Greater California
German Shepherd Rescue
~ It's all about the dogs ~

The 30 Day Leadership Protocol

If your dog is biting, threatening anyone, acting in a territorial or aggressive manner, or just generally unruly and disrespectful manner, then your dog is convinced he (or she) is in charge—which would be all well and good if your dog were bringing in the money and paying the bills, but that's probably not the case. So, you need to convince your dog that YOU are in charge, and your dog's attitude is not wanted or appreciated. That applies to ALL humans being in charge—dogs are always lower in the pack order than humans. If you and all the other people in the household will follow these guidelines for 30 days, you should see a definite change in your dog. If your dog is still not quite as respectful as you'd like, give it another 30 days. Remember, your dog developed these issues over many months, and just like humans, changing habits takes a little time.

THE 3 KEY ELEMENTS TO DOG OWNERSHIP: There are 3 key elements of dog ownership: management, leadership and training. Management involves physical restraint of some kind such as a leash, crate or kennel. Leadership defines your philosophy and relationship with the dog. Training is what you've taught the dog to do by a systematic routine of teaching, rewards, and corrections. Keep in mind that ANY interaction with the dog teaches the dog something, whether good or bad. The more leadership and training the dog has, the less management the dog will need.

THE 3—RESPONSE SYSTEM: Everything you do in response to an action by the dog teaches him something. If you ignore an unwanted behavior, you're giving the dog permission to continue with it. Reward the right behavior (reward calmly), Correct the wrong behavior (correct calmly and without anger), and Ignore anything else that isn't self—reinforcing. A Reward can be a pat on the head, a spoken word like "good job," or a treat (but only later after the proper attitude adjustment). A Correction can be a pop on the leash, a stiff touch on the neck, a poke in the ribs or blocking the dog physically with your legs but it all must be done calmly. A verbal correction comes into use AFTER the dog respects you as a leader and will listen to you, usually after you have proven you will physically correct him.

THE FOLLOW-THROUGH: When correcting the dog, you MUST follow through until the dog has stopped moving and is calm, respectful, and focused on YOU. That means the dog is standing still, sitting or lying down, relaxed, and looking up at you or has assumed "that guilty look" which just means the dog has assumed a respectful posture, and then YOU need to walk away. NEVER LET THE DOG ESCAPE A CORRECTION.

THE 4 Cs OF LEADERSHIP: All dogs need leadership, especially insecure, territorial or aggressive dogs. They must have rules that are always the same. It's the dog's job to be calm and relaxed, and to follow what the Leader wants. It's the Leader's job to be Calm, Clear, Confident and Consistent. You must take charge of every situation and control your emotions.

NOTHING IN LIFE IS FREE (NILIF): The first thing you need to do is institute the Nothing In Life Is Free (NILIF) program. In a nutshell, the dog MUST perform some requested act before getting something THE DOG wants. He wants dinner? He must Sit first or he doesn't get it. You tell him Sit, if he pretends to be deaf, you say nothing, turn around and walk away. Give him about 5-10 minutes to think about it, then come back, tell him to Sit, say nothing, and give him another chance. If he won't Sit the second time, he doesn't get fed until the next regularly scheduled feeding. (Healthy dogs don't starve themselves, they will all give in when their belly gets empty enough, usually by the 3rd day.) Don't give him dinner until he Sits, and don't ever free-feed the dog—make him look to you and perform some action for all food, treats, anything he wants. It shouldn't take long, and won't take more than a day or two for him to figure it out. Do the same thing with coming inside, going outside, going on walks, getting in the car, etc. Anything HE wants, he must perform some act of obedience. Sit, Down, Wait, Ask Permission. Once he gets good at the Sit, then up the ante and teach him to Wait until you release him. Once he does that, then up the ante again and make him "ask permission" by giving you eye contact WITHOUT you saying a word. Sooner or later, EVERY dog will look at your face and wonder why you're not feeding him and why you're just standing there silently. (Trust me on this—over 100 foster dogs and not one has failed to learn to Ask Permission by the end of the 1st week, mostly by the end of the third day). You've just taught him to look to you for permission without any treats or any nagging, "watch me! watch me!" commands. You'll find that making him Ask Permission for everything will go a long way towards gaining his attention and respect. In everything in his daily life, he needs to learn that YOU control all the resources & goodies. THE DOG HAS TO EARN EVERYTHING.

YIELDING. Extremely important: always make him MOVE out of your way. Dogs who block their owner's path are dogs who think they're in charge (and are usually right). Would you block your boss's or instructor's path getting into an elevator when you're already in there and make them go around you? Nope, you'd yield back out of their way. Insist that your dog do the same. If he stands in your way, tell him "Move" and bump into him with your knees and keep bumping a little harder each time until he moves. Doesn't matter if he's lying down, then shuffle into him with your feet. Make it uncomfortable enough that he'll get up and get his tail out of the way. He likes to lie in the middle of the doorway and claim it? MAKE HIM MOVE EVERY SINGLE TIME AND NEVER GIVE GROUND TO THE DOG.

