Leader of the Pack

LEADER OF THE PACK – A Guide to Understanding Jack Russell Terriers

My name is Sue Murphree and I am a JRTCC/JRTCA member and a former JRT breeder in Scottsdale, Arizona, (Troon Quarry Jack Russell Terriers). For the past 15 years, I have also been coordinator for Jack Russell Rescue of Scottsdale, and I place numerous Jack Russell Terriers in new homes each year.  I am very fortunate to have a friend who is an animal behaviorist and obedience trainer. When I have a problem dog in Rescue, I have Carol Mitchell of Gold Star Dog Training to call on at 602-840-1166. She owns Jack Russells and understands them very well. And there are other trainers out there in your area that can be of help if you are willing to search for the right one.  Not all trainers understand Jack Russells, nor are all trainers good ones.  I am very lucky to know Carol because some of my rescue dogs have been put through the wringer by unknowing or uncaring owners. If I may share the following with you, it might help with better understanding of this feisty breed of dog known as the Jack Russell Terrier. While I personally don’t have all the answers, I rely on those better equipped and more knowledgeable than I am to succeed with my dogs.

It is recognized by behaviorists and scientists that dogs descend from wolves or at least have a common ancestor. Because of the studies of wolves in the wild, it has been shown that certain behavior characteristics are also shared by modern day companion dogs. The relationships and social hierarchy are virtually the same in the pet dog as in the wolf.  An understanding of how this social structure works enhances the ability to train and relate to the dog. Lack of understanding of the pack theory may result in many unwanted behavior problems.  (The pack theory is better explained by going to Cesar Milan’s website at www.dogpsychologycenter.com/ )      This is but one of many sites that can help you better understand how to install yourself as the pack leader OVER your dog.  A dog can become aggressive or nervous when he does not understand that you are the Pack Leader. But you have to work to establish yourself in his eyes – and in your own eyes. The website above can give you lots of good information about this particular problem.) Love and affection must come AFTER your dog shows you the respect that you must demand.

Your dog may have assumed that he is the leader of your household pack.  Many times humans unintentionally cause the dog to assume this position because they act subordinate to the dog. Understanding the pack theory and consulting a behaviorist is the only way to undo the relationship between your family and the dog and to begin to assume your leadership over the dog. Usually aggressive behavior only becomes worse if left unchecked.  Of course, the best approach is NOT to let your dog get to this point.  Training is imperative in handling a strong dog like the Jack Russell Terrier.  So get training for your dog BEFORE you actually need it.

A couple of questions:

(1) Where does the dog sleep at night?

If you are allowing your dog on your bed, you have invited him to share your Den.  And as leader of the Pack, this is not permitted. He should sleep in his crate (see attached “It’s a Crate – NOT a Cage!” article) in your bedroom or in a room nearby your bedroom. This allows him to rest through the night without interruption as when you get up to go to the bathroom or get a drink of water. I cover my dog’s crate with a light sheet so that air circulates but he is cozy in his crate. It’s time for bed! He has a chew hoof or a favorite toy with him. And it’s lights out!

(2) What do you do when you are sitting on the sofa or chair and the dog jumps up in your lap uninvited?

When you are sitting down watching TV or reading and your dog hops up in your lap uninvited, say his Name and then OFF and stand up at the same time, dumping him off your lap. Wait for a while and then YOU invite him to jump up in your lap.  Praise him and pet him until you are ready, and then say “off” and encourage him to leave your lap. If he does not do so immediately, stand up again while saying OFF and he will soon get the idea.  A dog who is in control will continue to be in control and get more and more demanding. This tells him that you are in charge of when he is in your lap.

(3) Are you an owner who regularly hugs the dog and gets in his face with sweet words, etc? 

Jack Russells are not “in-your-face” kinds of dogs.  Too much stimulation can lead to control issues.  A hug and a pat now and then is sufficient.  Remember that you are the pack leader.  The pack leader is the one the other animals look up to – the pack leader is not “Mommy” who loves and pets and licks the other animals in the pack. The Pack leader is the LEADER and the PROTECTOR and the one in charge of the Pack.  The Pack Leader is NOT a friend – he is the Pack Leader.  And that’s what you want to be in the eyes of your dog.  Is it hard to do this, especially if you are a loving, caring owner?  You bet it is.   But you want your dog to understand the pecking order in your family for his own good.  This keeps him from having to be in charge, and he knows he can leave decisions to you.  YOU are in charge, and you can’t let down your guard for even a moment. It’s like this:  it is much easier to be a friend to your kids than to be a parent. But if you have children, you know that you must be a parent FIRST. This is the same with a dog, especially one with control and dominance issues.

(4) When your dog walks past you, are you constantly giving him a pat or do you ignore him and let him come to you?

