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This popular philosophy is commonly referred to as ‘Nothing in Life is Free!’ (NILIF).

There is no question that love is a wonderful thing to give our dogs, and giving it is great therapy for us humans as well. But dogs, need more than love from us. In order to be balanced, healthy and happy, they need leadership.

Isn’t love enough?

We all love to spoil our dogs, But too much freedom and a lack of structure can not only reinforce inappropriate behavior, it can make your dog feel insecure and anxious. If you don’t show your dog leadership, she may feel she has to take charge. For example, you might be walking down your neighborhood street when your dog sees an unfamiliar dog. She barks and pulls forward, thinking, “Don’t worry, I’ll scare that strange dog away!”

Good leadership lets your dog know that all is well and that you are in control, in a positive way. This allows your dog to relax so that she can enjoy life and not worry about who is taking care of things. 

Do you need to use physical force to be a leader?

We are not talking about physical force here. It is possible, and preferable, to establish leadership with your dog using positive methods. You don’t have to use physical force, punishment or “alpha rolls” (Please don’t do this with your dog. Many people have been seriously hurt doing it, and it’s unnecessary). The idea of "alpha" and using wolf behaviour to guide your interactions with your dog has been widely debunked.

Control the resources

The good news is that you don’t have to act like a dog to establish leadership. You are already ahead of the game just by owning all of the resources.


Use them to your advantage! Be the keeper of all good things. Treats! Walks! Meals! Games of fetch! The one who controls the resources, controls the dog. For example, before you give your dog a treat, ask her to perform a sit, down, shake or any other command you prefer.


Does your dog jump up and down and spin in circles whenever you get the leash out? Have her sit at the door and wait. When you open the door, don’t let her bowl you over as she shoves past you and drags you out the door. Proceed when you are ready.


Mealtimes are another opportunity to show leadership. Before dinner, ask for sit/stay and wait for calm behaviour before the bowls hit the floor. This also helps build impulse control, another valuable life skill.


Reward calm behavior

We want to discourage bad behaviour, but no one wants to focus on the negative all the time. Be sure to reward good behaviour. Provide food or calm praise whenever you catch your dog doing something you want: waiting on their bed while you eat, walking with a loose leash, or greeting a guest with all four feet on the floor.

If you have an excitable dog, deliver your praise calmly so as to not elevate her level of excitement. If you have an anxious or aloof dog, then break out the happy voice. 

The gift of leadership

Remember, control the resources and use reason not force, to get the behavior you want from your dog. Earning rewards and praise brings her a sense of pride and accomplishment, and she will love you all the more for giving her that gift. That’s love!

Reproduced and adapted with permission of Marthina McClay, CPDT, of Our Pack Inc.

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