relationship. Set the pace correctly. To give affection prematurely to a dog of a more difficult personality type, may also cause him to bite from fear, or as a correction for stepping over the boundaries of the undeveloped social relationship. Sometimes a bite may result from a combination of both reasons.

3. The (about) 10 second rule – This is not set in stone, but definitely do not give affection for longer than short spurts. To do so decreases the value of the petting, potentially shifting you to the “needier” position, and may fuel other behavioral problems such as separation anxiety, if the dog becomes addicted to it.

4. Don’t be “actively submissive”. Controlling the affection does not mean you should chase a dog to pet him or crawl up to a resting dog to pet him. In our world, it seems sweet, but unfortunately in their world, it communicates begging/weakness and with some dogs will result in a bite for disturbing their peace. If you are not getting the impression that a dog will appreciate the affection, do not smother your dog with it.

5. Do not assertively kiss dogs. Many dogs tolerate it and others will bite you for the miscommunication it will cause (we are generally bending over the top of the dog and looking straight into the dog's eyes, which can make a dog feel uncomfortable).  Judging by body language, few really enjoy it, so it is better to set dogs up for success by not forcing this upon them. Even minor face bites draw a lot of negative attention to a dog that may have never otherwise had a serious bite.

6. Hugging is never a good choice for showing affection to a dog. The equivalent in dog body language is a very assertive gesture. It may be tolerated by most dogs but, like kissing, will be sure to set some confused dogs up for failure.

Affection Do’s

1. Give affection from the heart and give it in short meaningful spurts. This becomes a powerful reward for dogs, that have learned to appreciate it and want it. Most affection should be reserved for when a dog responds to our requests. That could be something as simple as asking the dog to come a couple feet toward you.

2. Give affection during greetings. Doesn’t matter who initiates it here. If you are both happy to see each other, this is normal! After the initial greeting, set the pace as the initiator during your time together. If you desire a calmer greeting from your dog, be calmer yourself during the greeting.

3. It’s OK to receive kisses. If you are on the dog’s level you may turn your head and allow dogs to lick your face, if you have a correctly established relationship. This is a respectful way for a dog to beg for affection or attention.

4. A tummy rub for a dog that rolls and shows his belly to you with a wagging tail is different from crawling to a resting dog and asking him to “actively submit” and be pet. Brief tummy rubs given to a begging dog, should not harm a proper relationship, especially if you call him over to receive it.

Play Time

Pick the game, stay in charge of the game. Always make sure you have a safe advantage.

With tug games – Have a long leash/rope attached so you can safely get it back. If you do not have a rope attached to the toy, have a leash/long line attached to the dog and have two of the same tug toys. Never let the dog go to the ground and chew up the toy. When the dog drops the tug, use the attached leash to bring it back to you quickly, or pull the dog away from the toy with the leash attached to the dog, or bring attention back to yourself with the other toy. Stay in control or end the game. Never let go of the dog’s leash or the leash attached to the toy in early phases of training. While you stay in control of the game, it is important to also let your dog "win". You can then, encourage your dog back towards you with the tug, by using the leash/long line. Eventually, your dog should come back automatically, because he'll learn that the game is most fun, when you're playing together.

With fetch games – If the dog does not bring the ball back, you can use two balls, so you always have the one that is more fun. Consider playing with the dog on a light line so that if the dog tries to run away with a toy, you can calmly encourage him back in and continue the game. Never chase a dog with a ball or any toy. It is best for you to control the games by having the dog return things to you. 

Note: you can create a combination of these two games by throwing a toy and then playing tug when the dog returns it.

With all games, make it clear that the toys are yours by bringing the toy to the dog from your own stash and ending the game by putting the toy back in your stash. Never allow a dog to have a “toy box” or stash of toys in the human’s domain. The humans will own the toys and bring the toys to the dog.

With either type of game, you can teach the release word “out” by saying the word as the dog naturally drops the toy in anticipation of the other similar toy. With dogs that start to understand the connection, you can hold a tug toy very still and make the game not fun, while saying “out”. If the dog releases the toy you can make the game fun again by making it lively and saying “OK” to start the game back up. The last time the dog does “out” and you end the game it is good to reward the dog with a favorite treat to end things on a positive note. Be sure to praise the dog for obeying this, just like all other taught commands.