You need to let a dog come to you. You are the pack leader and you invite the dog into your presence. He does not come to you and jump up on your leg. If you see him looking at you, ignore him and go on with what you are doing. When he is not looking at you, say his name and then pat yourself on the thigh and say COME.  When he comes, give him a treat or a pat and praise him with a “Good Boy, Good COME.” This is reinforcing the desired behavior.  When I first bring dogs into rescue at my home, I spend a couple of day just ignoring the dog and observing and testing the dog. When the dog has learned that I am the only person he has now, he will begin to depend on me for everything.  Once that happens I have established in his mind who is the Pack Leader – ME – I’m the alpha bitch around here!  And I leave no doubt in that dog’s mind. And while I am kind and always present, when I say NO I mean NO. I choose a key word – my word has always been LOOK.  When I say “look,” if there are 10 dogs in my backyard at Troon Quarry Jack Russells, every dog in the yard will walk up to me and stand at attention.  They have been conditioned to respond in that way.  And even the Rescue dogs learn quickly to do so also. LOOK is my control word. When I am in the show ring, and I am standing my dog up for the judge to observe, I stop and say “Dog’s Name – LOOK.” And my dogs will stand until the sun falls out of the sky!  And why?  Because I have conditioned them that way, usually with a piece of dry dog food or a treat in the beginning when they stand the proper way.  If they jump up on my leg, I put my foot out and back them off until they are standing the right way. Then I IMMEDIATELY put a piece of dry food in my hand and pop it in their mouths. Soon I am able to do this without food. Good or proper behavior always gets a reward – either praise or a treat or both.

(5)  Does your dog get a regular walking regimen daily?

Most dog owners think that letting their dog out into the backyard alone will suffice in the area of exercise.  NOT SO! In the wilds, dogs walk in packs.  This is socialization for them. A hard or brisk walk 45 minutes per day will make all the difference in your dog and in your own health, both mental and physical.  Today’s world is one of rush, rush, rush – taking time to “smell the roses” in a walk with your dog can change not only your dog’s attitude, but your attitude also.  Family members should switch off walking the dog.  During the first half of the walk, allow your dog to smell and pee and smell and pee all he wants.  But on the second half of the walk, YOU are in charge.  No lollygagging for your dog, but a hard, brisk walk that shows him what the terms “Walk” and “Heel” really mean. Always walk your dog on your left side.  If he strays away from you, “bump” him up with the leash and say “Walk.”  Make sure that he knows you are in charge – another exercise in establishing you as his Pack Leader. Be gentle in your corrections but be consistent and persistent.  This walk will serve the purpose of exercise but most importantly, it is socialization, as well as an exercise in being his Pack Leader. You can also run with your dog, bike with your dog, rollerblade with your dog – whatever you desire. If you don’t have the time to walk with your dog every day, then hire a neighborhood teenager to come over and walk your dog. This can be done ONLY when you take the time to train the teenager how you want this done safely and effectively.  This “dog sitting” venture should be done only occasionally, since one of the purposes of the walk is establishing Pack Leader behavior and socialization between you and your dog.

Clicker training is also a great thing in conditioning dogs to be responsive.  But I can’t use a clicker in the show ring so I use LOOK. You might want to get a book or go to a website about clicker training. Karen Pryor’s website for clicker training is a great one to visit at


But the most important thing for you to do RIGHT NOW – don’t wait a minute – is establish yourself as your dog’s Pack Leader.  For example, when it is feeding time, take a bowl of his dog food and hold it out waist high.  Take a cracker and make your dog wait for his food while you eat your cracker.  This sounds silly but it will teach your dog that your needs are met first – he will have to wait until you are finished eating to be fed his dinner.  And you might want to eat two crackers before sitting the bowl down.  But you have taught him that he will have to wait until the Pack Leader has eaten. 

The same thing is true when you go through the door. You start through the door to the kitchen and your dog runs in front of you. You stop immediately and call him back to you. Then when he is on the other side of the door going into the kitchen, you look him dead in the eye – say his name and then say WAIT.  Teach him to wait for you to go through the door – any door, any time – with any family member.  This establishes your role as Pack Leader.  Just like you would teach your kids to open doors for you. Respect is earned and respect is rewarded. When a dog knows that you are leader of the pack, it is a relief for him because he knows that you will take care of the important things and that he doesn’t have to do it for you. He can relax and enjoy his role in life. No stress, and no big decision making. Like who comes into the house and if he is in control of this stranger.  He needs to learn that YOU are in charge, and he can rely on you to control the situation.

There are lots of little things that we do every day that establishes us as Pack Leader. At first it will be something you have to think about all the time – but later as he learns and as you learn also, it will become rote.

Hope this helps. There are lots of good books out there and lots of good websites to help you with this problem. Just get busy and find them. Some things may not work right away, but the only way to train a dog the correct behavior is two-fold:  persistency and consistency.  Your dog’s life will be much easier when he can relax and know that you are in charge – his Pack Leader!  And you don’t have to be cruel or harsh or mean about your training – but you do have to be persistent and consistent.  If you demand a lot from your dog in the correct way, you will be amazed at how much he will be able to give you and what joy he will bring into your life.

Courtesy of Jack Russell Rescue of Scottsdale, AZ – 480-391-9837 - and Troon Quarry Jack Russell Terriers – 480-391-2007.





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