Basic Training

Training Your Dog: Pack Leader vs. Partnership

Training should be fun and rewarding for both you and your dog! It does not need to include fear or pain for your dog.

There are two styles of dog training most popular today. One of the styles focusing on clear communication and teaching the dog the correct thing to do. The other focuses on waiting for the dog to make a mistake so it can be punished.

Being a “pack leader” is a term coined by a nationally televised show about rehabilitating dogs and training people. The “pack leader” is equivalent to the boss, or “alpha.” The rules to this are rather simple, if your dog knows you are the boss, it won’t want to be in charge. But if you are not a strong leader, the dog will sense that and will feel the need to become the “alpha” of the family pack. Basically as long as you show that you are the boss you have nothing to worry about.

Seems like an easy enough concept. Just like any kind of training, consistency is key. This means that every human needs to treat the dog the same way with this style. But what if one of the humans is not capable of winning the confrontations or being physical enough to get their point across? The way this style of training works is if the dog does something inaccurate or inadequate, it receives something aversive, a punishment, e.g. giving a collar “pop” that chokes the dog and jerks its neck. What I dislike most is how confrontational and physical it is. Being confrontational and physical in training can be a recipe for disaster and there is a very good chance that someone will get bitten. The goal with this style of training is that the dog will do the correct thing the next time to avoid the punishment. Really this isn’t a fun way to learn or to teach. Ultimately what you can end up with is a fearful dog that goes through its life walking on eggshells trying to avoid punishment, and a human that is walking right beside the dog acting like a drill sergeant.

Creating partnerships between humans and canines is the style I’ve chosen which I feel is a more effective style of training than being a “pack leader” and using punishment as the primary means of communication. The reason why I like this partnership mentality is because it’s a relationship built off of communication that does not consist of pain or fear. It’s about teaching the dog what it is supposed to be doing.

The philosophy behind partnership training is more along the lines of if the dog is doing something it is not supposed to be doing; it is because it does not know it shouldn’t be doing it. Positive reinforcement is the primary quadrant used with this style. The theory behind this is if you reinforce a dog’s behavior, the behavior is likely to continue and also get stronger. I got into this style of training through trial and error basically. I am what is considered to be a cross over trainer. What this means is I started off training dogs with the “pack leader” mentality and then switched to the “partnership” approach. I have first hand experience of what is more effective, fun, and humane.

One of the main reasons I switched to the positive, partnership style of training was because of how fun it is.  I mean, having a dog is supposed to be fun, right?

Another reason I switched to a “partnership” style is because of all the research I did via books, studies online, and working with other professional trainers/behaviorists. All the recent studies are pointing to how much more effective it is to teach things in a positive way. And I can confirm this with my experience doing it both ways.

One of the best parts about training in a positive style is how you get to go about working with severe behavioral issues. There is a myth out there that says severe behavioral issues need to be dealt with a strong hand. I have found this to be very untrue. In fact, typically the more physical you are with a dog, the worse the issue will get.  With positive training you focus on modifying the underlying reason for why a dog is acting that way. The majority of the time, to truly fix a behavioral issue, it wouldn’t make for a good 30-minute television show. In fact, when I go into a person’s home to help fix an issue, the last thing I want to do is provoke that unwanted behavior. If my goal is to extinguish the behavior, I’m going to try to use the last time the dog rehearsed the behavior as the starting point for the rehabilitation process.

If you are currently doing things in more of a “pack leader” fashion I encourage you to get curious about positive training. Do some research and see what it’s all about. You may see that you can accomplish things much quicker while having a lot more fun like just like I found.

Kevin Duggan is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer through the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (  and is a Canine Good Citizen Evaluator through the American Kennel Club. He currently resides in Ohio with his dog, V, a six-year-old Shepherd/Lab mix, where he operates All Dogs Go To Kevin, LLC, specializing in helping build positive relationships between humans and their canine companions using clear communication, not pain and fear. For more training tips and tricks, and to meet his amazing dog, V,  follow him on Facebook by clicking here.




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