Structured Leadership & The Family Dog

Balanced Dog Training:   Structure and Leadership with the Family Dog


Balanced Dog Trainers consistently recommend Structure and Leadership when working with any dog.   And yet, these words can send many people reeling.  Why?   Because it sounds rigid and not positive.   To many, it sounds hard to do and unfair.

Give me a break.

The world is full of structure.   Rules that we are instructed to follow.   In the absence of rules lots of things can go wrong, including some really bad things.   So why is it wrong to give your dog some rules too?

We all have leaders.  Mentors if you prefer.   Those we look up to for guidance and instruction.   You should be someone your dog wants to follow.

So how do you do it?

It's really quite simple.   And when done well, with consistency, it is actually a far easier way of life than the constant stress you might be under today with a dog who doesn't listen, is rambunctious, or who may have some pretty serious behavioral issues.

First -- every home should have some non-negotiables.   No jumping on people.   No barking inappropriately out the window.  Teeth on skin is never to be tolerated.   Toys are yours and the dog gets to play with them, not guard them.   Food resources are controlled by you.  No chewing or digging.  And absolutely no aggression to be tolerated.  These issues, if present, may take some addition training to address, but the foundational skills begin with the following:

Master Sit on Command, and use it in every day life for your dog to earn valuable resources and benefits.   Including food and affection.

  • Sit (and wait)

    • For meals to be provided. Nothing says that food has to be in a bowl or all at once. When teaching, create multiple small portions for repetition and practice. For bratty dogs with attitude and inappropriate behaviors, consider that the only time they eat is through training exercises.

    • For leashes to be put on & off. If they can't get settled enough to to clip the leash, hang it back up and walk away for a few minutes. Try again. Don't clip it on, if the dog is demonstrating excitement.

    • To exit every door. Including the crate. Even first thing in the morning when we know they are ready to go potty. Impulse control and calm state of mind is an important thing to achieve. You set the tone for your walks with impulse control at doorways and arrival at the park. You also prevent door bolting by establishing that doors cannot be exited without permission.

    • For affection. Again, for the dog that guards and growls at humans, they should get no affection that is not earned with manners.

    • Follow our Youtube Channel for How-To Videos

Crate Train Your Dog.   Just do it.   (Request our Crate Training Guide from our Website)

  • Dog with any sort of aggression, resource guarding, or other similar behavioral issues should be crate trained for safety purposes when guests are visiting

  • Dogs who are having house-training issues need to be prevented from making accidents in your house, and this is the best way to control them sneaking away.

  • Dog's that can't see out the front window, can't practice bad behavior of barking at passersby.

  • It's the safest place for puppies who will be testing out new teeth, exploring new objects including your couch, etc.

  • For dogs that are inappropriate with other dogs or children, they should have very little unstructured play time outside of their crate. Most of their activity should be learning better behavior.

Structured Walks (aka Heel)

  • The majority of your walk (about 80%) should be very structured. This doesn’t mean robotic heels for the family dog, but it does mean not pulling on the leash, not controlling where teh walk goes, and listening to you under distraction.

  • This is not the time to smell the flowers, sample debris on the sidewalk, or even to take a potty break. Then when you're ready to give him so freedom just release the command and allow him to enjoy a more leisurely walk (about 20%). No matter what, your dog should not be allowed to pull you or lead. You set the tone, the pace, and the direction.

    • Especially for those of you in apartments or with difficult neighbors, you may need to control "where" your dog does his business -- so don't allow him to stop where he chooses.

  • A good walk with you and/or other dogs establishes a great bonding experience and presents you as a strong confident leader

    • If you have a dog with reactivity issues -- you will need help to get those resolved. But it can be done!! Don't wait to take action.

Create a reasonable schedule of feeding, potty breaks and sleep time.   Don't forget to include some playtime and training activities too!

  • Especially for dogs with a bit of anxiety and fear -- consistency and predictability helps them move forward.

  • Teach the basic obedience skills. But most importantly, teach Place and Down/Stay. Use them for duration work to create a calm state of mind and quiet observation for your dog. You'll find the basic teaching skills for these on my website

You'll need to make some decisions about other non-negotiables in your home?   If the answer to any of these questions is yes, under what circumstances??

  • Will the dog be allowed on the furniture?

  • Will your dog be given any "people food" as snacks or treats?

  • Are there rooms in your house that are off-limits?

  • Will your dog sleep in the bed? For dogs who have behavioral issues of any kind, your answer should be no.

  • ETC

Dogs really do thrive with consistency.  They respond very well to structured leadership and confidence in their owners.   In the absence of these things, more often than not behavioral problems arise and your dog suffers the consequences.   So do you.

Start today with simple changes that will make a huge difference in your dog's behavior and in your home.

LeadershipDana Brigman