IN CHARGE HERE?
Why does the pup bite me?
Lesson in Becoming Alpha by
dog just tried to bite me! All I did was tell him to move over so I
could sit on the couch next to him."
"My dog got into the trash
can and when I scolded her, she growled at me. What's wrong with her? I
thought she loved me!" "Our
dog is very affectionate most of the time but when we try to make him do
something he doesn't want to do, he snaps at us."
What do these three
dogs have in common? Are
they nasty or downright vicious?
No - they're "alpha".
taken over the leadership of the families that love them. Instead of
taking orders from their people, these dogs are giving orders! Your dog
can love you very much and still try to dominate you or other members of
your family. Dogs are social creatures and believers in social order. A
dog's social system is a "pack" with a well-defined pecking
order. The leader of the pack is the alpha, supreme boss, Top Dog. He
(or she) gets the best of everything - the best food, the best place to
sleep, the best toy, etc. The leader also gets to be first in everything
- he gets to eat first, to leave first and to get attention first. All
the other dogs in the pack respect the alpha dog's wishes. Any dog that
challenges the alpha's authority gets a swift physical reminder of just
where his place in the pack really is.
families encourage their dogs to take over the "pack" without
They treat their dogs as equals, not as subordinates. They give them
special privileges like being allowed to sleep on the bed or couch. They
don't train their dogs and let them get away with disobeying commands.
In a real dog pack, no one but the alpha dog would get this kind of
treatment. Alpha doesn't have anything to do with size. The tiniest
Chihuahua can be a canine Hitler. In fact, the smaller the dog, the more
people tend to baby them and cater to them - making the dog feel even
more dominant and in control of his humans. Alpha dogs often seem to
make good pets. They're confident, smarter than average, and
affectionate. They can be wonderful with children and good with
strangers. Everything seems to be great with the relationship - until
someone crosses him or makes him do something he doesn't want to do.
Then, suddenly, this wonderful dog growls or tries to bite someone and
no one understands why.
In a real dog pack, the alpha dog doesn't have to answer to anyone.
If you think your dog is alpha in your household, he
No one gives him orders or tells him what to do. The
other dogs in the pack respect his position. If another dog is foolish
enough to challenge the alpha by trying to take his bone or his favorite
sleeping place, the alpha dog will quickly put him in his place with a
hard stare or a growl. If this doesn't work, the alpha dog will enforce
his leadership with his teeth. This is all natural, instinctive behavior
in a dog's world. In a human family, though, this behavior is
unacceptable and dangerous. Dogs need and want leaders. They have an
instinctive need to fit into a pack. They want the security of knowing
their place and what's expected of them. Most of them don't want to be
alpha - they want someone else to give the orders and make the
decisions. If his humans don't provide that leadership, the dog will
take over the role himself. If you've allowed your dog to become alpha,
you're at his mercy and as a leader, he may be either a benevolent king
or a tyrant!
If your dog respects only one or two members of the family but dominates
the others, you still have a problem. The dog's place should be at the
bottom of your human family's pack order, not at the top or somewhere in
In order to
reclaim your family's rightful place as leaders of the pack
your dog needs some lessons in how to be a subordinate, not an equal.
You're going to show him what it means to be a dog again. Your dog's
mother showed him very early in life that she was alpha and that he had
to respect her. As a puppy, he was given a secure place in his litter's
pack and because of that security, he was free to concentrate on
growing, learning, playing, loving and just being a dog. Your dog
doesn't really want the responsibility of being alpha, having to make
the decisions and defend his position at the top. He wants a leader to
follow and worship so he can have the freedom of just being a dog again.
How to become leader of your
Your dog watches you constantly and reads your body
He knows if you're insecure, uncomfortable in a leadership role or won't
enforce a command and this behavior confuses him, makes him insecure and
if he's a natural leader or has a social-climbing personality, it'll
encourage him to assume the alpha position and tell -you- what to do.
is an attitude
It involves quiet confidence, dignity, intelligence, an air of
authority. A dog can sense this attitude almost immediately - it's how
his mother acted towards him. Watch a professional trainer or a good
obedience instructor. They stand tall and use their voices and eyes to
project the idea that they're capable of getting what they want. They're
gentle but firm, loving but tough, all at the same time. Most dogs are
immediately submissive towards this type of personality because they
recognize and respect alpha when they see it.
Stand up straight with your shoulders back. Walk tall. Practice using a
new tone of voice, one that's deep and firm. Don't ask your dog to do
something - tell him. There's a difference. He knows the difference,
too! Remember that, as alpha, you're entitled to make the rules and give
the orders. Your dog understands that instinctively.
just this change in your attitude and an obedience training course will
be enough to turn things around. With a dog that's already taken over
the household and has enforced his position by growling or biting and
has been allowed to get away with it, you'll need to do more than just
decide to be alpha. The dog is going to need an attitude adjustment as
well. Natural leaders and social climbers aren't going to want to
give up their alpha position.
Your sudden change in behavior is going to shock and
threaten them. Your dog might act even more aggressively than before. An
alpha dog will instinctively respond to challenges to his authority.
