Here are four basic lessons to start your dog with. Every dog needs to have this basic course in social and pack etiquette if they are going to be happy and stable companions.
Practice each lesson given here for at least ten minutes a day to help your dog master them. Stay consistent, even if you aren’t actively training to make sure that your dog obeys the rules at all times.
You Are the Pack Leader
You are the leader, so start leading! You must be the one to decide when it’s time for something to happen, and that includes any activity with your dog. Do NOT let them decide for you! Ignore attention seeking behavior like nosing to be petted or to play.
If you look at your dog when he requests attention than he wins, he has made you respond, and that is a point towards his dominance. You MUST ignore him even if he’s ridiculous in his attempts to win your attention. If you even smile a little bit, he will win!
Your dog comes up and noses you for attention. Ignore him. When he gives up and starts to walk away than call him back by using his name and the command “come.” Give him lots of praise and love for coming when called. That way you are in charge, you are telling him that you will decide when it’s time to cuddle, and at the same time, you are giving him the attention that he needed. Always, always, always obey this rule and you’ll be doing well in establishing your leadership.
Doorway and Stairway Etiquette
Having your dog charge through doorways or past you on the stairs, with little respect for you or what you might be carrying, is a bad thing. Leaders always go first in the pack, so if your dog is charging through the door, he is considering himself the boss, and that has to stop.
If you have a puppy, then you’ve hopefully already started learning the sit/stay commands, those will come in handy here. If you haven’t started teaching the basics yet, I recommend you download my guide on Basic Obedience, and start now!
Think of a place where you want your dog to stay until you have opened the door and stepped outside. I have a rug near my door, and that is the “stay” location. Your stay location should be within the range of your leash if you step outside the door.
Put on your dog’s training collar and leash, and walk him to the door. If he’s like most dogs he’s going to get really excited, probably start wiggling and whining and nosing the door in anticipation. Place him in his “stay” location and wiggle the doorknob. If he tries to move from his place immediately correct him with a loud “BAH!” or whatever your correction sound is.
Jiggle the doorknob again, and correct again if necessary. Practice until he no longer tries to break position if you jiggle the doorknob, then step up to opening the door. If he breaks position when you open the door, shut it quickly and correct him firmly. Continue to repeat this exercise until he stays in position with the door wide open.
Once you can stand with the door wide open and your dog remains in position, step just outside the door, holding the leash in case he bolts forward. If he breaks position to follow you, correct him firmly and put him back into position. Practice stepping through the door and keeping him in position.
When you can open the door and step outside with your dog staying in position, you can release him from his position by calling “free!” or “release!” whichever word you feel most comfortable with. This lets the dog know that he is free to now follow you out the door.
The same process should be used for stairs. Make your dog wait at the bottom of the stairs until you have reached the top, then tell him “free!” or “release!”.
The same is true for going down the stairs, through boundary gates, yard gates; anywhere the passage is narrow and signifies a separation between one area and another.
Just following these first two rules, you’ll see a dramatic improvement in your dog’s attitude as he begins to feel safe and secure, knowing that you will take care of everything.
Walking on a Leash
It’s surprising how many people are daily teaching their dogs to be the leader during the afternoon walk. How you walk your dog is very important in establishing pack leadership.
If you watch a pack of wolves in the wild, you’ll see that the leader always decides when and where the pack is going, and the rest of the wolves follow behind. None of them would even dare consider trying to walk in front of the leader. They know that’s not allowed. Your dog should always walk at your side or behind you, never ahead of you.
This is a vital lesson for every dog, even if you want your dog to be a guardian or protector. It’s necessary that they take their cues from you and don’t act on their own. They should be relaxed and calm, watching your body language for the correct response for every situation.
If you are calm and relaxed, they know that there is no danger and they can be calm and relaxed. If you suddenly become tense or frightened, they will know to be wary. If you are attacked or threatened, they will respond by defending you.
Using these lessons will strengthen the bond between you and your pet making them a better dog in every situation. You will not have to fear them biting or attacking another dog or person because they will see from your body language that there is no threat so they must remain calm also. Yet if there is an emergency they will understand the difference in your body language and respond accordingly.
Dogs require stable pack leadership or they will be confused and unsure of how they should respond in new or different situations, often resulting in poor or even fatal mistakes!
Using your training collar and a good leash take your dog out for a walk by placing him at your side and commanding “heel!”. Step forward and allow your dog to follow you. Imagine that there is a wall from your legs extending out sideways in front of your dog. His shoulder should never go ahead of this wall.
