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Establishing Your Role as Alpha

1.Begin Early
Photo credit: thornypup / Flickr

The old saying that “a dogs is a man’s best friend” underscores the depth of the relationships that dog owners have with their pets. We humans aren’t merely their friends and caretakers; we represent the leader of their pack formation, giving dogs the commands that they instinctively follow.

Humans need to establish and maintain the idea that they are the alpha of a dog’s pack, and that the dog must submit to their authority at all times, or else a dog may become restless, aggressive, and unwilling to obey commands. So, how can you maintain alpha status with a dog?

Begin Early

Just as babies instinctively look for parents for everything from food to safety, so too do puppies begin to absorb the concepts of a group and leadership from a very early age. As soon as a puppy can walk on its own, it’s important to demonstrate their position in the pack hierarchy. Never feed a puppy before you have eaten yourself, since this demonstrates that you are in charge of giving out food and not them.

A dog that is fed before their owner eats will have the expectation that they are more important than the owner, and that they are the alpha. When a puppy is old enough, begin training verbal commands (like “sit” and “stay”), and then demand a puppy follow the commands before you let them outside or give them treats.

Dogs Always Come Second

A dog believes that every action their owner does should come first, if the owner represents the alpha leader. Whenever you take your dog for a walk, make sure that you always leave the house first, commanding your dog to sit and stay for a few seconds while you open the door and head out. Whenever you walk your dog, never let it run ahead, but instead set the pace of the walk and determine where you will go.

If a dog is allowed to run ahead, straining on its leash, it begins to think that it is higher in the pack hierarchy than you are, since it is allowed to make decisions on where to go. Ensure that family members and guests also follow these rules, since dogs must understand how large the pack is, and that they are always subordinate to other humans. If certain dog breeds with an instinct for herding, such as German Shepherds, are not treated as subordinate by other family members, they will begin “herding” children and guests by nipping at them or barking.

The Last Word: Think Like An Alpha

Some dog owners may think that some aspects of maintaining alpha status make their dog feel inferior or unhappy. In reality, dogs are happiest when they know exactly what their ranking is in a group. An owner who gives commands to a dog, but then lets the dog sleep in their bed will send mixed messages to their canine pet, projecting, on the one hand, that they are in command and, on the other hand, that the dog is an equal.

At all times, think how to demonstrate alpha behavior around your dog. For instance, never step around your dog, if it’s sitting on the floor; instead, demand that it moves out of your way. Whenever you have eye contact with your dog, ensure that it looks away first, since eye contact is a gesture of dominance. Any game of fetch or tug-of-war should be started and ended by a human, to demonstrate that they are in charge of the game and any recreation.


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