It's his nature to want to put down revolutionary uprisings by the
peasants! Don't worry, there's a way around it.
An alpha dog already knows that he can
beat you in a physical fight so returning his aggression with violence of your own
won't work. Until you've successfully established your position as
alpha, corrections like hitting, shaking, or using the "roll
over" techniques described in some books will not work and can be
downright dangerous to you. An alpha dog will respond to these methods
with violence and you could be seriously hurt. What you need to do is use your brain! You're smarter than he is and you
can outthink him. You'll also need to be more stubborn than he is. What
I'm about to describe here is an effective, non-violent method of
removing your dog from alpha status and putting him back at the bottom
of the family totem pole where he belongs and where he needs to be. In
order for this method to work, your whole family has to be involved. It
requires an attitude adjustment from everyone and a new way of working
with your dog. This is serious
A dog that bites or threatens people is a
No matter how much you love him. If treating your dog like a dog and not
an equal seems harsh to you, keep in mind that our society no longer
tolerates dangerous dogs. Lawsuits from dog bites are now settling for
millions of dollars - you could lose your home and everything else you
own if your dog injures someone. You or your children could be
permanently disfigured. And your dog could lose his life. That's the
Canine Boot Camp for Alpha Attitude Adjustment
From this day forward, you're going to
teach your dog that he is a -dog-, not a miniature human being in a furry suit. His
mother taught him how to be a dog once and how to take orders. Along the
way, through lack of training or misunderstood intentions, he's
forgotten. With your help, he's going to remember what he is and how he
fits into the world. Before long, he's even going to like it! Dogs were
bred to look to humans for food, companionship and guidance.
An alpha dog doesn't ask for what he wants, he demands it. He lets you
know in no uncertain terms that he wants his dinner, that he wants to go
out, that he wants to play and be petted and that he wants these things
-right now-. You're going to teach him that from now on, he has to
-earn- what he gets. No more free rides. This is going to be a shock to
his system at first but you'll be surprised how quickly he'll catch on
and that he'll actually become eager to please you.
If your dog doesn't already know the simple command SIT,
teach it to him.
Reward him with praise and a tidbit. Don't go overboard with the
A simple "Good boy!" in a happy voice is enough.
Now, every time your dog wants something - his dinner, a trip outside, a
walk, some attention, anything - tell him (remember don't ask him,
-tell- him) to SIT first. When he does, praise him with a "Good
Boy!", then tell him OKAY and give him whatever it is he wants as a
reward. If he refuses to SIT, walk away and ignore him. No SIT, no
reward. If you don't think he understands the command, work on his
training some more. If he just doesn't want to obey, ignore him - DON'T
give him what he wants or reward him in any fashion.
Make him sit before giving him his dinner,
make him sit at the door before going outside, make him sit in front of
you to be petted, make him sit before giving him his toy. If you
normally leave food out for him all the time, stop. Go to a twice daily
feeding and -you- decide what time of day he'll be fed. Make him sit for
his dinner. If he won't obey the command - no dinner. Walk away and
ignore him. Bring the food out later and tell him again to SIT. If he
understands the command, don't tell him more than once. He heard you the
first time. Give commands from a standing position and use a deep,
firm tone of voice.
the dog respects certain members of the family but not others, let the others be the ones to
feed him and bring the good things to his life for now. Show them how to
make him obey the SIT command and how to walk away and ignore him if he
won't do as he's told. It's important that your whole family follows
this program. Dogs are like kids - if they can't have their way with
Mom, they'll go ask Dad. In your dog's case, if he finds a member of the
family that he can dominate, he'll continue to do so. You want your dog
to learn that he has to respect and obey everyone. Remember - his place
is at the bottom of the totem pole. Bouncing him from the top spot helps
but if he thinks he's anywhere in the middle, you're still going to have
problems. Think - you know your
dog and know what he's likely to do under most circumstances.
Stay a step ahead of him and anticipate his behavior so you can avoid or
correct it. If he gets into the trash and growls when scolded, make the
trash can inaccessible. If he likes to bolt out the door ahead of you,
put a leash on him. Make him sit and wait while you open the door and
give him permission - OKAY! - go out. If your alpha dog doesn't like to
come when he's called (and he probably doesn't!), don't let him outside
off leash. Without a leash, you have no control over him and he knows
Alpha dogs are used to being fussed over. In a real dog pack,
subordinate dogs are forever touching, licking and grooming the alpha
dog. It's a show of respect and submission. For now, until his attitude
has shown improvement, cut down on the amount of cuddling your dog gets.
When he wants attention, make him SIT first, give him a few kind words
and pats, then stop. Go back to whatever it was you were doing and
ignore him. If he pesters you, tell him NO! in a firm voice and ignore
him some more. Pet him when -you- want to, not because -he- wants you
to. For the time being, don't get down on the floor or on your
knees to pet your dog. That, too, is a show of submission. Give praise,
petting and rewards from a position that's higher than the dog.
