Editor's note: This is part of a larger series on a basic handler's seminar taught by Mike Stewart and Vic Barlow. For the rest of the story click here


As new recruits in the dog-training world, we received a crash course in pack hierarchy. There we stood at attention with our pups at heel — or so we thought. In reality, while we were paying attention to our instructors, our dogs were sniffing the ground, each other, changing position, whining and the like.

From the line you'd hear repeated commands of "sit," "heel," "quiet," "no" and more.

As pack animals, dogs are constantly looking for where they belong in the pecking order. For you to be an effective trainer, you must establish and maintain the dominant role in the relationship with your dog.

If he doesn't view you as superior to him, then he views you as a subordinate. And if you are subordinate, your dog will never consistently listen to your commands.

Quick test: With your dog sitting or laying beside you, try straddling and standing over him.

If he moves out of the way and won't easily accept your towering above him, you've got work to do in rectifying your place in the pack. If your pup looks up at you without a concern, congratulations, you probably have established yourself as the leader. However, that doesn't mean you can rest on your laurels; dogs (like wolves and all canines) are programmed to test the leader now and then to see if/when they can assume the lead role.

One of the first steps in gaining the upper hand on your four-legged hunting buddy is to get his attention. That can be accomplished many ways; from a simple snap of the lead or quick change of walking direction to a gruff growl or shake by the jowls.