The Leader of the Pack
Siberians are pack oriented dogs. Pack orientation means they look for and recognize hierarchy in their pack.
For their safety and happiness, as well as my own and other people’s, my dogs learn that I am the boss and that is that.
In most demonstrations of my leadership there is a reward involved for my dogs, so they do learn quickly!
However because lack of leadership is also rewarding (i.e. self-rewarding) for the dogs, they can also UN-learn quickly.
So the trick is to be consistent.
Here are some of my behaviors as the leader that my Siberians recognize and understand:
I decide when it’s time to eat.
I don’t let my dogs demand food from me. When they do, I do not give them any. My dogs learn that the food they receive from me is MINE, and I will decide when they get to have some.
I make her first perform a task and then I reward her with the food when she performs correctly. A simple “sit” for dinner works fine, or a “lie down and stay” if she learns to automatically sits for her dinner. Most of our dogs learn to jump up onto their houses for their dinner so we can tether them for the night however they must wait until we have set the bowl down, which teaches them to pay attention to us, not just the food.
I never let a dog help herself another dog’s dish, even when the later dog is finished with it. She must wait until I say it is okay to have it. Or I give it to another dog myself.
I manage the situation.
I do not allow my dogs to settle beefs between themselves or other dogs when I am in the picture.
My dogs learn that I will manage the situation, and that they don’t have to.
I may or may not grant affection.
When my Siberian demands my attention when I happen to be busy or when I don’t want to play, I block eye contact and completely ignore her, and I stand by my decision until she gives up trying.
I lead the hunt.
I go first down a narrow passageway or through a door. The dog must not rush past me before I have given her the signal. If she does I do not let her get away with it. I go get her and we try it again the correct way. I stand between her using my body to block where she is trying to go until she finally looks up at me because I am in her way. Then I mark the eye contact by saying “yes!” and reward it by moving out of her way and letting her go where she wants to go. Eventually she learns to look at me and wait for my release signal to go where she wants to go, or follow me politely.
I expect subordinate pack members to yield.
When I watch my pack of dogs, I notice that subordinate pack-members move or stay out of the way of a superior ones. I notice that most of the time my dogs give me the same respect.
So, I tell my dog to move out of my way when she is in my way. I don’t simply go around her.
If she does not move, I cue by saying “move” and then I simply push past her as if she were not even there. Then she learns to pay attention to me and stay out of my way, or moves when I ask.
If she is passed out asleep on the floor then I just go around her. But if she chooses to bed down somewhere inconvenient to me, like in front of a door or passageway, I wake her up and make her move so she learns to choose a different spot where she will not be in my way all the time.
I am tolerant.
Rarely must I resort to loud or overly dominant displays or otherwise be harsh to my dogs. When I do, it is generally for their safety and I usually only have to do it once in that context. Having to do so regularly is not the sign of a leader.
“Barking” loudly or overly dominant displays are the conduct of fearful dogs who feel like they have no control or status-seeking juveniles.
An established leader is soft-spoken, confident, and surprisingly tolerant.
I notice in my kennel that the adult dogs in the pack give the pups a “puppy license.” My adult dogs recognize pups as youngsters and so they tolerate behaviors they would not tolerate in adults.
I notice that this puppy license expires around puberty. Then the adult dogs no longer tolerate certain behaviors in the pups. They start expecting the pups to act more like adult pack members.
So, until their puppy license expires, I tend to treat pups more like I would a young child. Once that puppy license expires I begin to treat the pup more like the adult she is becoming.
I tend to treat mature dogs more like I would an adult.
I have expectations.
Often, we receive complements on how well behaved and smart our dogs are. The secret is that we hold them to a standard. We expect team effort. Siberians have brains and we expect ours to actually use them. It is a symbiotic relationship where both parties benefit.
For us, they are working dogs, therefore more like companions or partners to us rather than pets.
Siberians are a working breed. They exist to work alongside humans toward a common goal. Working breeds crave this relationship. There is a special joy in seeing a dog realize his purpose. Anyone who has had the pleasure of working with dogs on this level knows the bond is like nothing else!