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It is commonly known that dogs are pack animals, so how do you claim your role as the alpha leader? In this guide, we are going to look at how to assert dominance over a dog. It is a widely discussed topic, with wildly differing opinions – depending on where you source the information.
At Canine Weekly, you can trust that we have the best interests of the dog at heart. We would never recommend cruel or inhumane training techniques and will only advise the tried and tested, kind and effective methods that will ultimately bring you and your dog closer.
Asserting dominance can be done in several ways, and we will explore the most effective and humane techniques that you can begin trying straight away. We will also recommend some trusted products and aids that can help with asserting dominance over a dog.
Why is it Important to Assert Dominance Over a Dog?
When you first bring that cute ball of fluff home, asserting dominance over him is likely not on the agenda. However, for some breeds, particularly those who can be powerful and strong-willed, like the Rottweiler, Pitbull, Husky, and Mastiffs, your role as Alpha leader must be established from the very start.
Wolves and wild canines operate on a social hierarchy in the wild and have done since their beginning. This hasn’t stopped within our domesticated dogs.
It is very much an instinctual thing – you may notice, if you have more than one dog at home, that one will be the first to investigate a new toy, to alert to potential dangers or to eat first, he is the leader of his pack and the more submissive dog will follow his lead. The Alpha is the strongest, and he will make all the decisions for his followers. This gains him enormous respect.
At home, your family is a pack, and you must become the leader/Alpha. Being the Alpha is the best way to avoid aggressive behavior and help tremendously with obedience training and a harmonious home.
Dominance training can often be considered bullying, but this is not the case when done correctly. An Alpha leader demands respect and doesn’t have to scare followers into submission. The opposite is often true, and dogs respond in a very loving way to their Alpha owner.
When a dog knows his place in the pack, there is no need for him to exhibit aggression to fight for a position, nor will he be stressed or confused about his role. A dominant Alpha owner is an owner of a happy, obedient, and loyal pup.
How to Assert Your Dominance and Become The Alpha
It doesn’t matter how many dogs you have in your home, there should only be one Alpha, and that should be you.
Dogs are clever, cunning animals who operate solely on body language. If you don’t display the physical characteristics of the leader, you simply won’t be one in the eyes of your dog. A dog knows what to look for in Alpha material.
It is crucial to never submit to your dog; you must be the authoritative figure at all times. You should never beg or plead with your dog to do something as this is received as a message of weakness; your dog needs to understand that any verbal commands given by you should be listened to.
There are simple ways to show dominance; for example, if your dog is blocking your path, he is the one who should be made to get up and move; you’re not to walk around him. Dogs will learn to accommodate their Alpha.
7 ways you can assert your dominance and become the Alpha:
1. Eye Contact
Eye contact is a compelling instinct amongst dogs. It is the simplest way to assert dominance, but it isn’t always perceived as a threat – contrary to common belief.
Dog eye contact triggers a release of the hormone responsible for bonding and love, called Oxytocin, and this is for both man and dog. An increase of this hormone can be by more than 100% for a dog and a whopping 300% for an owner!
Eye contact is making a connection, and strong, unbroken eye contact, will show that you’re serious about the command and that the dog should respond accordingly. Direct eye contact is used to establish dominance. When a dog initiates direct eye contact, the recipient has two responses:
- Hold the dominant dog’s gaze, which could likely escalate into aggressive conflict.
- Avert their gaze and send a signal of submissiveness.
When you have issued a command, it is essential to lock eyes with your dog and hold that stare until the dog looks away. This is a simple and highly effective way to establish leadership early on.
2. Adopt an ‘Alpha First’ Mindset
Alphas come first in the pack, so it is vital to adopt this mentality. When you’re about to leave for a walk, ensure that it’s you who is the first one out of the door. Your dog shouldn’t crowd the door, but step back and allow you to leave first.
During the walk, you need to put in place adequate lead training to ensure the dog walks beside you or behind you – the Alpha walks in front.
When it comes to mealtime, let the dog see that you eat first. Don’t allow any begging for your dinner – a short, sharp ‘No,’ followed by direct eye contact should be enough to show that this is not respectful behavior or behavior the Alpha allows.
3. Control Play
Controlling your dog’s resources is one of the most effective ways to assert your dominance. In the wild, the Alpha dog decides when his followers eat, what they eat, and when (and how) they play. The same should apply at home.
A pet dog should never have free access to food, treats, or toys, as they’ll lose all effectiveness if a dog can get them at his leisure. Toys can be an excellent incentive for a dog, but when he can play with them all day long, he will feel entitled – which is not how an Alpha has his followers feel.
Bring a toy out to praise good behavior; with limited access to his toys, a dog will do all he can to get more time with them. It’s much kinder to promote good behavior with toys than punish the bad, and dogs will respond much better to rewards than often misunderstanding what it is they’ve done wrong when they’re punished.
A fun reward is a clear message – ‘you have done well, that can’t be misinterpreted.
4. Leave Your Personal Space as Your Personal Space
The Alpha has the highest, comfiest, warmest sleeping place in the wild. Often at the top of a cave, with his pack below. It causes great confusion for a dog; if you want to play the Alpha all day long, then share your sleeping quarters with him. Are you the Alpha, or are you his equal?
A dog should sleep in his designated spot. Whether you have opted for a dog crate or a dog bed placed in another room, this will show a distinct message that you, the Alpha, sleep separately from the rest of the pack. The same should be in place for furniture, too; a follower doesn’t share a couch with the leader.
Once you have the pack hierarchy established, it can be ok to allow couch cuddles but only ever when you say so. If the dog decides he wants to get up on the couch and you don’t want him to, he should be told to get down immediately (using a strong voice command, direct eye contact, and praise with a treat or toy).
5. Never Stop Training
It’s essential to train your dog way past puppyhood. Dogs are incredibly clever and love to learn (well, in the majority – see here for our collection of ‘dumb and difficult’ breeds); by continuing to teach him new tricks and commands, you’re continually showing Alpha guidance that he won’t be able to ignore.
A lot of owners can think that once the basics have been established, this is where training ends. However, even older dogs can be trained to learn new things, and it’s a great way to cement the bond between dog and owner further – plus, it’s pretty fun to learn and teach new tricks too!
6. Behavior Correction
There are likely going to be times when your dog challenges your authority, and dealing with this effectively is a crucial part of being the Alpha. A dog may test your boundaries and challenge you for your position as leader, possibly due to hormonal changes as he grows, or it may be he has spotted a sign of weakness; whatever the reason, it is important it is appropriately addressed.
An Alpha is in control, so responding to a challenge with loud aggression may transcribe as you’ve lost control. You should aim to be firm but fair when issuing a warning that the dog’s wrongdoing is not acceptable.
7. Reward, Reward, Reward
As mentioned previously, dogs are more likely to respond to positive praise, but this can extend past a training mechanism and help you become the pack leader. Have your dog earn everything he gets; if a dog simply looks at you in a cute way, should this really warrant a treat or toy?
When treats and toys are given as incentives, they hold a high value to a dog, who will want to please his Alpha to get his reward. We recommend healthy treats or scraps of pure, lean meat such as chicken to prevent weight gain.
Being the Alpha is an essential part of dog ownership, and while some tips may seem a little harsh, they’re really about becoming a strong leader. Many owners will already be doing some of these things without realizing they establish their role as leaders.
Once you assert your dominance, you will have a dog who knows how to behave well, resulting in a well-rounded, obedient, and happy companion.