How to Establish Yourself as Pack Leader by Managing Your Family Dog

Dog and cat touching as they sleep.

Our Dog and One of the Cats Sleeping Together

There are dozens of websites devoted to teaching your dog obedience, but what does it mean to manage your family’s dog? Managing your dog refers to establishing the rules of your home that you expect your dog to follow. You do this by limiting their movement, behavior and options. This brief article will show you the basics of how to establish yourself as pack leader by managing your family dog.

Crates and Pens

A common scenario offers a good opportunity to show the advantage of managing your dog’s behavior instead of trying to get them to obey. It is not unusual for a dog to get very excited when they hear the doorbell ring, especially if they are a puppy or a new dog in your home.

GSD relaxing in open wire crate

Calm GSD in Open Wire Crate

Many people will recommend that you teach your dog to “Sit” at the door and have them “Stay” while your guests enter. But if you have a high energy German Shepherd puppy, good luck with that plan!

It is much easier to crate your dog before you go to the door. This advice assumes that you have already acclimated your dog to the crate using positive reinforcement so they see it as a positive place. Crating your dog before answering the door is a simple way of showing your dog that this is your house and your guests.

Play pens can also be an effective management tool as they confine your puppy to a limited space. Make sure they have a chew toy or 2 and something to play with. You can then roam freely around your home without worrying about what the puppy is chewing on now!

Crates and pens are a subtle way of letting your dog that free roaming access to your home is not an inalienable right. Once they have demonstrated that they have understood your rules, only then are they granted complete access.

On Leash in the House

Continuing this theme, there is nothing wrong with keeping your dog on leash within your home. It seems like a strange idea to some people, but your dog doesn’t know that! One good example is shown in the image on the right. Service dogs are trained to be completely comfortable on their leash and halter wherever they go.

Service dog in training puppy on leash inside

Very Comfortable Dog on Leash Inside

As an example, when we first got our current rescue, she was never allowed to run loose in the house. I should say once she had chewed a $200 watch, 2 empty plastic containers, and a box of Kleenex she was not allowed to roam free! We kept her on leash and that leash was either in someone’s hand or secured to heavy furniture. She objected at first, but eventually accepted this as the norm.

She came from a puppy mill and had no structure or obedience training for her first 16 months. So, in her mind, she was a free-to-run puppy who was the center of the world! Establishing pack leadership, in other words structure, was our first priority with her.

After a year, she accepts the fact that this is our house and knows how she should behave. She may cutely “voice” her complaint while complying at times, but nonetheless she does comply! For example, she knows that if she chases one of our 2 cats, she can expect to going back to being on a leash which is tied to heavy furniture. If I’m working at my desk in the office, I usually take her with me and tie her to the desk.  Even if I don’t and I’m at home alone, she will still come in, lie down next to me and go to sleep while I work. You can see it in her eyes. We are her family. I’d swear she is grateful that now someone is in charge!

It is very important that you yourself remain calm and positive while you’re controlling your dog’s movements like this. If you’re yelling at your dog while holding them on leash, then you’re being a bully. Your dog will not respect a bully. They may behave you out of fear. However, that is a dog that could lunge and/or bite when you least expect it. It is essential that you be a fair, calm and benevolent leader at all times.

Feeding Time

For many dogs, feeding time is their favorite time of day. Don’t waste this training opportunity!

Dog eating food after being released.

Military Working Dog Eating After Release

Your dog should have to earn their dinner. At one extreme, I know a couple who only feeds kibble and never pours it in a bowl at all. Kibble is used as training treats all day long and the dog still gets 2 cups a day.

When my previous dog and I were working in Search and Rescue, I would have him sit and stay near his food bowl. I would then show him a tennis bowl and go hide it somewhere in the house. He would have to search the house, find it and bring it to me before I would release him to eat. He would be sooo excited to play The Search Game because he knew he would get to eat afterwards!

If you have no clear job intended for your dog, you can still have them sit and stay until you release them to eat. Currently, we have our dog come near the bowl and sit. We then say “Wait for it . . . wait for it . . .” a random number of times before telling her to “Eat!”. As a side effect, when she travels in the car we can say “Wait” when we open the door and she doesn’t exit the car until we release her!

Doors and Gates

Yet another opportunity to subtly enforce your leadership. Every time your dog comes to a door or gate, you should have them sit. You should then walk through the gate or door and only then invite them to follow you. With the front door, once we’re out I immediately have her sit again while I turn and close the door.

If your dog starts to get up as you exit or before you release them, gently say “Nope”, walk back inside (or outside) with them, close the door or gate and tell them to sit again. No need to get excited, just go back to the beginning and start over. It won’t take long for your dog to get the idea. Soon enough you will have your dog looking at you every time the two of you approach a door or gate!

You should do this with their crate as well. When you crate your dog, walk up to the crate, have your dog sit, open the door and then invite them to enter. When you’re taking them out, have them sit and don’t let them get up until you’ve both opened the door and invited them out.


Managing your dog is a key component of establishing structure within your home. Limiting your dog’s freedom conveys the message that this is your house, and they are to learn how you want them to behave in your house. This article only scratches the surface, but hopefully it gives you ideas how to implement these techniques in your own home.

Another thing you can do along these lines is to pick up all your dog’s toys at night. All the toys are yours and you choose which one(s) are available at any given time. Doing this has 2 benefits. One, it’s yet another way of establishing yourself as the leader. In addition you’ll find  that it keeps your dog from getting bored with their toys. If your dog has a room full of toys, you may see them gather them all together in a pile but then play with none of them. You have to buy them a new one to see them get excited about toy play. But if you pick them all up every night, then offering a toy they haven’t had for a week is like getting a new toy!

Management, establishing yourself as pack leader, defining structure in your home — these actions are much more important than taking your dog to obedience classes. Once you have established yourself as your dog’s benevolent dictator, training will proceed much more easily.






  1. Erick

    Pretty interesting. I am not gonna say that it’s exactly like raising children but I think that dogs understand consequences and rewards so towards a period of time the dog will eventually follow the rules established, and structuring orders to follow knowing that the dog will get something, of course, they will feel happy about it.

    • Matthew

      Lol. A former girlfriend, who had 2 children, bought me a book “The Dog Trainer’s Guide to Parenting”. First thing it said was no crate, no electronic collar. “Oh sure”, I thought at the time, “Take away my 2 most effective tools!” For the record, I no longer think of the e-collar as one of my most effective tools.

      Many people immediately take their puppy or new dog to obedience training, thinking it will solve all their problems. But it takes time for even the basic obedience commands to become deeply ingrained in a dog’s behavior. Rather than trying to teach your spazzy dog to sit rather than chase the cats, it’s usually more effective to simply limit their movement by putting them in a play pen or tying their leash to heavy furniture. It takes time for any dog to learn the rules of your home.

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