Being Alpha to a Dominant Dog

(c) FreeFoto.com
(c) FreeFoto.com

Being Alpha to a Dominant Dog

Dominant behavior is a common trait in breeds that possess intelligent and independent qualities. Dominant dogs carry a great deal of self-confidence and will use this to get what they want no matter if it is a bone from another dog or something in their master's domain.

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/her way, an aggressive dog wants to hurt or destroy another living thing. It is very important to understand the difference between these two when working with a dog that shows signs of dominance. 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.

Dominant behavior is a clear sign that a dog has no true concept of equality. Knowing this will help you, the owner/alpha, know what is to be done, when it is to be done, how it is to be done and who is to do it. It is very black and white for dogs. You have to think in terms of "this-or-that" and "yes-and-no".

It is crucial in the training of your dog that you are aware of pack mentality. This knowledge will help you to understand why it is so important for your dog to have a leader, which will, in return, help you to establish yourself as the alpha. 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. Subordinate dogs will constantly touch, lick and groom the alpha dog. This display of subordination is a sign of affection and respect.

Below is a list of ways to take hold of the dominant role with your dog. This is a good way to measure what you are doing right and what you might be doing wrong. Practice the steps below and your dog will never question whose boss in your pack.

Exercises & Tips:

Until signs of improvement, cut down on the amount of cuddling given to your dog. He must earn everything, from you and everyone else, with appropriate, calm behavior. Do not give your dog attention on demand. When attention is wanted, make him SIT, give him praises and a pat on the head, and then stop. Continue with what you were doing before he approached you. If he persists, tell him NO in a firm tone (without yelling) and ignore him. Wait until he stops making demands and is calm. Attention is given when you want to give it, not when he wants it. Do not kneel down on the floor at his/her level or lower. This is a sign of submission in the dog's eyes. Instead give him/her praise and rewards from an upright position.

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. If you yell, the dog will learn to wait for you to yell. Change your tonality, not your volume.

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. Build up to 1-3 miles of non-stop exercise. These can be broken down into two 15 minutes sessions a day too.

Do not let your dog stand up and put his front paws on your shoulders. Do not let them jump on you without command ever. You can grab some skin below the ear (firm, not rough) and pull them down 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.

Get your dog on a feeding schedule. Dailey structure is key to creating a relaxed, well-mannered dog. At mealtime, prepare the dog's food, but do not give it right away. When you are finished eating, make the dog sit and wait until you place the dish down. Make a challenge or game out of getting dinner. This will stimulate and teach them to pay attention to you. Ask your dog if it's hungry, ask to help find their dish, then their food. Tell your dog to go to their feeding area and then give your dog an "ok" to eat the food. Do not add food or treat to the dinner bowl while the dog is eating unless you enforce a sit and your dog is calm. 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. It is important to not come across as threatening during your dog's feeding times.

No wrestling is allowed 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. Games like these determine pack order (based on physical strength) within a pack. Play hide & seek, fetch or Frisbee instead. 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 the bedroom. It you let them sleep wherever they want they get the idea they control the den. Dogs enjoy sleeping with the pack anyway, so this will ease them during sleep. Place their bed in the bedroom so you still maintain control.

Firmly, but not rough, shuffle right through your dog to move him out of your way. Don't walk around him. This can be done while paying no attention to him. Or, it may be done with eye contact if needing to make the dog move. You can do this while sitting down by the dog too.

Stand or sit 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. Put a leash on and sit your dog.  Step around in front and say, "Watch me," in a low, growling tone. Do not yell. You want three or five seconds of locked eye contact. Once you get this, end with light verbal praise. Praise him/her when they lick you under the chin, it’s a sign of respect.

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 given to them and they must earn it.

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. Give or deny permission for anything he wants. Teach him manners. For instance, when you take him to the lake, he should wait for permission to swim.

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 (no yelling is necessary, keep it all very quiet). The dog must remain in sit or down position until you release him form 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. Also, it can make him hand shy.

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 collar with one hand to pin head down and place the 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 on a sit at every corner, and change pace whenever YOU desire. Always go through a door first.

Straddle your dog, with one of your legs on each side of him. You should be facing the same direction as your dog. Lock your fingers together under his chest, just behind the front legs. Lift his front legs off the ground for 15 to 45 seconds. If he struggles, growl at him until he is quiet.

Place your dog on the floor with all four legs pointing away from you. Talk to him softly after he is quiet. Do not allow him to struggle, get up, or nip. Always praise him lavishly in a quiet tone when he relaxes. Now is also a good time to handle all four paws and look briefly into his mouth so he can get used to tolerating your handling of him. Declare what is yours (ears, paws, tail, muzzle) in a firm but friendly tone.

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 its leader. Good Luck!

Comments 1 comment

Matt Tucci profile image

Matt Tucci 21 months ago from Wickliffe, Ohio

Excellent article. Thank You.

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