People ask me all the time, “How can I be a Pack Leader?” Well, there’s a simple answer to that: You have to act like one. But this is probably a bit too simple…
The answer to the first question is another question: “What does a Pack Leader do?”
And there are a lot of apparent answers to that question: A Pack Leader controls their dogs. They don’t have any behavior issues with their pack. They’re always in control.
That’s the what, but the question is “How?” And the answer to that is actually simple: In order to be a Pack Leader, you have to have the qualities of a Pack Leader.
I always say that life is simple and we make it complicated, and that’s nowhere more true than here. If you want to be a Pack Leader, you only need to have five qualities. Master these, and your dogs will follow you anywhere. And note that these qualities are not about what a Pack Leader does, but what a Pack Leader is.
What a Pack Leader does is earn the trust, respect, and love of their pack. But a Pack Leader does that by being the following…
- Be calm
Dogs do not follow unstable or erratic energy. In fact, they tend to either challenge it or run away from it. If you want your dogs to follow you, you have to learn how to always exhibit calm energy. Screaming and shouting and losing your temper does not make your dogs follow you. It makes them fear you or disrespect you.
My first TV show was called “Dog Whisperer with Cesar Millan” for a reason. It wasn’t “Dog Screamer” or “Dog Yeller.” That’s because there is a lot of power in silence. And you can also make a much more powerful and honest connection with your dogs through your quiet energy and body language. If you’re a parent, you’ve probably experienced this with your kids. A single quiet but stern look can bring them into line much faster and easier than a screaming tirade.
Kids, like dogs, understand the calm but firm approach. When you start yelling and screaming, you look kind of ridiculous. But if you say nothing and just focus your energy on them, kids and dogs alike will suddenly take you very seriously and see you as the leader.
- Be consistent
Dogs, being instinctual, are creatures of habit. They don’t like variety or surprises. They like to know what to expect and what is expected of them. This is why, when you establish rules, boundaries, and limitations, you have to enforce them all the time, every time. If you let the dog on the couch sometimes but not all the time, your dog is just going to get confused, and then is going to start challenging you to figure out what the limits really are. If you make a rule, then it’s the rule, once and always.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t break your own rules sometimes, but if you do, then you have to make it clear to your dog that you’re making an exception, and this is where ritual comes in.
Maybe you want to celebrate your dog’s birthday once a year, which means that she gets to sit on the couch and eat her dinner from a human plate. Not necessarily the greatest thing to do — because dogs don’t understand the concept of birthdays — but if you do something like this, you have to be sure to include enough exceptions that your dog understands that this breaking of the rule is something special.
So if you want to have a dog’s birthday once a year, you also have to be consistent on the signals that you’re breaking the rule. Make this the only time, for example, that you light candles in her bowl, sing a song to her, let her eat a particular special treat, and let her on the couch. It may take a couple of years, but eventually this annual inconsistency will become consistent as well — and your dog will come to understand that this is the special time that she gets to break the rules, as well as understand that she doesn’t get to break the rules otherwise.
- Be instinctual
Easy for dogs, hard for humans. The best way to be instinctual is to learn how to live in the moment. Let go of the past and future, and concentrate on the now. And this is one of the best ways you can learn to be a Pack Leader by observing and learning from your pack. Especially on the walk, watch how your dogs experience the world, then try to do likewise.
An inspirational speaker named Rick Beneteau says, “If you want to lead, first learn how to follow,” and he’s right. You can’t be instinctual until you learn to experience the world the way your dogs do, and you can’t do that without just living in the moment and watching them do their thing.
- Be respectful
Do not try to make your dog something she’s not, which is human. Respect your dog as an animal and as a dog, let her be a dog, and provide what her breed needs if necessary. Having the previous traits will naturally lead to this one, but this trait bears repeating here. Your dogs will not follow you if you don’t respect them. You respect them by fulfilling their needs as dogs, through exercise, discipline, and affection — in that order.
- Be confident
Confidence comes from two things: seeing results and letting go of fear. In order to let go of fear, you have to respect your dog by trusting him. A Pack Leader does not fear what their dog might do wrong — they hope for what their dog is going to do right, and this is how they see results. When you feel this certainty, you’ll reflect it in your energy, and your dog will react to it immediately. Although it’s last on the list, the most important trait of a Pack Leader is confidence.
As I said at the beginning, life is simple, we make it complicated. If you want to be the Pack Leader for your dogs, then you just have to act like one. Dogs know how to do that instinctively. Humans do too — once they let go of emotions and intellect.
Stay calm, and take charge!