Establishing Leadership and respect

Owners need to take responsibility for their dogs. Maintaining health care, exercising their dogs, and play are all part of owning a dog. Additionally, owners need to take time for establishing leadership and respect.

It’s black and white

Dogs don’t see life the way most humans do. We can see the gray areas of life. With dogs it’s a purely black and white, what’s in it for me world. That means you must always be fair with your dog. Your dog sees everything as either good for him or not good for him; black and white.

This means that your dog’s main focus is on what makes him feel good. In spite of his desire to make you happy he also really, really wants to make himself happy. If you can understand that you are on your way to establishing leadership and respect.


Learning takes time

Most people and too many trainers do not realize a dog often takes 30 or more repetitions to truly learn a behavior. Learning takes time and if you do not give him time, he won’t fully learn the behaviors you want. If he doesn’t really understand what you want and you think he does there’s obviously a misunderstanding between you and the dog. And this misunderstanding means people are correcting dogs for not completing behaviors the dog doesn’t yet know.

Consequently, the dog is corrected for something he doesn’t understand and his perception of this is that it’s a “black” thing. It’s something he doesn’t want to repeat. Accordingly, he will not want to repeat the behavior that he now associates with an unwarranted correction. He will see it this way: “My human made the noise “down” and I did the thing I think is what he wants. Then he did what I didn’t want so “down” is a thing I don’t want to do.”

You have to make life fair

Your dog will bond with you and you will build and maintain leadership and respect by always being fair with him. That means you must be sure he understands what you mean/want and he understands that there are consequences when he refuses to perform the behaviors that he knows how to do that you want.

This requires you to truly teach him the behavior, through repetition and reward. Then, when really understands the word equals the behavior, you add consequences. Truly understanding the command is called being fluent. I will discuss that more just below. By using both reward (whether food, a toy, or praise) and consequences, you are establishing your leadership and gaining the dog’s respect.


The fact that dogs see things in black and white means that you must be absolutely certain the dog is fluent in a behavior before adding corrections. Being fluent means that the dog fully understands that a gesture and/or word means you want a specific behavior.

When a dog can repeat the correct behavior consistently, he is fluent. If he is still struggling you must not correct him for mistakes. Sometimes dogs will offer various behaviors to test which one you want. If you say the word “down” and your dog sits, looking at you for approval and reward, then goes into a down, he clearly isn’t fluent. Practice more until he is completely fluent.

Be consistent because that’s fair

You be consistent in the things you ask of your dog. You can’t ignore a behavior in your home then correct it when you’re on a walk. If your dog is allowed to jump on people in the living room, he will not understand that he can’t at a park.

When a dog is fluent in a behavior and refuses to perform it, that’s a sign of disrespect. In a pack setting disrespect would be dealt with instantly and almost aggressively. Very stern corrections are meted out for disrespect. Correspondingly, instant and firm corrections for disrespect actually build respect.



Timing of corrections is crucial. To be effective, a correction must be administered within 1 ½ seconds of the misbehavior. You must catch the dog committing the infraction and correct him almost instantly. Do not correct the dog minutes or hours after the fact. That falls under the heading of unfair things. The dog will have no idea why he’s being corrected after the fact.

The level of correction is also crucial. Sometimes a simple “no” is enough to get the change in behavior you want. In other situations, like showing aggression to a family member, a very strong correction is needed. You must judge if a word or a leash correction at a high level is required.

Being a strong leader is key

I often get clients who have spent money on “training” at places like Pet Smart and realize their dogs are not trained at all. This is because the training at these places is “purely positive.” And purely positive or force free training does not work!

This type of training does not provide distractions and does not correct misbehavior. Thus, the dog cannot really learn what is expected. That is unfair to both dog and owner. The dog is confused and has no leadership and the owner is throwing money away on a “training” method that cannot work in the real world.

