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Being Alpha to a Dominant Dog

Owner of Preferred Animal Relocation, LLC. Melissa is a pet owner and has always had an interest in dog behavior.

Learn how to take hold of the dominant role with your dog.

Dominance is often misconstrued for aggression. Dominance is a desire to control and run things, whereas aggression is the intent to cause harm. A dominant dog wants to do everything his or her way, but an aggressive dog wants to hurt or destroy another living thing. Many times, a dog that just needs to have the alpha roll reestablished gets incorrectly diagnosed and does not receive the proper training, or worse, gets euthanized.

It is important to understand pack mentality. A dog doesn't become a full-fledged member of the pack until it undergoes a process of subordination. Most puppies will try to advance in the social order of the pack as much as possible. Adult dogs teach early on the rules by gently grabbing the cubs around the neck and pinning them to the ground. Cubs quickly learn to greet adult dogs with respect by crouching, putting ears back, tail down and wagging, and licking the muzzle.

Below is a list of ways to take hold of the dominant role with your dog.

Exercises & Tips:

  • Until signs of improvement, cut down on the amount of cuddling given to your dog. Do not give your dog attention on demand. When attention is wanted, make him sit, then give him praises and a pat on the head. Continue with what you were doing before he approached you. If he persists, tell him “no” in a firm tone and then go back to ignoring him. Do not kneel on the floor at his or her level or lower. This is a sign of submission in a dog's eyes.
  • When incorporating exercises into his day you should use a matter-of-fact method and show no signs of anger toward the dog. Resolve to stop yelling at your dog and instead speak in a low tone of voice.
  • Whenever you leave your home, leave the radio on with easy listening music. Talk shows feature people who call in with problems that express their problems in stressed tones.
  • Many trainers recommend 45-60 minutes of brisk exercise twice a day. It can be broken down into two 15-minute sessions a day.
  • Do not let your dog jump on you without command ever. If your dog is a jumper, grab some skin below their ear (firm, not rough) and pull them down while saying, "no". Alpha dogs chomp under a subordinate dog's ears and shake. Remember to praise your dog when it is back on all fours.
  • At mealtime, prepare your dog's food, but do not give it right away. In the wild, alpha dogs eat first and then let the subordinates finish what’s left. It reinforces the alpha role. Tell your dog to go to their feeding area and then give your dog an "ok" command to eat their food. Do not take the food away until eating is complete, unless they do not finish within 10-15 minutes. Take the empty bowl away after feeding so they see you controlling the food.
  • No wrestling until signs of subordination are apparent. Also, do not play tug-a-war. These games encourage dogs to dominate people physically and to use their teeth. Playing fetch is a good game because you can show him that you will only participate in play if he does what you want. Throw a ball or stick. If he won't chase it, or won't give it to you, turn your back and walk away. You should be the one to initiate playtime and decide when it will end. The handler must always win the last round.
  • Your dog may not sleep on the bed. This will prove they don't control the "king's throne". Put their bed in your bedroom. If you let them sleep wherever they want, they get the idea they control the den. Dogs enjoy sleeping with the pack anyway, so it will ease them during sleep if they are near you.
  • Firmly, but not rough, shuffle right through your dog to move him out of your way. Don't walk around him. This should be done while paying no attention to him, however, it may be done with eye contact if needing to make the dog move. You can also do this when sitting next to your dog, by standing or sitting in your dog's favorite spot, or its bed, for 1-2 minutes several times a week.
  • Alpha dogs "stare down" subordinates, so eye contact is very important. If your dog does not back down in a stare contest, then start a verbal correction. As soon as he backs down, praise him. Have two formal eye contact sessions a day.
  • Daily on-leash exercises are a must. Use the umbilical cord method where the dog must be attached to you via a leash tied around your waist. This makes him focus his attention on you for long periods of time. Only use verbal praise and keep the sessions moving.
  • Pick up the dog's toys and keep them out of reach. Toys must be earned.
  • Make your dog obey on the first command. A dog's hearing is significantly better than yours, and you can bet your dog heard you the first time (more reason not to yell). Give commands only if you can follow through.
  • If you have more than one dog in your home, you decide the pecking order within the dog pack by routinely feeding the "top" dog first, giving that dog bones first, etc. Make the others wait for their turn. This is another means of exerting your authority.
  • Fifteen-minute timeouts are beneficial. The dog must remain in sit or down position until you release him from that command. No anger should be associated with this command. When you release your dog, be very unemotional about it and ignore him for 5-10 minutes after release. This exercise can be increased gradually.
  • Alpha dogs nip subordinates under the chin as corrections. You can tap under the chin with one or two fingers to give the same message. If your dog whines, give a slap under the chin and say, "no". During this time no petting, no toys, no soothing, no nothing. Do not tap on top of the dog's muzzle. This can injure your dog and cause a loss in the sense of smell.
  • The alpha roll should only be used in certain, hopefully rare, situations. This method is when you pin your dog to the ground on its side with feet away from you. Hold the collar with one hand to pin the head down and place your other hand on the hip area. This should only be used during unnecessary fights, and when it is safe for your dog to be submissive around the other dog.
  • Execute about-turns if the dog is forging ahead, and counter the body blocks he may use to control your pathway by leaning into him. Insist with a sit-at-every-corner command and change pace whenever you desire.
  • Always go through a door or down stairs first. Your dog should wait until you pass through a doorway or down the stairs before proceeding. This comes in handy when there are young children or elderly adults in the household.

When performing any of these exercises, remember to have fun with your dog. Yes, it's training time, but you are also creating a bond with your dog. Your dog will see you as the leader is you follow through and stay consistent.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2009 Melissa Stutes

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