|Copyright © 2005
May only be used or reprinted with the authors consent.
On the weekend 27-28 sept.
2003 I spent some of the
most exciting and instructive days, I have ever had.
It was all about leadership dogs/human. Our instuctor was Gitte Seabourne,
a very qualified and exciting person. She is a professional sheepsherder,
and works with her dogs, 3 border collies.
She started by telling us, that the foundation of which to build a
companionship with our dogs, is based on respect. Respect can not be demanded, but only earned.
The dogs will only respect you as their leader, if you prove
Dogs communicate through signals. Some so faint, they are sometimes hard
for the human eye to catch. But they are there. The dogs are masters in
catching the signals. And it is up to you, if you want to be your
dog’s leader, to learn, observe and react to your dog’s signals,
however faint. He has no other way of talking to you.
Start by learning the different signals. Learn their meaning and learn to
see them. Get to know your dog, observe if he sends strong or less
obvious signals. And remember, this is a lifelong process. The dog will
forever test your leadership. Over and over again. Just like humans have
presidential elections every once in a while, where new leaders are
elected and we can discard of those, we think not good enough, the dog
will test you for your ability to be a good leader over and over, and if
you are found unworthy, the dog will take over, and put itself in the
drivers-seat so to speak. The dog will only accept you as leader, as
long as you are worthy.
Dogs try to avoid conflicts. They don’t want the fight.
These are submissive signals, conflict solving – “I don’t want to
fight with you”.
Looking away – “let’s be friends” -
“let’s not start a war”
Blinking the eyes
Chewing sounds – smacking of lips
Licking around the mouth
Turning head away
Yawning – this is also relaxing and stress-avoiding
Give space – walk in a curve
Go between – a very strong signal, only high ranking animals with great
authority go between.
Playbow (bending down in front legs, like stretching)
Turning side of body or back to “intruder”
Lowering of ears
Lowering of tail
When you want to be leader for your dog, look at him right now. What is
normal in your home at this moment?
Who greets guests first when they come, you or the dog? Who walks
first out of the door when you want to go for a walk, you or your dog? Who jumps first into the car when you take a ride, you or
your dog? And who is first out of the car? Who go first through the door
when you go from one room to another, you or your dog? Does your dog
sleep with you in your bed, and who gets in it first? Sitting in the
sofa, and your dog nudges your arm for a pat, do you pat him at once?
And does the dog jump up on the sofa before you?
If you can answer “yes” to one or more of these questions, then be
sure, your dog thinks himself in full control of your house and family.
Your dog does not find you a competent leader.
But it is deeply buried in all dogs, big or small, that in order
for the pack (your family) to survive, there must be a strong leader,
and if nobody else is doing the job, then he will do it, to the best of
his abilities. But he
doesn’t want the responsibility. The world today is so complicated and
confusing, he cannot solve all problems. He doesn’t want the job, but
nobody else is doing it, and it must be done. It’s a matter of
From now on, send your dog signals that you are leader and in charge.
Alpha-signals. Make sure, your dog is always behind you. When you go for
a walk, when you go to another room, when you get into the car and out
Start by taking a walk. When putting on the leash, if the dog is very
excited, ignore him, turn your side to him, look away. When he calms
down, try again to put on the leash. Ignore again if he is excited. Try
to put on leash again. If he is excited again, place leash on table,
turn away from dog. Take leash again when he is calm, and eventually you
can put leash on dog without a lot of stress. Ignore all bad behaviour.
DO NOT scold or yell at dog. Turn away instead.
Now the leash is on dog, and you go towards the door. Block the way of
the dog physically with your body, so he cannot pass and get in front of
you. Put a leg out, and block his way. Go through the door first. If the
dog tries to go first, cut him off, and block his way with your leg.
Start walking, where is the dog? If he is out in full length of the leash,
stand still. Take a few steps backwards, until the dog is behind you.
Start walking again. If the dog’s nose goes in front of your knee,
stop, and block his way again. Maybe take a few steps backwards to get
him behind you. On the first trip, you will not get very far. Maybe only
a few meters. But soon it
will be clear to your dog that he is not getting anywhere unless he lets
you lead, and he is behind.
Timing is essential. Do not wait until the dog is out in full length of
the line before you stop and bring him back. That way you are only
teaching him to come back when he is out in full length of the leash. He
must be blocked at the right moment, as soon as the nose goes passed
Be very consequent. If he still does it for the fiftieth time, correct
him for the fiftieth time. Consequence and timing. Never never never
jerk the line. If you do that, you can start all over. Imagine the leash
is a rubber band and go on from there.
“Old fashioned” obedience is based on teaching the dog things, that
are not natural for him. Heel,
sit, lie down and so on. It takes some time for the dog to understand
what you want it to do, but it can be done.
Leadership is all about training your dog to be a enjoyable companion,
using signals, the dog was born to understand.
We must look at the way a pack of wolves communicate with one another in
order to understand the complexity of doggy-communication. The hunt must
succeed in order for the pack to survive, we must follow our leader.