While using clickers or marker words is fine the refusal by some trainers to acknowledge that corrections for the wrong behavior are required is detrimental to the dog. I will never confuse a dog by using only rewards and expecting him to shape his behavior without knowing when he’s doing something wrong. And, because these “positive” trainers scam people into thinking the dog will be able to figure out he’s done the wrong thing simply because he doesn’t get a treat is unreasonable. It’s expecting the dog to be able to reason like an adult human.

Be a well-rounded trainer

Establishing leadership and respect requires rounded behavior. You must reward the dog for the behavior you want and correct him, when he’s fluent, for the behaviors you do not want. Do not expect your dog to do your work for you. He cannot think things through to come to the conclusions you want.

Over my 40 plus years of training I have “fired” clients because they think that either no corrections or excessive corrections are the right way to train. I use the most effective method and that’s to combine markers (clickers or specific words to “mark” the right behavior) with corrections. A dog that isn’t corrected when distractions result in disobedience will never be able to perform behaviors in any situation.

Try and fail vs. refuse

When training remember there is a world of difference between a dog that is trying yet failing to do what you want and a dog that is refusing. By establishing leadership and respect you will find that your dog, although he will fail from time to time, will try very hard to perform as you wish.

Professional trainers – To use or not to use

Not having experience training dogs is the number one reason people cannot properly train their own dogs. There is so much to observe, remember, and utilize that the average dog owner becomes overwhelmed. Because the owner is confused and overwhelmed the dog ends up in the same state of mind. Thus, disaster ensues,

Certainly hiring a bad trainer is just, if not more disastrous for both dog and owner. Depending on the “style” of training the dogs either end up never truly trained or become aggressive due to overly forceful, sometimes brutal training methods. One so-called “trainer” has a You Tube channel filled with videos of him hitting dogs with “bonkers” and using an e collar to hurt dogs and even intentionally using the e collar to get the dog to fear a family member.

Choose wisely, Grasshopper

An experienced, balanced trainer will undoubtedly make your life easier when it comes to training your dog. Whether you opt for classes, private lessons, or board and train programs, professional trainers are always a good option. But choosing a trainer can be difficult.

If you decide to use a professional trainer ask a lot of questions. How long has the trainer been a professional? How long did he/she train before taking on clients? What methods of training does the professional use?

Listen for words and phrases like markers, rewards, corrections, and generalize when the trainer is talking about how he/she trains. The best trainers use balanced training and will often say “LIMA” which is “least intrusive, minimally aversive” training. Comparatively, if a trainer says either he punishes dogs or if he talks about only using “force free” or “purely positive” methods, you should run for the hills!

Establishing Leadership and Respect also takes time

Just as learning takes time, establishing leadership and respect also takes time. When people start to train their dogs, they think they will automatically have the dog’s respect. This is not true. Respect must be earned and that doesn’t happen overnight. It’s very possible to have a dog that obeys even 90% of the time but doesn’t respect the owner.

You must develop leadership skills and earn the respect of the dog. People can do this using the guidelines I’ve shared here. You can neither force a dog to do a behavior without risking ending up with an aggressive dog nor can you try to negotiate with the dog to get the desired results.

The wrong way


I recently saw a man with a beautiful German Shepherd Dog puppy in my neighborhood. The man was being a complete jerk with the dog. It was clear the puppy didn’t know what the man wanted and consequently couldn’t perform the behavior. Because the puppy didn’t do what the man said, it was violently pushed into a bank of mailboxes with handles sticking out.

The dog will probably eventually figure out what the man wants. And the man will think he’s the “alpha dog” and has the dog’s respect. He’ll go on believing that until the day the dog finally snaps and attacks him. And, the dog will then undoubtedly be put to sleep.

It is undeniably sad but that’s what happens to many dogs when the owners do not properly go about establishing leadership and respect. Although most owners want to succeed with their dogs, it’s easy to do things the wrong way. Be sure to take all the time you need to train your dog being fair and consistent with your methods.

Since you want to have a well-trained dog that truly respects you and your role as leader, please follow the steps advice I’ve given. And, if you have neither the patience nor time to train your dog, please find an experienced, balanced trainer in your area.