The lead should always be held long and slack unless you are correcting the dog. If your dog attempts to surge past you immediately snap the leash back, correct him with a loud, forceful “BAH!”, And loosen the lead again. It should be one quick motion. The leash pulls him sharply back into position, a loud vocal correction explains his error, and the leash is released showing him that he is now once more in the correct position.
You can make the correction stronger by giving him a foot of slack leash before sharply snapping him back into position. If you’ve been practicing the first two lessons at home, it will be easier for him to release that your leadership extends beyond the boundaries of the house, and he should learn quickly.
Watch his body language to see where his thoughts are. If his head is in a low relaxed position and his tail swinging low behind him, he’s learning. Particularly observe his ears and watch to see if one or both of them flick back to check on your position every few seconds. That’s an excellent sign that he is recognizing you as the leader and taking care not to move too far ahead!
If his head and tail abruptly jerk upwards towards another dog or other distraction, immediately correct him and snap him back into position. He should be paying attention to you and watching you for cues, not watching other dogs.
This does NOT mean that YOU should ignore the other dogs. Always be aware of who and what is around you. As pack leader, it is YOUR job to protect your dog from non-pack members, including stray dogs or dogs whose owners think its “cute” to walk their dog right up to someone else’s dog without permission.
If a dog comes running out to where you are walking your dog, it’s your job to protect your dog from injury. I’d recommend always carrying pepper spray or a heavy stick when you’re walking in an area you might meet unleashed dogs.
If you do get caught without a form of protection, and your dog is too big to pick up, start stomping your feet like you’re trying to power stomp right through the ground and make as loud and deep a “BAH!” as you can conjure up. Stand up tall and aggressively towards the stray and keep yelling at him as you try to keep yourself between the stray and your dog.
Unfortunately, very aggressive dogs will not heed your warning and will race right around you to attack your dog. This is a danger we face every time we step outside our doors and something that we need to prepare ourselves for. A dog fight is a terrifying thing to witness, and an even more terrifying thing to be involved in.
The best thing you could do in this position is to try to prevent as much damage as possible to your dog, but in a manner that doesn’t endanger yourself! If you are by yourself, it will be scary, but the safest way for you to separate the dogs is to quickly tie your dog’s leash off on something sturdy and then grab the stray by hind legs and jerk him backward and into a swinging circle so that he can’t twist back to attack you.
If you let go of the stray, he will run back and attack your dog again, so you have to keep moving him in circles and backing away from your dog until you can chuck him inside a fenced yard, or his owner comes and grabs him from you.
You could also pass him off to another person if he calms down enough not to be a danger to either of you. Have that second person hold him while you quickly retrieve your dog and get out of the area.
I can’t really give you any better advice than to never take your dog to places where you might meet other dogs that are not leashed, and ALWAYS carry a bottle of pepper spray with you when you go for walks. Just keep it next to your leash, so it’s easy to remember. That way you can stop the fight before it ever happens!
Consider the things that your dog often does that are things you want to change. Maybe he jumps on you or strangers, and you’re afraid he might knock over a child or an elder.
That would be a behavior you’d want to stop quickly or taking your dog out into the public might be embarrassing and frustrating. You could still have a command to allow him to jump up when asked, but it must always be offered to him, not something that he does himself!
You can set the scene up by acting very excited. Do NOT pat your chest or tell your dog “up” as that is a command and you will confuse him. Stand in front of the tv and pretend your team just won the game, feel high energy, excited, bouncing up and down a bit.
When your dog tenses to jump abruptly stand straight and growl “BAH!”, Stomping your foot loudly if you need to. Your dog should drop his paws back to the floor. Praise him for being such a good boy.
If he gets excited from the praise and tries to jump back up, stomp/growl “BAH!” again. Keep repeating it until he gets it straight. It’s nice to get love and praise, but that is not an invitation to jump.
Stay consistent, don’t let him jump on you some days and not on others. You have to enforce your rules, or he will not respect you as the leader! When it is clear that he has mastered not jumping on you, start introducing him to family and friends, in different locations of the house and yard so you can reinforce that jumping is not allowed, no matter who it is.
Use similar methods for each of his bad behaviors. Putting him into the situation where he has the opportunity to misbehave then either praising or correcting as necessary to teach him what the rules are and that you will be enforcing those rules from now on!