All initiative comes from the leader. No, our dogs are no longer wolves,
but they still have all the same instincts, and ways of percieving the
world. All dogs want to have a strong leader to guide them. And if no
such is available, they take the role of leader on themselves.
Continue sending alpha-signals at home, everywhere, all the time. Your
dog will understand you immediately! He was born to understand.
Some of the things you can do to send alpha signals are:
Take all responsibility
Provide food – eat first
Keep dog behind you, always make him come last in/out
Ignore all unwanted behaviour
Take dogs favourite spot for yourself
I started using alpha-signals the same evening, as Gitte instructed us,
and I could see a change in my dogs, 2 girls, within 5 minutes!
“Who are you, and what have you done to our sweet Mom???!!
But we can see you are a strong leader, and we will follow you!!”
Food is an extremely strong signal. Who ever can provide food, is leader.
And the leader has first right to all food. It doesn’t matter when the
dog eats, as long it is made clear, that the alpha has taken what it
wants, and permission is given for the dog to eat. When feeding your
dog, hide a biscuit or something in your hand, take the food bowl, and
show the dog that your are taking some food from it’s bowl and eating
it (the biscuit in your hand). Now let the dog have it’s food. The dog
will see it as leftovers from the alpha. Remove bowl after about 10
minutes. Never have food available for the dog always. Whoever can
provide food, is leader.
The leader takes all initiative. If your dog takes initiative, ignore it.
Do not let the dog make any decisions. One thing, I think we all have
tried at some time or another, is nudging. I have often sat on my sofa,
and Mini has nudged my arm. She has put her nose under my elbow and
jerked her head to get me to pat her. And what have I done?? Yes, every
time, I have started patting her! What
she was really telling me, was, “if I am the boss here, then pat me
now! I have the initiative”. Remember, the dog will test your
Yesterday she did it again. Nudged my arm for me to pat her. I turned my
side to her. She nudged again. Now I turned my back to her. Then she lay
her head down again. And then
I turned back and patted her. She got the message. The initiative was
mine, not hers, I will pat her when I want to, not when she wants to.
When your dog sends you conflict solving signals, respect it. The dog
needs some space around it. When a dog turns its head away, it is trying
to tell you, that it feels threatened and does not want the conflict.
Respect that, and turn away yourself. Give the dog his space. Do not go
over to a dog to talk with it, take the initiative and call the dog over
to you, send signals to invite him in, and then talk to him.
Ignore an overeager dog, trying hard to get your attention. If the dog is
jumping up and down you, turn your back. When the dog has calmed down,
turn back, and “invite” the dog in, using conflict solving signals.
Blink your eyes, lick your lips, smack your lips, turn head slightly.
All this tells the dog it is OK to move in now.
The initiative has been yours, not his. When a pack of dogs or
wolves return from a hunt, the alpha will walk into the pack without
glancing left or right. He ignores all. He carries his head and tail
high, and members of the pack only come to him when invited. It is his
right. Not one member
of the pack has any doubt of who is in charge and who is the leader.
Ignore your dog when you come home from work. Alphas ignore the pack.
Wait several minutes before you invite him in for contact.
Do the same, if you go from one room to another in the house. The
dog should only get contact, when invited in.
It is OK to let the dog
sleep in your bed, when he is invited. Never let the dog get in
the bed first, be sure he does not come before you let him. A pack of
dogs/wolves sleep together, but the leader decides who gets to sleep
Does your dog ever lie in the middle of the doorway, where it knows you
will be coming through? Do you ever step over him, or go around him?
What do you think he is telling you?? Exactly! “I am boss here, you
must go around in order to go past me!” Mini often lies just where
she knows I will go, all the time. I mean, she used to. No more. When I
get to where she is lying, in the middle of the doorway, I look her
directly in the eyes, turn my front
towards her, and that is enough to get her to move. If you have a
more difficult case than Mini, put your toes under the dog, and nudge/push
him away. It is your right as leader to go everywhere without
Just like there are conflict solving signals, there are also signals for
confrontation and threat. These are:
Standing bent over
Front turned towards dog
Stepping in front of
Starring – Direct glance
Snarling - growling
(this is a warning)
Raised hair on back
Short corners of the mouth
If a dog uses these signals excessively, and several at a time, it
indicates that the dog is insecure. Barking, jumping up and down,
raising hair on back, showing teeth all at the same time, means the dog
is in over his head, and he is calling (the barking) for his pack to
come and help him. The guarddog barking insanely and jumping all around
is not as dangerous as the guarddog, who is quiet. Be aware of him.
Notice how many of the signals that are confrontational for dogs, are the
exact opposite for humans. How do 2 humans greet one another? Face to
face (front to front), showing their teeth (smiling), direct eye contact,
getting close (hugging). All these things are signs of great threat to a
We can use many of the confrontational signals to let our dogs know if
their behaviour is unwanted.
Gitte had us working in the field, letting strange dogs meet one another.
A few of them started growling, when a strange dog approached. At once
the handler placed him/herself sideways between the dogs, blocking their
view. The strange dog
walked in a larger bow (giving space -
the dog. The handler was all the way standing sideways between the two
dogs, blocking the view.
