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Ever here the story about the dog that went to his master's grave every day, and sat there from dawn to dark? Remember Lassie? OK, so not everybody's dog will be so loyal or smart, that they can rescue you from a precarious situation every week like Lassie, but loyalty does come naturally for most dogs.
There's a reason dogs are “man's best friend”: they want to be! Dogs are highly social pack animals that are naturally predisposed to bonding to a leader, and being part of your “pack” or family. While your dog may not ever have the opportunity to rescue you from a well or drag you from a burning building, teaching your dog to be loyal will make him a wonderful, loving pet and make it easier to train a host of other behaviors. It is also important for your dog's well being and social health, as dogs really need and want a leader and a pack to be loyal to.
Teaching your dog to be loyal to your family, his pack, and recognize you as a leader is something your dog is highly motivated to do. So, training him to be loyal to you and your household members is usually fairly easy, it just takes time to develop the relationship. Dogs need social structure; they are social pack animals and they recognize a hierarchical social structure with a leader, they are programmed that way. It is your job as your dog's owner to fulfill that role and make him feel secure as a pack member. When a dog feels like he is part of your pack and you are his leader, he will be the most loyal friend you could imagine. Teaching your dog to behave, do tricks, and fit into your family will be the natural result of a loyal dog that feels like he belongs to his “pack”.
The best way to start developing loyalty is with a puppy, but even older dogs that may be acquired from difficult situations, such as rescue or shelter dogs, can develop loyalty. It just takes a little extra patience and understanding to integrate them into your family, and provide them the security they crave. While a puppy may naturally bond with you and recognize you as his leader in a few weeks, an older dog may take a few months to settle in and be a loyal household member. Providing your dog with time, attention, and affection and being a leader that gives your dog direction and purpose, will establish long-lasting loyalty in your canine companion.
If you have a dog that has experienced abuse or other issues in the past you will need to give your dog time to develop trust and loyalty. Do not rush him; let him develop the relationship at his own pace. Have patience and avoid punishment, as it rarely is successful in establishing behavioral changes. Although negative consequences may sometimes be required, positive reinforcement is more effective for establishing leadership and thus loyalty in your dog. Make sure you meet all your dog's physical needs for food, exercise, rest, time and attention. A neglected dog will not bond with you and your family as effectively and will not be a health, happy, loyal dog. Also, ensure your dog receives regular health care, vaccines, parasite control and is spayed or neutered at an appropriate age.
The Socialize Method
Take your dog on lots of walks. This not only meets his need for exercise but establishes that he is part of a pack; yours. Dogs travel together with their packs, traveling with your dog makes him identify you as a pack member.
Take your dog on excursions when appropriate; car rides, even short ones, if it is not too hot to have your dog in the car, or on trips to a friends house or the local corner store. Being with you and going on adventures builds relationship and makes your dog part of your environment, giving him a sense of belonging.
Socialize with people
Give your dog lots of opportunity to socialize with other people. Have people to your home or take your dog to places where there are other people.Teach him that he can trust people with you at his side to provide guidance. A well socialized dog that recognize people as friends can express loyalty easily in a variety of situations without being afraid of people.
Socialize with animals
If you have other animals in your home, play with your dog with other dogs or pets to develop a healthy pack mentality, or take your dog to a friend with another dog to give him the chance to interact socially in a safe environment. This develops social interaction which is an important part of loyalty.
Feed and provide
Make sure you feed your dog personally, do not use automatic dispensers, and meet his other needs so that your dog develops a social bond with you as his provider and leader. You can even feed your dog by hand to increase bonding.
The Training Method
Teach your dog to come to you. Use treats and reward your dog for coming when called.
Teach your dog commands such as 'sit', 'stay', 'lie down'. Not only are these useful for your dog to know, it allows you to spend time with him and develops your role as a leader.
Look at me
Teach your dog the 'look at me' command. This behavior develops your dog's view of you as someone to pay attention to and look to for direction. In the wild, pack members are always looking to their pack leader to see what is happening.
Teach your dog off leash commands like 'sit/stay' or 'down/stay'. Not only are these useful for your dog's safety, but they further develop the leadership role. Pack leaders in the wild don't use leashes!
Have some fun teaching your dog fun tricks like ‘beg’, ‘roll over’ or ‘play dead’. Not only does the training reinforce roles but this provides a more fun way to interact during training. Make it a form of play and your dog will get lots of attention for performing these fun tricks, which will give him confidence allowing him to express loyalty.
The Purpose Method
Dogs thrive on having purpose. Dogs have been bred for generations to fulfill certain purposes. Even if you are not going to herd cattle with your Border Collie, or hunt with your Labrador, give your dog an outlet for what they were designed to do. A terrier likes to dig for prey, a Collie likes to herd, a Labrador likes to fetch. Find out what your dog’s natural talents are and then develop them. Providing your dog with purpose builds loyalty.
Set up a clear schedule for your dog and follow it, so he knows when he can expect to receive food, play, exercise and rest. This gives your dog confidence and develops loyalty as he knows what to expect from you and knows that his needs will be met.
Give your dog clear boundaries. Is he allowed on the furniture, is he allowed in the living room? Make sure your dog understands what is expected from him and be consistent. A dog that does not understand what is expected of him is confused and this will impair his ability to be a loyal household member.
Give a job
Teach your dog to complete a job, like fetch a paper or the TV remote. A larger dog can carry a pack with water and snacks on walks. Loyalty comes from being a contributing member of a pack. Learning a specific task that is useful to their leader develops that social role.
Be a leader
Always exude confidence, calmness and positive energy when interacting with your dog to allow him to look to you as his leader. A dog always gives loyalty to his leader. Establish your role as the pack leader.
By Laurie Haggart
Published: 10/12/2017, edited: 01/08/2021