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Leaders First | Dog Rehab Tip 3

This dog-leadership trick is simple to explain, but you’ll need to read it a few times to absorb the details.This is especially true for the part about how to back your dog away from the door. For better understanding and implementation, please be sure to read the previous article before starting this one.

Enter New Environments First

When you take your dog for a walk, who goes through the door first: you or your dog? If you have a dog who pulls like mad, is fearful, or keeps lunging at other dogs, then read on; you probably need to learn how to lead your dog into new situations. So many people tell me the same thing. “Fido is great in the house,” they say, “but once we’re outside, he just becomes difficult to control”. Maybe your problem is the opposite: your dog is fine on a walk but out of control in the house. If either of these sounds like your dog, then you can learn why it happens and how to fix it.

Whenever you enter a new environment, you should lead the way. Leaving or coming home, going to the vet, entering a dog park, walking through a narrow lane, or down the stairs, or even just into your yard or garden—you should always lead your dog. It’s not that canine pack leaders always go through doors first (they don’t). Dogs lead other dogs much better than us; they can do so from the middle or the rear just as well as from out front. The reason you must go through doors first is slightly more complicated than that, but much more interesting.

A Leader for all Situations

According to research on free-roaming dogs in Italy, packs tend to have one or two leaders. And it’s most often a matriarch who takes on the lead role. However, dog packs will often have a different leader depending on the circumstances. Whereas the lead female may be in charge around the den, another dog may take the lead outside. When it’s time to protect boundaries, see off intruders, or hunt food, another leader may emerge. This is an efficient way keeping the pack safe, since not every leader type is best for all situations. The rest of the group accepts the leader of each situation readily, and harmony reigns because of it. Not only that, it means the dogs can all feel safe and secure.

You should demonstrate to your dog that you’re the leader in every situation the two of you proceed into. And the best way is to always go first and with no attempts from your dog to challenge that. Never let your dog go charging out the door, pulling you behind him, every time you go for a walk. No matter how good she is at home, she’ll believe she can easily assume the leadership role outside. But your dog isn’t the best one to make decisions on what you should chase, attack, fear, or bite. So she will usually evoke mayhem when seemingly encouraged to take that role.

Take Ownership of the Doorway

You should demonstrate clearly to your dog that it’s your leadership that will control the walk. And your aim should be for calm and controlled—more on that in the next lesson. The method is simple:

1. Take control of your dog before you head out the door.
2. Demonstrate leadership by remaining calm and assertive (and aloof).
3. Make sure that you go through the door first while your dog awaits your signal to follow.
4. Make sure to do the same as you close the door behind you and before setting off on the walk; though your dog will be ‘ahead’ of you now, he’ll be waiting patiently for you to lead the way.

Lead, Not Train

So how do you get your dog to go along with all this? Do you need to give orders—maybe have her sit and stay while we open and walk through the door? No. Giving dogs instructions is not the most powerful way to demonstrate leadership; what’s most effective is when your dog works out for herself the best way to show deference. Let her indicate in her own language that she accepts you now control the door and therefore the walk ahead. Is that really possible, you may ask. If you follow the upcoming guidelines exactly, then you will see this change in your dog. Prepare to be amazed.

How to Lead Through Doors

(Remember: if you read carefully and make sure you follow the instructions correctly, this will work; if you need to see it in practice, sit tight for the upcoming videos to accompany this blog series.)

Leading your dog through doors is much easier if he comes to the leash instead of you chasing after him. Just stay calm and stand confidently and quietly near the door until your dog comes to accept the leash. This may be impossible at first for many dogs; in which case, approach and leash your dog with the minimum of fuss. You may give the command for him to come to you if you want to, but only once—never incessantly; if she doesn’t come the first time, go to her. But your goal is for your dog to come to you and ‘ask’ for the leash. When a dog lets you leash him in this way, it shows he’s willing to submit to your leadership.

Control the Space

Lead your dog to the door. If she tries to dart ahead or get too close to the door, you must take ‘ownership’ of the threshold. Step in between the dog and the door, using the leash if you need. Give tugs to make your dog back away to give you space to step in. Once there’s enough space, loosen the leash and step into your dog’s space space. Be calm but assertive manner, with a confident body posture. You can give an “Ah!” or “Eh!” grunt as you do so.

