As dogs are pack animals, it is important to understand that they are always aware of their position in the pack. This pack will encompass you, your family, other pets and of course all the dogs in the household. The Alpha dog or pack leader is seen by your dog as the leader and protector of the whole pack, and it is therefore crucial that you take on this role. Your dog will be healthier and happier if it feels secure in it’s pack, knowing that his leader is doing their job and keeping everyone safe.
The first step to doing this is to know which signals your dog will understand. You will need to consistently communicate “alpha signals” to your dog in a compassionate and respectful way. This does not entail being aggressive, overbearing or bullying your dog! It is simply a matter of learning the language that a dog understands and using the correct signals. Mixed signals and inconsistency will confuse your dog, making him think that the pack leader is not effective. Your dog will be stressed and feel that it is encumbered upon him to try to take over as alpha to stabilise the pack. If he does this, it is not because he is being “bad”, but that you have given him the wrong signals.
So what are these signals and how do you communicate them effectively? Firstly, the pack leader always eats before the other pack members, so you MUST eat your dinner completely and clear the table before giving your dog his bowl of food. He should see you eating and understand clearly that he can only eat once you have completely finished. Then make him sit before placing his bowl down for him and allowing him to eat. If you have been in the habit of feeding your dog before your dinner, or even during, this may take a while for your dog to become accustomed to. Be aware that any fuss he makes while you’re eating is part of his learning process. You are giving him new signals, new information about the pack and you must let him understand this. He may need time to assimilate this new information, so be firm but patient.
Secondly, you should always lead your dog, especially through doorways and narrow passages. NEVER let your dog push past you or in front of you. The pack leader in a dog pack would never allow a subordinate dog to push past or “lead” the pack, and therefore neither should you. Use a leash if need be, but always ensure you enter doors, rooms, gates etc. in front of your dog. Neither should you let your dog run up stairs in front of you. This allows him to run to the top and look down on you, displaying classic dominant behaviour. The key to this is NOT to punish the wrong behaviour – it is too late to do that – but to not allow him to exhibit alpha behaviour in the first place. Use a leash, close doors, give a short, sharp shout, whatever your dog responds to, but remember to be firm, kind and respectful. You are talking to your dog, not trying to bully him into submission. The key for all these techniques is repetition, consistency and patience.