The #1 Sign Your Dog Doesn’t Respect You as Pack Leader, According to Cesar Millan

Plus, 3 other tell-tale signs

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Dog Whisperer Cesar Millan on couch with two dogs.
Angela Weiss/Getty Images

In the 146th episode of the animated South Park series, Eric Cartman proves himself such a perpetual terror of a child that his mother has no other choice than to bring in backup: Cesar Millan, the Dog Whisperer—well, at least the cartoon version of the famous trainer. Cartman may be a human kid, but Millan keeps to his professional background, and steps in as pack leader, successfully rehabilitating Cartman—at least for some of the episode. 

Obviously, the joke of the episode is equating Cartman to a dog. But in my recent conversation with Millan (the real one), the renowned dog behaviorist brought the cartoon up as a (very funny) example of the importance of the pack leader. “You see relationships when a child controls a parent,” Millan says, humorously referencing how Cartman, lacking a pack leader, escalated his naughty behavior to Saw-esque tactics. Not that your pup is anywhere close to Jigsaw, but without leadership, things can go awry. The same thing goes for the relationship with your dog, and according to Millan the most common sign that your dog doesn’t respect you as pack leader is when they jump on you without being requested. 

Other common signs that your dog doesn’t respect you as pack leader include when your pup:

  • walks in front of you
  • demands things with a not-so “happy-go-lucky” bark
  • takes five seconds or longer to respond to a command

So, why does your dog need a pack leader at all? 

According to Millan, it’s all about safety. He related it back to the human family unit: “Your mom, your dad were your first pack leaders, and they have to make sure that you’re safe. And the way that you are safe is that you listen to them fast enough.” Think about the difference a split second can make when it comes to crossing a street or jumping off the monkey bars. The same goes for dogs. If you, the supposed pack leader, can’t control their reactions—and quickly—your dog, someone else’s dog or someone could get hurt.

“There is no knowledge behind instinct. It’s only reaction. And somebody can get hurt,” says Millan, expounding on why dog owners have to control their pups’ reactions. Dogs need exercise, discipline and affection, and in that order. Most dog lovers, from Millan’s experience, put affection/love first, and then hire someone like him to fill in the gaps. While that’s good for business, the Dog Whisperer jokes, it’s not ideal. Leadership and following—which come from exercise and discipline—is a must. 

How do you become the pack leader your pup needs?

As Millan puts it, most of his training is really about retraining the human to lead. It won’t happen overnight, but understanding that you have to be the one to be consistent and provide discipline and then affection, can really be the doorway to reframing your relationship with your dog. And don’t be afraid to lean on resources like dog training books, trainer-preferred treats, or even guard rails like Millan’s own multi-functional 3D fence, the Halo 3.

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Executive Editor, Frazzled Mom, Bravo-Holic

Dara Katz is PureWow's Executive Editor, focusing on relationships, sex, horoscopes, travel and pets. Dara joined PureWow in 2016 and now dresses so much better. A lifestyle...