A happy dog is a dog that not only gets enough exercise and mental stimulation, but a dog that knows with complete confidence and security what their role in life is and where they stand. In a pack of canines there is the leader who keeps order, setting rules that must be followed and making all of the decisions, and there are the followers who look up to the leader for guidance. Both leader and followers are content when the alpha member makes the rest of the pack feel like they are safe, and the leader sees the structure it created being upheld. The leader is happy and the followers are happy because both know their survival depends upon this order. The leader is the stronger minded being, the being that displays a natural authority and is able to make good, confident decisions. It's all in the mind and energy which is being projected; size has nothing to do with it.
Humans and dogs can only peacefully coexist when the dogs are in the follower role. Human society cannot allow dogs to bark, growl, snap at, or bite another human in order to tell them they are not happy with what they are doing. If our dogs get away and are running in the streets, it cannot be the dog who decides when they must come back. We cannot let the dog decide when it is OK for us to leave for work. We cannot let the dog decide who is allowed to walk into your home and who is not. We cannot let the dog decide who is allowed to touch "their" ball or sit in "their" chair.
Millions of dogs are killed by humans each year because the humans allowed the dog to become the alpha of the pack and the dog turned into a biter. When this happens it is the humans who have seriously failed the dog.
By not listening to what your dog wants when the dog is the leader of your pack you cause him to become mentally unstable, which often manifests as stress and/or anxiety. In the dog world, leaders are allowed to leave the followers, however followers are not allowed to leave the leaders unless the leaders say it is OK (separation anxiety). A dog that is allowed to be the leader lives with humans who leave the house without the dog’s permission. They come inside the house when the dog did not tell them they could. They don't wake up or go to bed when the dog tells them they to, and they don't eat when the dog says they must.
Dogs that flip back and forth from leader to follower are always testing to see where they stand. Most do not want the position and give it up easily, but still have the nagging instinct to take over when they sense weakness. These dogs are not truly happy either, because they never really know who is going to be leading at any given moment and therefore cannot feel secure.
Five-year-old walking a 90-pound dog
We cannot expect our dogs to behave and listen to us if we are not consistent in showing them that we are the leaders. Dogs instinctually crave structure and order, and look for the strongest-minded being to be that leader. If they detect that the person in charge is not strong enough, by instinct the dog will take over that role. Dogs do not care if that being is human or canine. If they feel they are stronger than the others around them they will begin to take over in order to "save" their pack.
I am often asked if becoming a dog’s pack leader and having a submissive dog prevents a dog from being a good guard or watch dog. No, all members of the pack, even lower members will step up and protect the rest of the pack should the need arise. You cannot train the guard out of a guard dog or take the keen senses out of a watch dog, but you can have them respect and listen to your commands happily.
If you do not communicate to the dog that you do not agree, how is the dog to know and learn? Dogs need discipline, not punishment. Never hit or scream at a dog. Dogs do not understand nor interpret anger well. Positive reinforcement is a wonderful training method for keeping a dog from developing bad behavior problems. By rewarding the good, you encourage that behavior. When you have a dog that has already developed a negative behavior, positive reinforcement training does not always work well. For example, tossing a treat when the dog is not growling does not teach the dog not to growl. One cannot fix aggression with treats. This does not mean you are to be overbearing and forceful with your dog. Read "What does it mean to be dominant?" for more details. It's all about proper human to canine communication.
While wild dogs can be happy in both leadership and follower positions, in order for canines to live with humans they must be followers. It is not fair to allow a dog to be the leader of a human pack, because humans are not able to go about their lives doing everything our dogs ask of us. We must go to work and the kids must go to school. Dogs cannot come with us to the market, nor accompany us on all of our other necessary errands. Our society does not tolerate aggressive dogs and too many dogs are killed for acting out the leader role. You do not do your dog any favors by allowing him to flip back and forth between leader and follower, nor are you doing him any favors by allowing him to run your home. It is very stressful for a dog to believe he is the leader, yet to not be able to control his followers, and it is equally as stressful for a dog not to have the stability of a consistent, strong-minded leader. The sadest out come is when the humans kill a dog for behaviors the humans created.