Become a Dog Pack Leader or Alpha Dog
How to establish yourself as the leader of your pack
Many problem behaviors can stem back to your dog and where he feels he ranks in your family or “pack”. Dogs view the humans, other dogs, and even cats in your family as pack members and, as a pack member, your dog will not feel stable or secure until they know without a shadow of a doubt where they rank in the pack. Behaviors such as marking, territorial aggression, and yes, even humping, are all behaviors that can be helped by teaching your dog that you are the head of the household or “pack leader”. Once your dog realizes and accepts you as the pack leader, both you and he will be much happier and you will most likely see a decrease in bad behavior.
-One way you can establish yourself as leader is to set up feeding times for your dog.
In a dog pack, the alpha has the privilege of eating first and then he gives permission to the rest of the pack to eat. If you leave food down for your dog all day, your dog begins to think that he is in control of the food and when he eats it. Being as this an alpha privilege, your dog will begin to think that he is alpha. If you set up feeding times, usually twice a day, this will put the power of the food provider back in your hands. Put half of your dog’s daily ration of food down in the morning and leave it down for 15 minutes. Whatever doesn’t get eaten should be picked up after 15 minutes and put away until the evening meal. Repeat the same routine for the evening meal. If your dog has been free fed and doesn’t eat for the first day or so of putting him on a feeding schedule, don’t panic. Your dog will not starve and in a couple of days will be eating his meal within 15 minutes and you will be communicating to him that you are in charge.
- Another alpha privilege in a dog pack is the privilege to enter or exit an area first.
When we leash our dogs up for a walk and they dash out the door in front of us, they are taking the alpha role and, as I’m sure most of you have encountered, they continue in the alpha role around the neighborhood by pulling you the entire time. Teaching your dog the “wait” behavior is a fantastic way to gain control at entrances and exits and will reinforce your alpha status. The wait behavior is a temporary stay and is usually used in conjunction with a sit. I personally use wait in my home not only for letting my dogs in and out of the house but also when I feed them their meals as it prevents them jumping up for the bowl and possibly knocking it out of my hands. See our wait section to learn how to train this behavior. http://dogclassonline.com/puppy-training-week-2/puppy-training-wait.html
- Height is another factor to a dog in establishing the pack order.
The higher a dog is, the more dominant they become. Many times I have encountered little dogs, especially, who become possessive and territorial of the couch, bed, etc. They jump up on the furniture and then growl or nip at anyone who tries to sit down. These dogs have decided they are in charge of the pack and have taken the privilege for themselves of giving permission to others in the family to sit down. Furniture is a valued part of your home and is yours first and foremost. In order to communicate to your power hungry dog that you are in charge, you must never let your dog on a piece of furniture unless they are first invited by you. This means you should already be on the sofa, chair, or bed and then you can invite your dog up. If your dog tries to jump up first, tell him “no, off” and remove him from the piece of furniture. If your dog has a tendency to snap at you, have them on a leash at first to protect yourself from being bitten. Also, when you decide to get up from the furniture, your dog must get up also. Leaving them on the couch will only give them permission to take over the alpha role. Over time, your dog will come to respect your position as alpha and will not jump up unless invited first.
Obedience is the last and probably best way to firmly set your alpha position in the eyes of your dominant dog. Take him to some obedience classes or, better yet, go through one of our online courses and help set your dog on the path of obedience and submission. Once your dog knows some behaviors, don’t stop training. Get the family involved and work on getting everyone in the household to a higher pack member status than your dog. Your dog should be low man on the family totem pole, beneath even your children. So, if your child is old enough, allow them to practice some of the behaviors your dog knows so that your dog will see them as a leader too.
If your dog is still having severe aggression or dominance issues even after a few months of practicing these alpha changes, you may need to consider having a trainer or aggression specialist work one on one with you and your dog on a private basis.
Good luck and embrace your newfound leadership. It will be the best thing you can do for both your dog and your “pack”!