NO MORE ESCAPING CONSEQUENCES. From now on make the dog drag a leash on an escape-proof collar whenever you're home so you can correct him if he starts displaying unwanted behavior. He has to recognize that you're in control and his actions have consequences. Make sure he's wearing a chain or nylon training collar or martingale collar that will tighten if there's pressure on the leash, no flat collars or harnesses.

NO MORE FREEDOM. Make him earn every bit of freedom he gets now. And at any time when you're not going to be actively able to watch him (taking a shower, for instance), crate him. Don't give him any opportunity to misbehave at all for a while. Dogs benefit from learning self-control and how to stay calmly crated. If they go to the vet at any point and have to stay overnight, they'll certainly be contained in a cage or a crate, they'll come through it better if they can accept confinement. Likewise with traveling or any number of other scenarios when they must be confined in a small area. Until the dog proves he can make the right decisions, he doesn't get to make any. Don't tolerate any brat routines while in the crate.

NO FREE AFFECTION OR TREATS. Stop all goodies for now, take him back to bare minimum for a while. Ignore him. Make him want your attention more than goodies, and then limit any affection and attention from you. Make him earn every bit of it, again by performing something (Sit), give it to him briefly ("That's nice." Pat, pat.), then tell him to go away or go lie down or get out of your face and shoo him off with your hands. Ignore him until he goes away, then go on about your business. Tough love, baby! No more freebies.

NO MORE BED OR FURNITURE PRIVILEGES. Dogs who have furniture privileges develop an exalted opinion of themselves and pretty soon they start to claim the furniture. When that superior attitude causes problems, they need to be dethroned. Use that dragging line to prevent him from getting on the furniture to begin with, or to calmly lead him off of it if he beats you to it. Make him sleep in the crate or tethered to the foot of your bed.

CORRECT ANY UNWANTED BEHAVIOR. Yep, physically correct it. If love and cookies worked, there wouldn't be any problem dogs. Dogs understand physical corrections as that's how they relate to one another. That means that whenever he's doing anything you don't want him to do, it's your job to SHOW him you don't like it, not just to tell him. Grab that leash and give it a quick pop (remember, he's dragging a leash at all times now). If that doesn't get his attention, give him a quick poke with your stiffened fingers right behind his shoulders. Say "HEY!" at the same time you poke, follow it up with a leash pop and a "Quit!" or "Knock that off!" If your first attempt is too wimpy, he'll ignore it. So match his level of intensity with your own. If he's REALLY distracted, you'll have to put more energy into your corrections. If the poke in the ribs doesn't work, move to the flank right behind the ribs and poke harder. I guarantee the dog won't ignore that. VERY IMPORTANT: Do not poke the dog if there is any chance he'll bite you, use the leash correction until he respects your authority. Above all, you can't be angry when correcting him, you must be very matter of fact. Get his attention and MAKE him respond and calm down. Don't kill your dog with kindness—the majority of dogs that end up in shelters are there because of behavior problems. If those problems are too severe, they don't ever make it out of the shelter. The kindest thing you can do is to teach your dog right from wrong with consequences for his actions.

CORRECT THE THOUGHT. Correct the very thought of a misbehavior, don't wait for the deed. Yes, it's absolutely fair to correct the intention, because the dog will always follow through with action. So when you see him FIRST start to focus on another dog, cat, person or whatever, break his focus with a correction and FOLLOW THROUGH until he gives you his full attention and respect. He will absolutely understand what you're doing. Once he starts to listen to you, use a key word like "Relax" so he'll understand that you're in charge and he doesn't need to take any action.

YOU HAVE TO MEAN IT. If you're not serious, he'll know it. You can't secretly think something is cute that you're trying to correct, because he will KNOW you think it's cute. You have to have the right attitude for a dog to respect you. You have to have the voice of authority by acting in a calm, clear, confident and consistent manner. VERY IMPORTANT: Don't mistake your dog's possessive actions to anyone in the household as "protectiveness." A dog who guards his favorite person from others in the household is showing possessiveness and dominance, and can lead to serious aggression. It's not cute. It's resource-guarding and just as dangerous as a dog who guards food or bones or toys and will ALWAYS escalate to a bite unless dealt with.

YOU GET WHAT YOU PET. If your dog is stressed, anxious, worried or aggressive, and you pet him, you're telling him that he's doing EXACTLY what you want him to do because you're reinforcing it by petting him. Dogs don't understand that we're telling them NOT to do something in words, when we're telling them exactly the opposite by actions and tone. Petting and saying "it's okay, it's okay" in a soothing voice to a dog means exactly that—it's OKAY to be stressed, anxious, worried or aggressive in this situation! They understand body language & tone, not rationalization. If you pet a stressed dog, you'll get a more stressed dog. If you pet an aggressive dog, you'll get a more aggressive dog. ONLY PET A CALM, RELAXED DOG.

