Keys to a Fantastic Dog - Leadership
Dogs are social animals and have a strong pack drive. Canines will follow a good leader. If there
is no leadership, your dog may be insecure, develop neurotic behaviors, or try to take over as the
leader. A canine pack has a very well-defined pecking order, from the lead (the alpha) dog to the
last member of the pack (the omega).
It is imperative that all human members of the team demonstrate to the family dog that they
outrank him. The humans must establish leadership if any training program is to be truly suc-
Nobody wants to follow a dictator, a bully, or someone untrustworthy. Dog training should not
develop an “us against them” attitude where the owner wins and the dog loses. In the
T.R.E.A.T.S. System, we promote a team atmosphere between family and dog, where all the
players win, including the dog.
Leadership requires action. Dogs respond to action quicker than a barrage of words. Leadership
is about good management and cause and effect. Leaders have certain privileges that lower
members of the team do not. Leaders must act when lower members are not in compliance with
the team rules. Good team strategies are the same with kids, employees, or dogs.
Establishing team leadership over your family pet can be accomplished by using all the following
Leaders in a canine universe normally eat first. Help establish your rank by eating first. When
your dog sees all human family members eating before he does, he can understand his place in
the team. This is an effective way for small children to have rank over their dog.
We suggest that you prepare your dog’s food in your dog’s presence and leave it somewhere out
of reach like a counter top or refrigerator. The family should eat first and when completely
finished, place the dog’s food down for him.
Lead So They Follow
Do not feed your dog from the table! This encourages begging, but what is more important is
that it lowers your rank in the eyes of your dog. You are not a strong leader if your dog can easily
get food away from you.
Leaders sleep in the highest, warmest, and most comfortable places. We suggest during training
that your dog does not have access to your bed, couches, or chairs. By allowing him to be with
you or on your furniture, you are elevating his rank to equal or higher than yours.
Try to maintain a four on the floor mentality. All four of your dog’s paws need to stay on the
floor or ground. No jumping on furniture, or people, for that matter.
The ideal place for your dog to sleep would be in the room with you. He can stay in a dog bed
that is on the floor or in a crate. Social pack animals like to sleep together. Please maintain your
rank and control the sleeping environment.
Greetings, Arrivals, & Departures:
It should not be a big deal when you are coming or going. Keep your arrivals and departures low
key, without excitement. Your dog does not need to get too excited and create havoc just be-
cause you walk through the door. When you add excitement you pump adrenaline, and dogs on
adrenaline are reacting, not thinking. We want a thinker, not a reactor. When you come home,
please ignore your dog for three to five minutes or until he has fully calmed down and does not
care that you are home anymore.
Also plan to greet every member of your human team before you even acknowledge your dog.
This will help him understand his rank in the team. When company arrives they need to ignore
your dog for fifteen minutes or until the dog has fully calmed down. Never greet or
acknowledge a hyper or spastic dog! The dog will learn that a calm, quiet dog gets attention and
a hyper dog gets ignored.
Leaders may go anywhere they want, so it would help to restrict your dog’s access to some parts
of your home. Block off several rooms and or the stairway. Do not allow your dog total access to
16 The K-9 Coach’s Playbook
your home until he is mature and has proper toilet manners. Your rank says you may go any-
where you want; your dog’s rank says he can only go where the leader allows him to go.
Games are a way for your dog to develop skill and to place himself in the ranking of the team. Be
a team leader: initiate, win, and end all games. “Tug of war” is a game you should win and end,
and then take the tug toy away with you. This will help your dog to understand you are the
strongest and are in control of everything, including games.
All possessions, including toys, bones, food, and anything else you allow your dog to use are
really yours. Dogs need to know that you are in control of everything. We recommend that you
pick up the dog toys, bones, and other items at least once a day, then put them back down about
an hour later. Benevolent team leaders have what they want, when they want it, and will still
share when they choose.
You should never modify your behavior to suit your dog. Your dog needs to modify his behavior
to suit you! Leadership should not be about physical force, it is mostly about respect and mental
control. Here are some of the best ways to gain both:
Be clear and confident: One of the best ways to show confidence is to never second-guess what
you are doing with your dog. Don’t worry about what the dog wants, know what you want
If you are fuzzy-headed about what you expect all the time, your dog will get mixed signals about
who is running the place. One example is asking your dog if he wants to go outside, as opposed
to telling him it is time to go outside now. Be in charge and make things happen: your dog will
respect you for it. This is not a democracy!
