Leadership In Dog Training vs Dominance Theory

There has been much written about leadership in dog training. Many times leadership is mistakenly referred to as dominance, but how do these concepts differ? Leadership is defined as a person who guides or directs a group whereas dominance in the animal world is defined as high status in a social group, usually acquired as a result of aggression.

The key difference here is the method by which cooperation is attained. A leader does not require force and aggression, just guidance and direction. In the dog world, the leader controls two main things:


The leader decides where we go, when we go, where we turn around, and when we stop. In the wolf pack, the leader does not turn around and ask “Bob, are you coming?” The leader of the pack moves, and the subordinates follow. What does this mean to you and your pet dog? It means you are either leading or you are following. Which are you doing? Do you allow your dog to walk ahead on a flexi leash, or to pull you around to his favorite sniffing spot or to visit your neighbor’s dog? If so, you may have unwittingly put your dog in the leadership position in your relationship. 

The first step you must take in order for your dog to trust you as a capable leader is to take charge of the walk. Do not wait for your dog. Do not allow him to walk ahead of you, tuning you out. Teach him to walk at your side, paying attention. You are in the driver’s seat. Is your dog allowed to move around all areas of your home with free access to your sofa, your bed, etc.? If so, he believes he has equal ownership of these places and resting areas as you. In certain dogs, this can lead to challenges of your authority when you ask the dog to move.


Resources are things your dog values: food, treats, affection, playtime, access to the outdoors, time to run, play fetch, etc. Most people give these things to their dog without requiring anything in return. Consider these things to be your dog’s paycheck. He needs to earn them in exchange for good behavior. Do not keep a full bowl of food out at all times. Require your dog to sit and pay attention before releasing him to his food bowl. Feed him during training, rewarding him for doing as you ask. Reward compliance during training with a fun game of fetch. Realize you have many resources at your disposal which can help you to achieve a more compliant, more self-controlled dog.