If there are toys within reach of the dog before or after you have played, do not allow the dog to engage with the toy or initiate a game with you. Keep the dog on a leash during early training and calmly repeat “leave it” and gently restrain the dog (by keeping hold of the leash) from the toy until the dog gives it up. Say “good boy/girl” and resume other activity. If the dog grabs a toy before you can prevent it (and the dog does not yet respond to an “out” command), allow the dog to hold the toy but pull the dog away with the leash, the moment the dog drops the toy. You may initiate a game (if the dog is not actively pulling toward the toy) by pointing to a toy and saying “OK” as long as the dog can be encouraged to bring the toy to you for interactive play by your rules.

In shelter situations, it is important for the human to remain detached and act uninterested in the toys that are in the dog’s domain (kennel). It is good not to give the dog the experience of competing with a human in a realm where they have the advantage. If toys must be handled, it is best to do it when the dog is not in the kennel. When adopted to a family, these rules would apply to toys given to a dog in their home kennel or toys that are left to occupy a dog when left alone. Toys left outside of a kennel to occupy a dog when alone, should be safely picked up once the owners are home.

Resting Places

Sharing furniture and beds is never a good idea for any dog prone to behavioral problems! 

Resting places ARE important to dogs and ARE considered valuable resources to canines in general.  A little bit of research will show that feral and stray dogs will compete over valuable shade in some areas of the world, and comfortable protection from the elements in other areas.

To allow a dog to feel that a spot on the human bed or couch is HIS, can lead to serious conflict when that dog matures and suddenly finds himself competing for that spot with the visiting child or spouse who comes home from work.

Bites involving a conflict over a resting place is one of the most common causes of bites and even fatal attacks directed at family members.  It is advised for people to provide a comfortable resting place that will free family dogs from any worry or conflict with humans. The worst bites are usually the first bites, which are unexpected. When in the human’s domain, the dog should be encouraged to use resting places, uninteresting to humans (such as dog beds).

Keep a leash on the dog to immediately lead him off furniture in a calm “matter of fact” kind of way. As you lead the dog off the furniture calmly say “off”. When the dog is off, be sure to praise!

If a dog is left unsupervised near furniture, discourage the dog from making a habit of resting on the furniture by placing uncomfortable material, such as aluminum foil, over all areas of the furniture that a human isn’t currently resting on. Only when the dog makes a habit of using the proper resting places on the floor, would you leave unsupervised furniture bare. This would be at least one month after the dog’s last attempt to rest on human furniture.

Encourage dogs to use their own resting areas. The ideal resting areas are on the floor and not in the way of walking traffic. Here, the dog can sleep in peace and chew on treats in peace. Do not allow anyone to harass the dog or crawl up to the resting place with him/her. It will always be a secure, comfortable, and safe place for the dog.

Food and Chews

When in the human’s domain (outside of the enclosed kennel), proper rules should be in place to avoid conflict with food and to communicate the correct relationship. In a rescue environment, this would apply to a dog the moment they are removed from their cages/kennels.

1. As a rule, there is no reason to remove a food item from a dog, once in their possession, other than for emergency reasons. Ignore and allow a dog to enjoy eating whenever possible. This will help build trust and decrease defensiveness around food, when around humans. Dogs generally follow this rule with each other and with us. We also follow this rule with other humans. We should follow this rule with dogs – it makes sense to them, to us, and therefore no reason to not stick to it.

2. When in our domain, do not leave food items around that the dog is not actively eating. This includes food bowls, bones, and other chew items. Carefully pick these up, when the dog has obviously lost interest. If the dog is present and watching, do this safely and throw the dog a favorite treat as you are taking possession of the ignored food or chew. If a dog is a suspected resource guarder or has an unknown history, do not attempt to pick up any food items without the assistance of a second person to hold the leash or pick up the food. Always toss a treat as you do this.