If you or anyone in your family wrestles, rough-houses or plays tug of
war with your dog, stop!
These games encourage dogs to dominate people physically and to use
their teeth. In a dog pack or in a litter, these games are more than
just playing - they help to establish pack order based on physical
strength. Your dog is already probably stronger and quicker than you
are. Rough, physical games prove that to him. He doesn't need to be
reminded of it! Find new games
for him to play. Hide & seek, fetch or frisbee
catching are more appropriate. Make sure you're the one who starts and
ends the game, not the dog. Stop playing before the dog gets bored and
is inclined to try to keep the ball or frisbee.
does your dog sleep?
Not in your bedroom and especially not on your bed!
Your bedroom is a special place - it's your "den". An alpha
dog thinks he has a right to sleep in your den because he considers
himself your equal. In fact, he may have already taken over your bed,
refusing to get off when told or growling and snapping when anyone asks
him to make room for the humans. Until your dog's alpha problems are
fully under control, the bedroom should be off-limits! The same goes for
sleeping on furniture. If you can't keep him off the couch without a
fight, deny him access to the room until his behavior and training has
crates have 1,000 uses and working with an alpha dog is one of them.
It's a great place for your dog to sleep at night, to eat in and just to
stay in when he needs to chill out and be reminded that he's a dog. The
crate is your dog's "den". Start crate training by feeding him
his dinner in his crate. Close the door and let him stay there for an
hour afterwards. If he throws a tantrum, ignore him. Don't let your dog
out of his crate until he's quiet and settled. At bedtime, show him an
irresistible goodie, tell him to SIT and when he does, throw the goodie
into the crate. When he dives in for the treat, tell him what a good boy
he is and close the door.
Graduating from Boot Camp: What's
like in the army, boot camp is really just an introduction
to a new career and new way of doing things. A tour through boot camp
isn't going to solve your alpha dog's problems forever. It's a way to
get basic respect from a dog who's been bullying you without having to
resort to physical force.
How long should boot
That depends on the dog. Some will show an improvement right away,
others may take much longer. For really tough cookies, natural leaders
that need constant reminders of their place in the pack, Alpha Dog Boot
Camp will become a way of life. Social climbers may need periodic trips
through boot camp if you get lax and accidentally let them climb back up
a notch or two in the family pack order.
do you know if you're making a difference?
If boot camp has been successful, your dog should start looking to you
for directions and permission. He'll show an eagerness to please. Watch
how your dog approaches and greets you. Does he come to you
"standing tall", with his head and ears held high and erect?
It may look impressive and proud but it means he's still alpha and you
still have problems! A dog who accepts humans as superiors will approach
you with his head slightly lowered and his ears back or off to the
sides. He'll "shrink" his whole body a little in a show of
submission. Watch how he greets all the members of the family. If he
displays this submissive posture to some of them, but not others, those
are the ones who still need to work on their own alpha posture and
methods. They should take him back through another tour of boot camp
with support from the rest of the family.
Once your dog has begun to
accept this new way of life and his new position in the family, you should take him
through an obedience course with a qualified trainer. All dogs need to
be trained and alpha dogs need training most of all! You don't have to
wait until he's through with boot camp to start this training but it's
important that he respects at least
one member of the family and is willing to take direction from them. Obedience class teaches -you- to train your dog.
It teaches you how to be alpha, how to enforce commands and rules, how
to get respect and to keep it. All family members who are old enough to
understand and control the dog should participate in the class.Obedience training is a lifelong
One obedience course does not a trained dog make! Obedience commands
need to be practiced and incorporated into your daily life. In a dog
pack, the alpha animal uses occasional reminders to reinforce his
authority. Certain commands, like DOWN/STAY, are especially effective,
nonviolent reminders of a dog's place in the family pack order and who's
really in charge here. A well-trained obedient dog is a happy
dog and a joy to live with.
Dogs want to please and need a job to do.
gives them the opportunity to do both. A well-trained dog has more
freedom. He can go more places and do more things with you because he
knows how to behave. A well-trained dog that's secure in his place
within the family pack is comfortable and confident. He knows what's
expected of him. He knows his limits and who his leaders are. He's free
from the responsibility of running the household and making decisions.
He's free to be our loving companion and not your boss. He's free to be
a dog - what he was born to be and what he always wanted to be in the
When You Need Professional Help
If your dog has already injured
you or someone else or if you are afraid of your dog, you should consult with
a qualified professional dog trainer or behaviorist before starting
Canine Boot Camp. Your dog should also have an exam by your veterinarian
to make sure there are no physical causes for his behavior.
To find a qualified trainer or
behaviorist near you, contact your veterinarian or the American Kennel Club for
a list of obedience training clubs in your area.
American Kennel Club
8051 Arco Corporate Dr Ste 100, Raleigh, NC 27617
by Carol Lea Benjamin
Problems by Carol Lea Benjamin
Love To Please by September B. Morn
Dogs, Great Owners
by Brian Kilcommons
How to Break up a Dog Fight
Psychology and Training Center
Teaching Good Manners For Grooming and at the Vet's