Pack Law: Understand It & Become Top Dog

by Avril Munson Of The Central School Of Dog Training

What is ‘Pack law’? Whenever there are two or more dogs together, the dogs will decide who is superior to whom. Often this is decided quickly and painlessly, because of vastly differing size or age.

Or can take up to two weeks. Where two dogs will not live together, it is because there is not a clear winner. Occasionally, human intervention is the cause. Unwittingly in trying to be fair, we treat both dogs equally. Or we give the natural under dog too much status and create warfare.

For dogs there must always be a leader and a number 2, 3, all the way to the bottom!

aggresivedoberman1A wild example!
Imagine a wolf pack, moving to new ground. The group fall into line behind the leader; not just following the dog in front but 20 wolves will walk in the same tracks, as the first. This is tremendous discipline and authority. Imagine training 20 dogs to walk behind you, let alone in the same tracks – one is too much for many people.
This illustrates the need for the dog to see us as the pack leader, if we are to be successful in the dogs training.

What happens in the home?
The dog is a pack animal. He sees our household as his pack. It takes a maximum of 2 weeks for the dog to establish the hierarchy of his new pack. So, the messages we send out in the first few days are vital.

A dog that doesn’t accept people as way ahead in the leadership stakes will not think he has to obey you, and can result in a catalogue of problems. Once you understand the principle it is really quite easy to change things around.

This article contains more expert advice on understanding pack behaviour as well as a video illustration of pack behaviour in action!


How to become the Leader
v People First
v Do not allow new pets to pester your other animals
v Feed dogs after people
v Do not play tug-o-war games
v The dog must move out of the way
v Think before reacting or how not to let the dog train you.
v People up the stairs first
v Dog’s sleeping area
v Do not leave toys available

1. People First.
Narrow gaps, doorways and stairways, whoever goes through first is the leader.

Older dogs
The older, bigger dog is the natural leader (there are always exceptions, be guided by the dogs), so promote this by always giving the older dog attention first this includes feeding, putting leads on, walking indoors.
If your older dog growls at a younger one for pestering, tell off the younger dog, not the older dog.

2. Feed dogs after people.
Feed your dog after people using a good quality dog food. Who eats first is higher in the pack. Feeding your dog at the same time, the dog is equal. Feeding your dog human quality food signals equality.

3. Do not play tug-o-war games.
Do not play these games if your dog is being generally difficult. If you do play you must win.

Entering into tug-o-war games indicates that you see your dog as a worthy equal.

4. Dog must move out of the way.
The dog must move out of the way of people, even when resting. In a pack, dogs automatically get out of the way of a superior.
Think before reacting.

Think before reacting to your dog’s demands. Every time we react to something our dog does we are most likely being trained by him e.g. when toilet training it is common sense that if the dog goes to an outside door we will let him out in case he wants to go to the toilet. It would be ridiculous, on this occasion, not too. Whereas, if a dog is whining and barking to be fed, wait until the dog is quiet, and then feed him. By not reacting, we are back in charge. The more the dog manipulates us the more important he will feel and therefore higher up the pecking order and less responsive to your requests.

5. People up the stairs first.
People up the stairs’ first. A dog sees height as higher status; therefore do not allow him to get physically as high or higher. Getting up on furniture, standing at the top of the stairs and looking down on us etc..

6. Dog’s sleeping area.
Sleeping in the bedroom or on the bed says the dog is at least equal to the humans.
Do not leave toys available.
Toys – if left down permanently become the dog’s property. If removed for even short periods daily, turns the tables, making the point that the toys belong to you. Take note of this if your dog is possessive of toys.
Do I need to do all of this?


For some dogs they are naturally so submissive they do not need any reinforcement of their position in the pack.
Some dogs are so dominating and disobedient, it is necessary to enforce, as many of the above, as possible.
Most dogs will fall between these two extremes. You will be able to judge by how obedient your dog is. The more stress he is causing in your life the more you need to consider which actions you want to take to bring him down a peg or two. I suggest that you choose three of the ones that you feel would be helpful to you. Put them into action and don’t worry about doing “it” perfectly!

Why do I need to do this?
I have had dogs come into class, out of control, their owners at their wits end. They love the dog dearly, and yet he can be causing total misery in their life, maybe getting to the point where they are afraid of visitors coming in case he bites, with walks taking place after dark to avoid other people, because the dog is so aggressive. Yet at home, the dog is allowed to lie on the sofa, be given special food (e.g. toast and pate seems popular), sleep on the masters’ bed. Does this dog deserve this special attention? Why should he do as he is told? He gets the best of everything for no effort. If a person were causing you such grief would you reward them for it in this way? Why should the dog behave any better? In the wild the dog has to work for every pleasure.
The first step is to remove these sorts of privileges!

Do you want a more obedient and socialable dog?
Now be honest with yourself! You will know how many changes you need to make. Do you want your dog to be more obedient? If yes, start right now! These actions will change your dog’s attitude to training.

About The Author

Avril has been instructing at dog classes since 1983. Two years later she started her business as a dog trainer and behaviour counsellor.

Avril has a Diploma in Integrative Counselling. Since June 1997, Avril has been giving advice on dog behaviour for BBC Radio Essex. This year Avril has become the Behaviour Consultant for the RSPCA at Wethersfield & is now a regular contributor for “Paws 4 Rescue” magazine in the UK & USA & recently appeared on T.V.
Avril lives with 2 Border Collies Dajean Truly Perfect OW and her son Super Ted.

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