two wet dogs
Three people walking with a pack of dogs

By Cesar Millan

Imagine this scenario. You’re nine years old, sitting in school minding your own business when the teacher asks you to follow her. She takes you to the principal’s office but there’s no one there, and then she asks you to sit behind the desk.

“You’re in charge now,” she tells you, and then she leaves.

If you believe her, then pretty soon you’ll probably have made every class recess and every item in the cafeteria candy, and caused complete chaos in the school. It sounds ridiculous, but it’s something that humans do constantly.

Why Dogs Need Pack Leadership

When we don’t give our dogs strong pack leadership, we are essentially telling them, “You’re in charge now,” and this is actually something that most dogs don’t want to hear. Every dog knows which position it should have in the pack, and when we try to put them in a different position, it causes all kinds of problems.

Positions in the Dog Pack

There are three positions in the dog pack: front, middle, and rear. The dogs in front are the dominant ones and they are responsible for providing the pack with protection and direction. They lead the pack in the search for food and water, and they defend the pack against threats.

Dogs at the Back of the Pack

The dogs at the rear are there to alert the pack to danger. They will be the first ones to bark when they sense a threat. The dogs in the middle communicate between the front and rear of the pack. They are more dominant than the dogs in the back and less dominant than the dogs in the front.

Of course, the humans should always be in charge of the entire pack, but the way that a dog reacts to a lack of human leadership will tell you what position that dog should have in the pack.

Back of the pack dogs without leadership will become anxious or fearful. Remember, they are very sensitive to danger, so without a leader to protect them, they don’t know what to do. These are the dogs that bark at everything constantly to sound the alarm, but without anyone to provide protection they can be prone to things like submissive urination, hiding, or completely shutting down in terror. This can often progress to fearful aggression, which can lead to snapping at other animals and humans.

Dogs at the Middle of the Pack

Middle of the pack dogs without leadership can become obsessive or overexcited. They have no one providing direction so will test the limits. These dogs can also become easily bored. If your dog is getting into the trash, chewing up the sofa, or otherwise destroying the place when you’re not home, then you probably have a middle of the pack dog.

Dogs at the Front of the Pack

Front of the pack dogs without human leadership will become the leaders of the human pack. These are the dogs that become overprotective — for example, getting in between a couple when they try to kiss. They will invade people’s space because they have no boundaries. At the most extreme, front of the pack dogs can become aggressive when they sense that their humans are fearful, especially on the walk.

Why We Need to Be Pack Leaders

As I have said many times, we need to be the Pack Leader so that our dogs can find balance and happiness. But your dog’s natural pack position can be a huge help in knowing how to focus your leadership.

Back of the pack dogs can easily become anxious, so they require very calm and assertive leadership, while middle of the pack dogs will do best if you focus on giving them a job to do, whether it’s carrying a backpack, running an agility course, or so on. For front of the pack dogs especially, you need to make sure that you’ve established rules, boundaries, and limitations.

In all cases, remember my fulfillment formula. Every dog, no matter what its position in the pack, requires exercise, discipline, and affection — in that order. Knowing your dog’s position in the pack will help you to determine the best way to provide those things.

Stay calm and keep your dogs in their place!

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