Step Up Or Step Aside

This is something that bugs me still. Some folks still believe their dogs sit around toiling and thinking about how they can overrule your lead. They think every command ignored is an act of disobedience and defiance and they think if the dog goes out the door before them, pulls on the leash, eats before them or sits on the same level as they do that they’re being dominant.

Holy crap how exhausting is your dog ownership experience?!

I don’t know if you’ve always thought this or if you’ve been told this by so many trainers that you’re starting to believe it, but I’ve come here today to give you an alternative way of looking at things. Some real life examples using my own pack as well as some thoughts for you to ponder about your little rebel.

First off… walking in front of me doesn’t make my dog dominant. I can lead the walk just fine from the middle or even the pack of the pack. Here’s a vlog I did to prove that.

If you’ve ever watched a documentary on wolfs or any kind of wild pack animals, you’ve likely seen some very interesting pack behaviour between dominant and submissive members. One thing I want you to understand is when moving through space or hunting the alpha is RARELY the one out front. In fact, if the whole pack takes chase after a prey animal, it would make no evolutionary sense for the Pack Leader to correct the faster members of the pack for getting in front of him to get the animal first because “he’s the pack leader”. This type of contrived leadership is something only the human world would come up with. It’s just not worth the Pack Leaders time to correct every dog for getting in front of him… it would be an exhausting day.

Another important factor that you might have missed in the above video is this: if I’m walking along with my dogs and they are both a few yards in front of me and I stop and subsequently they stop, who’s leading? Let’s say I turn the other direction and they turn and follow me, but because my pace is faster they move past me… who’s leading? If they’re moving where I want to move and stopping when I stop… who’s really leading that walk?


Consider for a moment, an alternative to your dog blowing off your commands. Consider, you’ve never taken the time to teach him what those words mean. I don’t mean what you believe to be enough time, but instead, what your dog considers “enough time”. My rule I give my clients is you’re not allow to correct for disobedience unless you’ve seen 100 glaring examples of obedience before that. If within that 100 times your dog doesn’t do it, you’re to teach them again.

Step Up Or Step Aside

I don’t come from the camp that believes all dogs need a “pack leader” or to be dominated. I do however believe that this isn’t our dogs natural world and they need to be shown and taught how to navigate it. That’s the core of obedience training is to give our dogs a set of skills to follow so they can remain safe and we can effectively communicate what we want from them. But! Let me end with a little bit about me!

If I’m in a group of friends, I’m nowhere near the “dominant” or “the pack leader”. I am a middle of the pack dude and I like going with the flow. I learned early in life that things work out best for those who make the best out of how things work out. However, I absolutely hate uncertainty. I might be a middle of the pack guy, but I’m a pretty confident guy. I’m happy to follow… confidence and dominance are not the same thing, but if you’re uncertain about things, I’m not going to follow your lead at all. The best example is how I behave around a group of people who are indecisive. Put me around 5 people who don’t know where to go for dinner or who can’t agree on something and watch how frustrated I get and how quickly I’ll take control. This has nothing to do with me being “dominant” or desiring to be the leader of the pack, but if someone doesn’t want to step up and asume that leadership position, it creates unease in me and I’ll gladly take the role on myself. I don’t want to, but I will.

I truly believe most dogs are like this. In my experience in the way I approach dog training I’ve seen more dogs who at the start of training were labeled “dominant” fall in line and be happy to follow the guidance of their humans after they start making sense and acting more confidently. I think most dogs don’t desire to be leaders in our world, even the confident dogs would rather just go with the flow. But how do you go with the flow if the flow won’t go!

If you don’t want to step up and assume the role of teacher and leader than your dog will happily because it likely causes them some unease that the group lacks one. But, if you’re already doing your job and teaching your dog, he’s likely already accepted that you want the spot and probably doesn’t want to fight you for it either. Disobedience and “dominant” behaviour might simply be the dog responding to you not showing appropriate respect towards him. I’m a fairly laid back dude and I follow orders well. I’d like to consider myself confident and I’ll even do a small favor for you like grab you a drink from the fridge if I’m up. But try and be dominant over me and not only will I likely laugh at you, you’ll loose my respect pretty fast. You never needed the attitude, all you need was to say please. You see in order for you to be dominant or me, I must first accept your dominance. In order for you to lead me, I must first accept your leadership and neither of the two will work without my consent.

What’s my solution?

Focus on being a teacher, not a leader. See, everybody in school had that one teacher that they liked. It might have even been a subject they hated, but they liked the teacher. I got 50’s every year in history, but I liked the teacher and enjoyed the class (I was just to lazy to do the projects). Mr. Zander was a great teacher, and by default a good leader. I also remember a gym teacher at my school who was a great leader but a piss-poor teacher.

Your dog needs to understand where he stands in our world, what is expected of him and what the rules are because they aren’t the same as his world. So focus on teaching him!

In the words of Dick Russell: “If he gets it wrong, don’t beat him up… teach him again. Then, you’ll have a trained dog”.

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  1. Although I found her tone most condescending and irritating at time, I have to credit Jean Donaldson’s “The Culture Clash” with helping me see some of a dog’s alleged disobedient actions for what they really are. 🙂 The idea that a dog may genuinely NOT UNDERSTAND what we are asking is so simple and yet so overlooked by many people. It’s easy for ppl to assume also that if a dog knows “sit,” for example, all nice in your house, he should be able to automatically produce the behavior anywhere, at anytime, regardless of distraction or motivation (or lack thereof…)

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