Do not do anything else that you think will demonstrate dominance, such as giving commands or shouting. Such weak behaviour will just show your dog you’re not really in control. If you like, raise a finger in front of you in a “Don’t even try it” kind of manner. This helps you feel dominant while also putting something above your dog’s head, which demonstrates higher status. You can also gently but firmly tap or lightly push his chest with your fingers, as though to guide.

Accepting the New Dynamic

Your dog will back away from the door, probably look confused at this new behaviour from you, and sit down. At the very least, she will stand and wait for your next instruction. Now you’ll open the door, but you must be prepared for your dog to try and dart through; know what you will do to counter this. It’s exactly the same as you did to back the dog up in the first place. But this time employ a very serious look on your face, and more stern body language. Your aim is demonstrate in no uncertain terms “I do not accept such behaviour”. This won’t make the dog scared of you but will make her respect your leadership. Back her up again while being prepared to step in again if needed without getting frustrated. Know that, this time, your dog will stay in place, politely waiting to see what you want her to do. Dogs generally accept new leadership instantly and readily once it’s demonstrated, and that’s why we can achieve such rapid change.

Control With Your Mind, Not Your Body

You should now be standing between your dog and the door, sideways on, so you can see both. You’re not blocking the doorway—this is very important; you want him to stay in place because of respect for your authority and not because of physical obstruction. Open the door. Step in and back the dog up again in the same manner as last time if you have to. Though by this stage you should find, to your amazement, that he will look at the open doorway and then at you as he awaits your instruction.

Now walk through the door, ready to turn and back your dog up if necessary. But you should be able to just give a gentle tug as you walk through the doorway ahead of her. If possible, wait until your dog looks away before inviting her through; staring is demanding and would raise her perceived status if she then got what he was asking for.

Entering a New Situation

Get ready to control your dog once through the doorway, as he may think it’s OK to run ahead. Simply give gentle tugs while ignoring him and remaining aloof as you wait for him to calm down again. Close the door and, once your dog is relaxed and not trying to pull away, head off on the walk. Give him a gentle tug as a signal to follow alongside. Remember, we always tug and immediately relax, as this prevents tension in the leash (and therefore the relationship). It also gives the dog less opportunity to resist. Give lots of praise as you set off, letting your dog know that he pleased you by accepting your leadership.

After a few times practicing this new procedure properly, you’ll have it down to pat—and your dog will too. Never lose your temper or plead with your dog, and do not add anything else that you think may help. You want to keep everything simple while demonstrating control—of yourself first, then the situation and your dog. Follow this protocol when entering any new environment or situation; you’ll be letting your dog know in no uncertain terms that its your will that shall dominate.

Once you have complete control over yourself, you can easily control your dog; once you can control your dog, you can control her issues.

This simple technique, practiced at every possible opportunity, helps your dog to understand the hierarchy. Don’t feel sorry for him. It’s hell trying to lead when you have know idea how; your dog will be happy to relinquish all that stress to you.


To recap the important points:

  • Control yourself first
  • You must go through doors first
  • Dogs have different leaders for different situations
  • If your dog is allowed to lunge through first, she’ll think that she can lead in the new environment
  • Dogs can be controlled by their issues, so if you don’t take the lead, your dog and her problems will
  • Dogs accept new leadership readily
  • Stay calm, assertive, and aloof when needing to demonstrate leadership to control a situation
  • Have the dog come to the leash, not you go to the dog
  • Try to back your dog up with posture and a dominant attitude rather than physical force
  • Tug, not pull; tap, not poke
  • Be prepared to respond correctly to challenges
  • Invite your dog through doorways only when she’s calm and not demanding anything
  • Reward your dog for doing well
  • Enjoy your new role as leader!

The next lesson will be on how to have any dog walking beautifully on leash. You will have your dog walking beside or behind you, never pulling ahead. This further enhances the relationship between the two of you, and makes walks a pleasure. So stay tuned! Be sure to post comments or questions, and please share this series with your friends.

I’m going now . . . or maybe you should go first.


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