Cesar Millan

Pack Leadership Techniques

From birth puppies are taught rules, boundaries and limitations by their mother. Through puppy hood to adulthood, puppies need these boundaries and the sense of security that someone is in charge.  Adult dogs have these same needs. The pack leadership techniques developed by Cesar Millan assist the human pack leader to provide this necessary function. Millan believes that mastering these powerful tools will result in a much more rewarding relationship between you and your dog.

Pack Leadership Technique 1: Project calm, assertive energy

Energy is a word that is packed with various meanings. In this context it is the vibrations, the body language  and the external behavior representing your inner emotional state. When you are confident and in charge you project that through your body language and your energetic field as calmness and assertiveness. While we are just beginning to understand how these subtle messages are translated in our everyday communications with others,  this projected energy is the primary signal that your dog understands and to which he responds.

Consider that time when you were excited about good news, your dog does not understand the significance of the news, nor the reason for the jubilation, but merely sees and feels the projection of joy and responds in kind. The opposite is true as well. How did your dog respond when you heard bad news or something that brought sadness into the home?  Likely your dog was right by your side, offering comfort and support. Your dog was reading your body language and your energy and responding in kind.

From birth, a puppy is exposed to the calm assertive energy of the mother as she cares for her litter and provides all of its needs. Puppies assume a calm, submissive role to mom and together they create the perfect balance. This calm submissiveness is the natural state of most dogs, since there can only be so many pack leaders. A calm assertive pack leader provides the perfect balance.

Cesar Millan suggests that this balance must be maintained when the leadership of the pack moves from canine to human.  At that point, it is the human pack leader which must provide the calm assertive energy which reassures the rest of the pack that someone is in charge. When there is no leader, the dog will attempt to create that balance by assuming the calm assertive role. For most dogs this is neither their natural nor their preferred state and can become quite stressful.

How can you project calm, assertive energy?  Millan suggests the use of your imagination. He recommends that you imagine someone who inspires confidence in you. This could be a parental figure, a famous leader or hero or even a fictional character. Picture those traits that inspire confidence and then imagine you are that character.  Stand like they stand; move like they move. As you practice, this will become easier.  More importantly as you practice and your dog responds to you in his natural calm, submissive energy you will respond to that  positive reinforcement in kind. You and your dog will be energetically aligned and emotionally in tune.

Pack Leadership Technique 2: Provide exercise, discipline, affection

Body, mind and heart are three organs of perception.  When all three needs are being met, the body is in harmony.  This is true for you, it is also true for your dog.  Dogs instinctively find that balance.  Intellect and emotions are secondary. Humans live in a world of intellectual and emotional primacy.  So much so, that our instinctual awareness is often considered much less important and often bypassed altogether.

All too often, the dog owner will relate to their dog in a human manner, emphasizing intellect and emotions over instinct. When dogs live in a human world, it is up to you as the pack leader to understand your dog’s needs and provide that balance.

That is why Millan emphasizes the hierarchy of needs as exercise, discipline and affection are to be provided in that specific order.  He calls this the Fulfillment Formula and defines it as:

  • Exercise for the Body = Fulfilling Instinct = Creating Trust
  • Exercise for the Mind = Fulfilling Intellect = Creating Respect
  • Exercise for the Heart= Fulfilling Emotion = Creating Love

Pack Leadership Technique 3: Establish rules, boundaries and limitations

Survival is the goal of the pack. The pack leader establishes and enforces the rules, boundaries and limitations and sets the direction. The other members of the pack follow the pack leader, trusting that the pack leader offers protection, direction and survival of the pack.

Rules define acceptable and unacceptable activities.  Boundaries define territory: your territory, your dog’s territory and mutual space. Dogs instinctively want to please. When you provide clear and consistent rules and boundaries, you provide clarity and consistency to your dogs.  Pleasing you becomes an easy task.

Pack Leadership Technique 4: Master the Walk

Walking your dog is the perfect blend of exercise, discipline and affection! When you walk your dog, you must be the pack leader. To be an effective pack leader, you must project calm assertive energy.  It all comes back to that!

When you project that calm assertiveness, your dog provides the corresponding balance.  As the leader, you provide the direction, you set the rules and boundaries. And, your dog will respond in kind, allowing you to lead and responding to clear and well defined rules and boundaries.

To be the leader you must be aware of your surroundings, ensure the safety of your dog and avoid unpleasant encounters with other dogs by paying attention to other dog walkers from a distance.  Your confidence allows your dog to relax and enjoy your skillful leadership and the physical stimulation of the walk.

Pack Leadership Technique 5: Read your dog’s body language

Body language is an important facet of communication.  Humans communicate with words.  Dogs, however use energy as expressed in body language.   Reading body language may not be something that you routinely do, although studies have shown that humans do respond to body language sometimes without even realizing it.

To communicate effectively with your dog, and especially to read your dog’s intentions, it is important to pay close attention so as to learn to decode your dog’s behavior.  This is because seemingly similar behavior in dogs can actually have different intent.  It is in the subtleness of the action or intention that you can read true intent.  The better you know your dog and the more practice you have reading your dog’s body language, the better you will get.

While body language can range from very general to very specific, the most important body parts to pay attention to are the ears, back, tail and head. The higher these are, the more dominant a dog is feeling.  The lower they are, the more submissive or uncertain.

Dogs can’t tell you in words what they are thinking or feeling, but they can speak volumes through body language.  The more you observe your dog, the better able you will be to read all of the things he is trying to tell you!

Read part 1 of our article on dog trainer Cesar Millan