Before I get to the alpha dog post, I’d like to invite you to the Beauty of a Woman Blogfest. On February 10th, August McLaughlin will host this unique collection of blogs posting on the subject of Beauty, the first ever in what will hopefully become an annual event. My post goes up tomorrow, then on Friday, February 10th you will want to visit August’s blog to read all the contributions from this terrific assortment of writers. Plus, there’s a bunch of prizes up for grabs, including a Kindle, body image coaching and email dog training advice from yours truly. You won’t want to miss it!
Last week I talked about the importance of being alpha, but the big question is of course, how? If you have a puppy, it’s easy. They’re young, they’re impressionable, and any creature older than them is going to be the boss. This is the time to establish your benevolent dictatorship. Yes, that’s what it is. Dog ownership is not a democracy, Jake doesn’t say if he sleeps on the bed with you. You do!
You make the rules, and you enforce them. But that doesn’t mean you have to be harsh or forceful. A good alpha establishes the rules from the start, makes them clear and sticks to them consistently. This will make it easier on you, easier on your dog, and you’ll find your dog will naturally follow your lead.
Your dog has no choice in whether or not she’s going to act like a pack animal, it’s hard-wired into her DNA. Much as we love our dogs, much as we love to
dress them up like Princess Leia spoil them, they are not humans in fur coats. Dogs will be dogs…but we can shape their behavior and teach them to curb or alter their natural instincts to suit us. Use body language, tone of voice, and mimic dog postures to establish your pack leadership, and your meaning will immediately be clear to your dog.
Alpha wolves control their pack’s behavior. If the alpha says move, a wolf moves, and you can apply this in the home. Want to walk past your dog but he’s in the doorway? Walk right into him and with a gentle nudge have him clear your path. Is he napping in the hall? Don’t step over him, get his attention, get him up and make him move. Lower ranked pack members clear the path for the alpha. This might seem subtle to you, but to your dog it is a clear signal that you are in charge.
If your dog is not allowed on the couch, then there’s no in between. If Jake jumps up on the couch, you are going to immediately tell him ‘no’ and have him jump off every time. But you will also make it clear to Jake, what the desired behavior is, to lay on the floor, or on his bed. So, once Jake is off the couch, you will take Jake to his bed, get him to lie down on it and praise Jake for being a good dog.
A good alpha will make it clear this behavior is wrong, but this behavior is right. Anticipate that when Jake comes into the room, he’s going to try and jump on the couch, so take him to his bed, have him lie down on it, and praise him! Give him a favorite toy to play with when he’s lying on it. Pack leaders make the rules and enforce them, but they also let pack members know what the right behaviors are and reward them.
Pack leaders also control the food. I can leave my dinner plate, a burger, a steak, anything, sitting on a low table and walk away, fully confident my dogs would never dream of so much as drooling on it. When it’s time for their dinner, they sit and stay, waiting politely until the food is prepared, on the floor, and I release them from their stay to start eating. The alpha says when it’s mealtime, there is no shoving or lunging past an alpha to get to food. Having your dog sit or down and stay, waiting to go to his food bowl will help prevent pushy behaviors like begging or food stealing.
Believe me, your dog wants to know the rules and follow them! Most dogs are not alphas; most of them do not want to be pack leader. They will step into the position if they feel they have to, because they perceive a lack, and this can cause your dog a lot of mental stress. Being clear, firm and direct when establishing and enforcing your house rules will help your dog be calmer, and more inclined to pay attention to you.
This does not mean you have to be a stiff, angry disciplinarian. Dogs can be taught to recognize words, but they respond instinctively to our tone of voice and body posture. You can use this deliberately, consciously, when you interact with your dog by altering your stance, changing the pitch of your voice, and making or breaking eye contact.