I had a problem with one of my girls, she growled at another bitch, who
was passing. At once I stood in between the two, sideways, blocking
their view. It was not enough, Dodo kept on growling. Now I turned my
front towards her. Still quiet growling. I now bent over her, giving a
low grumble. At once she was quiet, that was enough. She turned her head
away and licked her mouth. That was her signal that she had understood
my message, and she had backed off. At once I turned away and backed off.
The other bitch could pass, now with no further notice from Dodo.
Signals should be enhanced, step by step. If a soft signal is not enough,
build up the signals, and use a stronger.
Remember, dogs live in the moment. They have no feeling of time. Reward
must come immediately, not even 1 second too late. Do not bear a grudge
against your dog, he doesn’t know what it is. Start again if he does
something wrong. Learn his language, he can’t learn yours.
Do not accept an “almost” obedient dog. If you ask your dog to do
something, do not accept, that he only does it half. This will only
teach him, that he doesn’t have to do what you want him to do. But on
the other hand, do not ask him to do something, which is not possible
for him. Do not demand more, than he is capable of. Do not present him
with problems, he cannot solve.
If your dog has done something good, be aware of how you reward him. If
you bend down and pat him on the farthest side of his body, you are
actually leaning over him, and this is threatening to him. And why
“punish” him for a good deed? Instead, go down in your knees, and
pat him on the side of his body, that is closest to you. Turn your head
slightly away, tell him he is a good boy.
When guests arrive, how does your dog react? Does he bark like crazy? And
how do you react? Do you shout at him, and tell him to shut up?
What is really happening in this situation? The dog gives alarm, a threat
is nearing the home, he signals that by barking. This is OK. It is his
job to help protect the pack (the family) by alerting the alpha, some
one is coming!. When you shout at him, what are you telling him???
Bark louder, you are right, there is a threat to our pack!! The
dog barks louder. You yell at him even louder: SHUT UP you stupid dog!!!
What does the dog hear?? Bark louder, the threat is very near now!!
Your anger and excitement tells the dog the situation is very
threatening. The dog feels, that you are no longer in control of the
situation, and he puts himself in charge now. He is now the leader and
has the responsibility. So
now he barks like crazy to protect HIS pack, and make the intruder go
How should this situation be handled?
It is OK for the dog to react when someone is nearing. He must help
protect the house, the territory. But when he has given the alarm, then
relieve him of any further responsibility. From now on, you are in
charge. Signal him by turning your side towards him and let him know,
you are now in charge. If the side is not enough, turn your front
towards him and step forward in his direction, look him in the eyes. You
are in charge, and he no longer has any responsibility for the
“threat” arriving to the house. He can calm down. Your dog should
not receive your guests, do it yourself, and then bring them in to the
dog. It is you, and not your dig, who decides what people and animals
are safe to greet.
Dogs home alone are some times a problem. They destroy everything within
reach. Many people have tried to come home to a house, where all
furniture is completely chewed to small pieces. Some punish the dog,
which is completely useless. You cannot punish a dog for something done
earlier. He has no way of understanding it.
Some think the dog is bored. This is not the case.
is really happening? Why is the dog so frustrated?
If the family is asked, they almost always have no idea of doggy
language, and dominant/submissive signals. This is a family without
leadership, and therefore the dog has placed himself as leader, as a
normal dog does.
is going on in this dogs mind? The family seems very unorganised, and
the dog has put himself in an alpha position, he is in charge of this
pack. He has the responsibility to provide food and security. What then
happens in the morning, when the family goes away for work? The dog is
left behind!! This dog sees himself as the alpha, and now he is
completely without any way to provide security for his pack. He gets
greatly frustrated, and tries everything to get to them. He rips
everything in sight to threads.
this dog will not have any effect. Sending him alpha-signals, making him
aware of his place within the family as a submissive member, will
relieve him of his responsibility, and make him calm down. In the wild,
when the grown wolves/dogs go hunting, the young pups wait calmly at
home for their return, this is normal behaviour.
dog, who steals food from the table, does so, because he thinks he has
the right to do so. Do not
give him the opportunity. Whoever can provide food, is leader. Never
leave the dogs feeding nowl with leftovers from his meal on the floor.
Remove all food after he has eaten. Always.
are some rules to live by, if you want to be a good leader for your dog:
Get to know your dog. Learn his signals and think like a dog.
Learn to use the signals in this article. He will understand.
Get to know the strong and weaker sides of you dog.
Never ask more of him, than he can give. If your dog trusts you
to never demand more than he can give, he will do anything you ask of
him, for you, and for himself.
Dogs have a need to develop and mature, and to have their
Never let your dog be alone in a situation, he cannot handle.
Give him time to adjust to new things and learning.
Learn your dog’s needs for exercise and motivation. Know the
characteristics of the
Never bear a grudge, The dog does not know what it is, and will
Dogs live in the moment, they have no perception of time. Only
praise at the moment, he is doing something right, and scold in the same
second, he is doing something wrong. Never 2 seconds later.
Be consequent. Always, always always.
don’t have any more time now, Mini is nudging me and wants me to give
her a pat, so I must go and do so!!!