Be consistent: When training, don’t ask your dog to do anything unless you are willing to help
him get it right. Be ready to coach your dog and assist him in completing any task you are
training. Otherwise your dog will soon learn that you are just blowing smoke and don’t mean
what you say. The more consistent you are, the more consistent your dog will be. The sloppier
Lead So They Follow 17
you are, the sloppier your dog will be. Expect and help your dog to become an A+ student and he
will become one!
Be Quiet: A good leader is always in control and doesn’t need to yell, scream, or hit. Our style of
training is about quietly taking over in your dog’s mind and helping your dog accomplish team
goals. This can be done by calmly coaching your dog to win.
Leaders have the right of way: If your dog chooses to lay down in your way, make him move.
Do not walk around him. You can squirt him away with the squirt bottle, move him away with a
guide cable or a leash, or baby step into him until he gets up. Don’t let him inconvenience you.
Privilege, not a right: Leaders have all the rights and others must earn them. Be a good leader
and do things on your terms, like petting, feeding, and walking your dog. If your dog pesters you
for anything, ignore or interrupt the request. For example: if your dog has nudged your arm in
order to get petted, do not pet him at this time. Send him away, give him a squirt or tell him to
“lay down.” A few minutes later you can call him over and pet him. You can love your dog as
much as you choose. Just do not let your dog tell you (the boss) when to do things.
One, two follow through, number three is a guarantee!
Dogs are learning twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Most importantly, they are
learning if you are the leader or not. Do you ever catch yourself asking your dog to do some-
thing, then you don’t follow through with your request? For instance, do you ever call your dog,
and if he doesn’t show up, you do nothing about it? This is a very common mistake, and it tells
your dog you do not follow through. We suggest the following strategy.
You ask what is expected, you tell him the second time, and the third time you assist him in
completing the task at hand. This should all take place in fifteen seconds or less! Consider this
the fifteen-second rule. You will be doing whatever I asked you to do within fifteen seconds,
even if I have to physically help you! (Great for kids too, by the way.)
If you need a tool, such as a leash or a guide cable attached to your dog so he can’t run from you,
making it take more than fifteen seconds, have him wear one! Be a good coach and make it
18 The K-9 Coach’s Playbook
Following this strategy makes you predictable. When you already know how something is going
to end, you can be confident and calm. This makes for great energy, and dogs can certainly read
If you get into the habit of the “One, two, follow through, number three’s a guarantee” coupled
with the fifteen-second rule, you will avoid getting annoyed and angry. You already know how
things are going to end. They are going to end the way you want them to.
This energy and training strategy makes for a very positive learning environment. Your dog can
focus on learning and paying attention; he also does not need to worry about an angry owner
who blocks learning.
Every interaction with your dog should tell him that you are in charge. This will help him learn
that you are kind and benevolent, but you are also predictable because you always follow
through in a short amount of time. This is not a negotiation, it is a promise!
So be a good team leader, manager, and coach by always setting yourself up to win. Have the
equipment you need to successfully coach your dog. When you have the proper equipment, you
are confident and your dog knows it. When you don’t have the right tools and you’re not confi-
dent, your dog knows that, too!
Example one: Your dog likes to pick up socks and get you involved in a game of “catch me if you
can.” He learns to run and hide under the dining room table. He knows that it will take you some
time to get him. Generally, most owners will chase the puppy, raise their voices, and shout
commands at the puppy, all of which the puppy ignores. It is obvious that the owner is not in
control, and definitely not a good leader, manager, or coach.
Learn to set yourself up to win. Use gates to control access. Have your puppy on a ten- foot guide
cable or leash. Now, when your puppy grabs a sock, he has limited places to go and you can step
on the cable and interrupt his behavior. You are in control of every situation, and that is what a
leader does--quickly and quietly takes control of every situation.
Example two: When it’s time for your dog to go to his kennel, you ask him once to kennel up,
you tell him a second time, but the third time you say it, you assist him into the kennel. Just
calmly help make it happen.