When you’ve caught Jake on the couch, stand tall, give him a hard stare, speak firmly and in a lower tone when you tell him ‘no.’ When he crawls off, with head and tail low, you can tell him ‘good’ or similar words in a calm, neutral tone while your expression becomes more neutral. He’s responding to your body language as much as your word. You need to alter your own tone and posture to acknowledge that he’s responding appropriately. Take your tone of voice up and lighten it when you take him to his bed and have him lie down. Praise him for lying down in an upbeat happy tone, and give him a good, comforting scratch on the chin or behind the ears for being a good dog.
What does your body language tell your dog? Are you confident? Harsh? Playful? Do you try and alter your posture or voice to influence your dog?
My boy’s name is Jake and he’s happy not being the alpha. He’s my Buddha boy – peaceful and calm. my little Lucy though is a dog of a different story. But I keep trying your tips, Serena and tonight when I got home, she didn’t jump on me – so it’s working.
That’s so good to hear, Louise!
How timely, Serena! I have an issue (do I need to pull up a couch or something?). I have an Australian Shepard, three years old. He barks at EVERYTHING and EVERYONE! I stand over him, tell him “no,” hands on hips, tell him it’s okay, stand between him and the “offending human”… and I thought I was doing what I needed to do to show him I was in charge, but it’s almost like he refuses to hear me. It’s embarrassing. He’ll be in the car and a friend will walk up to the car to talk and he just won’t stop barking. Ugh! Doctor!!! What do I do???
Great post by the way, sista!
Barking is a tough one, just from the little you’ve told me, it sounds territorial, in the car at the very least. Is a a protective dog? Do you guys do the shuffle when you step between him and who he’s barking at? In other words, does he try and get back in front of you? Does he guard toys or food, or locations in the house?
Fascinating, Sabrina! I don’t have dogs, but I do I’ve always had cats. I wonder if it’s similar. I’ve made it very clear to them that I’m the leader of the pride, and they seem to regard me that way. I can leave food around too. But they were weaned by humans.
Kitties are great! Mine are completely spoiled and utterly untrained, ha! Yours are wonderful if you can leave tempting food out! Did you do anything in particular to establish yourself as pride leader? Did you bottle feed and wean them?
Great advice. Consistency is my biggest bugaboo. My dogs are pretty darn well behaved, but they are three individuals, each with their own behaviors that somehow ‘slip past’ their alphas. But I’m learning to do better. Thanks!
You are very welcome! Keep up the good work, sounds like you’ve done a terrific job with your three.
Good information here. I had and Australian Blue Heeler and becoming the alpha dog was a matter of survival. She was smarter than me and the breed is bred to work alone, so she was very dominant. But I put in the time to train myself to be alpha dog. Then after I got married I had to train my husband because he was being bullied by the dog. Next we had an Australian Shephard/Huskie mix. It was the same story. They were perfect. They could sneak food, etc., but they were never irritating to live with. It’s all about consistency.
Thanks Julie! Those herding breeds can be some of the hardest/best dogs. Your story sounds like me and my Belgians. My husband had to establish himself as alpha with my dog when we started getting serious. Herding dogs are just wickedly smart, and I don’t like to let them think too hard, they’ll make up their own fun. Sounds like you did all the right things with your dogs.
I have 2 labs. The female is a retired working dog with very good manners. The other is a 4yr old male. He’s kennel trained, but is very territorial about his kennel. We’ve struggled with this quite a bit – perfectly fine any other time but we’re having dominance issues with the kennel. Only my husband can lock him in the kennel without a nasty show of displeasure. Frustrated.
That’s an interesting reaction, and no fun. I can understand why you’re frustrated. Does he settle down once he’s inside, or does he bark when you come close to it?
He’s fine until you go to close the door. Once it’s shut he stops, but he puts on quite a show, pushes against the door, etc.
My dog uses her body language like crazy, in part because she’s deaf. We upheld the never-get-on-the-couch rule until she had surgery on her leg and had to keep her still for days. The couch worked like a charm for stillness. Since then, she practically owns it. 😉
Love this post, Serena. Thanks for the shout out. Can’t wait to fest with you!
Thanks August! It takes real dedication and hard work to keep a dog down after surgery. The fest is going to be awesome!