3. Offer chews as needed and meals on a schedule. When shelter dogs are alone in their own kennel, we should remain disinterested in the food, even when the dog has lost interest. When adopted dogs are alone in a house, while family members are at work, etc food items and chews may stay down. Once humans and dogs are reunited in the same human domain, food control returns to the humans.

4. Food rules are expanded in multiple dog situations. Here, the humans should remain in absolute control of food and chews. This means that you should not allow dogs to finish each other’s food items, unless you obtain possession first and then give the item to the other dog. If this cannot be done reliably and safely, with the dogs’ current level of obedience, it can be done by simply separating the dogs during meals and snack times. All food items should be channeled through you to avoid conflicts between dogs. Dogs that are overly assertive in “bugging” another dog while he is eating, should be directed away from the eating dog or separated during future meals. It is our job as leader to make all dogs feel comfortable during meals and keep order.

Outside Access

Who is deciding when it is time to go for a walk? Who is deciding when it is time to stop, go left, or go right? Do we open every door the dog scratches at or is the dog waiting for us to call him to the door? Who is the initiator? Who is the follower? If we want our intentions to be clear to the dog, it is important to be consistent, full-time. The position of being your dog's leader is something that can be plugged into all situations and will provide the way to more natural obedience.

Establishing the relationship with the dog, is always going to be the first obvious interactive step to working with a dog. It paves the way for successful training to come. But, even before we start the hands on training, these are some of the major problems that are immediately prevented or managed better with appropriate leadership:

1. Dog bites that occur from kissing them on the face

2. Bites that occur from petting a dog that does not want it at the time

3. Bites that occur from disturbing a sleeping a dog

4. Bites that occur when dogs “bully” the owner for attention

5. Bites that occur when competing for a space on the bed or furniture

6. Bites that occur when dogs are “guarding” their owner’s lap

7. Bites that occur from guarding toys

8. Bites from guarding bones

9. Bites from trying to “prove” you can take away a dog bowl

10. Bites from trying to wrestle away toys

11. Fights between dogs over loose toys, bones, food bowls, etc

12. And much more problems related to anxiety, housebreaking, and disobedience!

Here is a chart that you can use as a reference to the potential consequences of dogs raised as provided, entitled, and unprovided:

Basic Need

(Owner fulfills
at own initiative
and schedule)

(Dog fulfills
due to free access
and by soliciting)

(No predictable
fulfillment of
basic needs)


Will be effective for building a solid relationship, training, and prevention of behavior problems.Will devalue affection as a reward in training and result in demanding behavior, increased risk of separation anxiety, overprotective of owner, aggression when "not in the mood" to be pet, aggression when reprimanded by owner, and stubbornness in complying with commandsCan lead to detachment from owner, lack of motivation and roaming.


Will be effective for building a solid relationship, training, and prevention of behavior problems.Will devalue toys/play as rewards in training, and can lead to demanding behavior, possessiveness, "stealing" human belongings, guarding of areas where toys are kept, and stubbornness in response to commands.Can lead to destructive behavior, resource guarding of objects, pestering geriatric or unwilling dogs, chasing cats, own tail, cars, or anything inappropriate, leash biting, mouthing, and many other potential inappropriate outlets.


Will be effective for building a solid relationship, training, and prevention of behavior problems.Can lead to resource guarding of food and surrounding area, picky eating, obesity, destructive chewing, and will devalue treats as training rewards.Can lead to destructive chewing, roaming, malnutrition, and resource guarding.

Resting Places

Will be effective for building a solid relationship, training, and prevention of behavior problems.Can lead to marking behavior, increased risk of separation anxiety, aggressive behavior toward human "competitors" that go near resting places, aggression toward humans that go on resting place, and aggression toward humans that try to remove dog from resting place.Can lead to marking behavior, resource guarding, and aggressive behavior.

Outdoor Access

Will be effective for building a solid relationship, training, and prevention of behavior problems.Can lead to demanding behavior, accidents when no one is home, marking behavior, and stubbornness in response to commands.Can lead to marking behavior, accidents when owner is home, and accidents when no one is home.

Next, we will learn about Habitation

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