TEACH SELF-CONTROL: THE SETTLE EXERCISE. Dogs need to learn to go lie down quietly and mind their own business most of the time, and that they don't need to be the center of attention. Dogs with an inflated sense of their own importance that constantly demand attention from their owners particularly need this lesson as often as possible within the 30 days. Teach the dog self-control by using the Settle exercise. Whenever you will be sitting in one place in a sturdy chair (no wheels) for at least an hour, bring your dog next to you on the now ever-present leash, and sit on your dog's leash. Give him only about 18 inches of leash, so he can just barely reach the floor with his neck. Then completely ignore him. Don't talk to him, don't look at him, don't touch him unless he tries to climb on you and then elbow him off without looking at him. Don't give him any attention or commands, let him figure out on his own that he just needs to settle down next to you and relax. No matter how long it takes, stay there until he lies down and relaxes for at least 30 minutes, even if he falls asleep. Once the 30 minutes of "behaving" are over, continue to ignore him while you get up and let him drag the leash off to do whatever he wants. Do this at least once a day, more often if possible. This puts no physical strain on the dog, so it's an exercise that can be done often.

THE MAGIC CARPET. Okay, here's where you can teach the dog something and have him earn a treat for it. If you have a dog bed that's just for him, you can use that to start. Eventually you'll want something portable, so you can even use a towel for now, ideally a mat just his size that can easily be rolled up and taken with you. Teach him to go to his own Place whenever he's told and to stay there until released. Lead him to the mat, tell him Place (or Bed or Mat or "Magic Carpet!") and when he has all 4 feet on it, tell him to sit and then he gets a treat. Shape the behavior by upping the ante a little bit at a time over several days until he will walk to it from any spot in the room and sit on it before getting a treat. Then make him Down on his mat before getting the treat. Once he gets the whole concept, and will regularly go lie down on his mat, start randomly tossing a treat to him while you're watching TV, reading, studying, what have you. If he gets up, ignore him and withhold any more treats until he settles back down on his mat for a while. (Cheetos are great for this—world's best dog treats, yummy for human & dog alike!) Eventually, insist that he STAY on the mat until you release him, by correcting him back to it if he gets up and moves. You've now taught your dog an OFF SWITCH: the Down-Stay.

TEACH OBEDIENCE COMMANDS. Every civilized dog needs to know how to Sit, Wait, Move, Place, Quiet and Leave It, and that's just the bare minimum. They should also learn the formal commands of Sit, Down, Stay, Come and Heel. Dogs are capable of learning over a hundred commands, so don't short-change him! Make him live up to his potential. These are different from NILIF in that the dog doesn't get to make the choice about whether to perform it or not. Once he knows the command, it's absolutely fair to correct him for not complying. Use them in everyday life. Make the dog responsible for his actions.


1. Thou shall always Respect human leadership and not Mock them.
2. Thou shall always Yield to humans and not Block their path.
3. Thou shalt not Bite any human or Kill another living creature.
4. Thou shalt not Fight with other dogs, especially thy packmates.
5. Thou shalt not Jump Up or Place Paw upon humans or furniture.
6. Thou shalt not Hump any human or other creature out of dominance.
7. Thou shalt not Bark or Whine endlessly and without reason.
8. Thou shalt not leave thy Mark inside a human abode.
9. Thou shalt not Steal from plate, counter or garbage.
10. Thou shalt not Covet or Hoard thy packmates' bones or toys.

To keep it simple:

No Mocking, No Blocking
No Biting, No Fighting
No Jumping, No Humping
No Barking, No Marking
No Stealing, No Bones about it!

KEEP THE RESPECT: After your dog has had an attitude adjustment, keep him respectful by maintaining your leadership role and skills. Incorporate NILIF and Obedience into your everyday life and your dog will be a welcome addition to any family activity and will have an enriched life by going along on outings. The better behaved your dog is, the more freedom he'll earn. Use it, don't lose it!


Just as information—our rescued German Shepherds come into our program right out of the shelter and into our homes. They're rude, obnoxious and untrained, and many of them have the same issues as your dog. Our very experienced foster homes have a pack of their own dogs, many of us have 3 or 4 resident dogs, and have had up to 10-12 dogs at a time, a mixture of altered and intact males and females, all of them loose together. Pack management isn't always politically correct, you have to be willing to physically stop some behaviors no matter what it takes, and to immediately correct any evil intentions. They ALL learn who's really in charge (always the humans) and to get along with each other within the first DAY or TWO. So this is not just theory, we have actually lived it with 100s of foster dogs.