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How to become your dog’s Alpha dog

By MS du Toit

The domesticated dog has descended from the wolf and has over the years allowed mankind to tame it. The problem is that each and every dog, even your most beautiful miniature French Poodle, still has some wolf in him. Dogs have instincts that are so engraved into them and we do not always realise just how much these affect their behaviours. Many, if not most, dog behaviour problems could have been prevented, had we better understood how their “wolf” instincts work.

Dog behaviour training is necessary to resolve problems such as dominant aggression, separation anxiety, jumping up on visitors, fear aggression and pulling on the lead.  These can all be traced back to the owner’s lack of knowledge of pack hierarchy or his ignorance towards it. What many people do not fully understand is that the only human language that a dog can understand is body language. Dogs can not understand words. They can learn by repetition and through association that the sound of a certain spoken word means that they should perform a certain action that will most probably earn them a reward.

Without realising it you as owner many times just assume that the dog knows that you are the top dog. You do not realise that through your body language you have actually made the dog the leader. The dog, on the other hand, now has to act as the leader.

For him you are his subordinate, for example:

  • the dog is chewing on a bone, you want to take the bone from him – he growls and snaps
  • you take the dog for a walk, he is the leader and the leader must be in front to protect is pack so he pulls on the lead.

How to restore the hierarchy and establish yourself as alpha dog:
  1. If your puppy play bite your hand or arm, take hold of him with both hands and put him in a submissive position down on his side and growl at him with a loud low tone voice. Use just enough force to hold him in that position for a few seconds. Obviously how stronger, older and more dominant the dog is, the more strength you will have to use.
  2. You must always be the one who initiates play and who ends the game. You may never let your dog make that decision.
  3. Never allow the dog to go through a doorway first. You are the leader and you must go first.
  4. When you feed the dog, you must eat something and make sure he sees you, before you put down his food.
  5. When you leave the house for any reason, leave without making a fuss. In fact you should totally ignore your dog. Ignore means no words, no eye contact, no touching and hugging.
  6. When you arrive back home you should again totally ignore your dog. The first few times he might still be jumping up. Just turn your back on him and don’t even push him off or say “off”, because that in it self, is attention. When he has settled down, then you call him and give attention.
  7. Once in a while, for the better part of the day, fasten your dog to yourself with his lead so he has to follow you wherever you go.
  8. Teach your puppy the “chill” command. Again, put your puppy on his side and give the command. He will most probably resist that, just press a little harder, growling at him every time he tries to get up. Gently run your one hand over his body, speaking softly to him. You will start noticing that his body relaxes. Keep him in that position for 10 to 20 minutes. This is a good exercise to do while watching TV.
  9. The more dominant the dog is, the lower it should be. In other words, keep him off the couches and off the beds. The more dominant dog should not even be allowed in your bedroom.

If every new dog or puppy owner would follow these simple guidelines, the behaviour problems mentioned can be prevented. These guidelines should also be followed by owners with dogs already displaying these problems. The guidelines should not only be followed one day a week at the dog training school, but everyday at home. The duration of the restoration process will depend on the individual dog, the compliance of the owner as well as the severity of the problem, but even the most severe cases can be resolved by following these rules.

MS du Toit has been training dogs for ten years. Please visit her Dog Training Review Page.
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