Dog Training – No More Pack Leaders


Michael Baugh CDBC CPDT-KSA

There’s been a notable shift in dog training over the past few decades. We no longer look at training from the perspective of a dog pack leader. That’s not only an outdated paradigm but one that was debunked a long time ago. Instead, modern dog trainers teach clients to approach training as their dog’s caregiver and teacher. At first glance that may look like a softer approach (it is certainly kinder), but it’s no less disciplined and much more dynamic in its effectiveness.

Be your dog’s teacher. Stepping into the role of caregiver and teacher sets us up for success in so many ways. Most importantly, it lifts the unnecessary burden of having to be dominant with our dogs, an “alpha,” or pack leader. Those are such vague and laden constructs. The pressure and lack of clarity around those terms too often leads us to confrontation with our dogs. Someone has to win and someone has to lose. If we are the alpha then, darn it, we are going to win. For our dogs, losing frequently comes at the end of a choke chain or prong collar. In the worst cases the dog gets shocked, slammed, pinned, or hit. It’s ridiculous. Humans have already won the evolutionary race. We have noting to prove to our dogs except that we care for them and that we are here to teach them: 1) they are safe with us and 2) they can succeed in our mixed up human world.

Think proactively. Good teachers think ahead. We want our dogs to succeed. So we set them up to do just that: succeed. When our dog wins we win. An old school trainer  might actually set his dog up to fail so he can “correct” her. That’s backwards. It’s also illogical. No good leader would do that. And certainly go good teacher would.

Teach your dog what you want her to do. Good teachers aren’t focused on failure. We are focused on successfully teaching new behaviors. What do we want our dog to do? Given the chance your dog can learn more than you might have imagined. How can we replace our dog’s unwanted behavior with something better? A little more imagination and positive reinforcement lead us right to our answers. We don’t have to be stronger or more dominant. We just have to be smarter. And good teachers are nothing if not smart.

Love your dog. Do you remember your all-time favorite teacher? Of course you do. We all remember our most beloved teachers. They are the ones who showed up in our lives when we needed them most with patience, with clarity, with kindness. We grew to love them. Ego-driven teachers on power trips, we try to forget. Right? But, the teachers who gently led us to new discoveries, to our own sense of self in the world, with great skill, and love – those are the ones we remember. Be that teacher for your dog. Check your ego and choose kindness. Share the wins. Reinforce generously. And above all, love deeply.


Michael Baugh teaches positive reinforcement dog training. He specializes in dogs with fearful and aggressive behavior.