Contributed by Cheryl Minnier -
Dogs operate in a pack structure. Every pack
must have a leader. If a dog understands that you
are the undisputed pack leader, he can be content
to be a follower. If there is any doubt in the
dog's mind that there is a strong leader in
charge, he will feel the need to assume the
position himself. For most dogs it doesn't matter
who is the leader, as long as someone is and they
are doing a good job. Dogs will worship and
happily give deference to the leader or alpha.
Letting your dog know who is in charge will NOT
make him dislike you! It will give him a secure
feeling that someone is in charge and all is
right with the world. The exceptions to this
include the dominant, unneutered male, or the
adolescent who feels the need to challenge the
accepted pack leadership. When these dogs learn
that they are unable to dethrone the current
leader and with continued training they will
usually return to acceptable behavior.
How can you demonstrate competent pack
leadership? VIOLENCE IS NOT THE ANSWER!!!
There is no need to resort to physical punishment.
This will most likely only make matters worse.
Remember, all dogs are different. Some dogs need
constant reinforcement regarding who is in charge
and others will always be content to be followers.
The following are dominant behaviors that you
should recognize. If a dog frequently displays
these behaviors, you will need to take steps to
establish yourself as the leader:
If you have a dominant dog, you need to take
steps to establish yourself as the top dog. If
your dog is dominant aggressive (showing signs of
aggression; biting, growling, showing his teeth -
combined with the above behaviors), a canine
behaviorist is a valuable resource. He or she can
help you determine a program, usually using the
steps outlined below, that is SAFE for you to try
with your dog. Some trainers (rarely behaviorists)
recommend an Alpha Roll to help establish
dominance. This involves swiftly rolling a dog on
his back and holding him there until he submits
by lying still and looking away. It may be
accompanied by growling or shaking the dog. This
maneuver is patterned after something that wolves
and dogs sometimes do to each other while
fighting. Brood bitches will also sometimes roll
their puppies in the whelping box. A true alpha
roll is an aggressive measure, and if a dog is
prone to aggression, he will feel the need to
defend himself. If this is the case - you could
be seriously hurt! Dogs and wolves do not do this
routinely - only in very specific instances -
that usually involve aggression of some kind.
Routinely alpha rolling your dog only invites
mistrust and confusion at best, at worst -
aggression. Slowly rolling a dog on his back and
holding him there is NOT an alpha roll. It can be
considered a training exercise, similar to a long
***If you feel threatened or unsafe carrying
out any of the behaviors described below, get
professional help immediately. If you cannot
resolve the problems with a behavior modification
program alone or combined with medication, you
may need to consider euthanasia. Serious cases
i.e. dogs who have bitten someone or who are
showing aggression, need direction beyond the
scope of this article. In order to be certain of
your own safety, please consult with a qualified
Some steps that you can take to establish or
re-establish pack leadership include:
- Insist on obedience, a command given must
be obeyed. Do not repeat the command, simply
physically help the dog carry it out. If you
are not in a position to enforce a command,
don't give it!
- Make sure the dog knows he works for you -
give him a job to do! He should sit before
meals and you should always eat first. You
should decide when to pet him and when to stop
(nudging your hand so you will begin petting is
not acceptable.) If the dog asks to be petted,
ignore him until he stops then make him sit,
pet him for only 15-20 seconds and you be the
one to stop. Never stroke him until he decides
to walk away. Ignore further requests for
attention for at least 10 minutes.
- Ask the dog to stand while you put on a
lead before going outside; in other words give
the dog a job to do!
- If you are walking and the dog is lying in
your path, make him move. As alpha, you are
entitled to go anywhere you please.
- Routinely put the dog on a long down. You
should sit on the floor at first and take the
phone off the hook. You donít want to be
disturbed! Give the command to down or place
your dog in a lying position. If he tries to
get up, put him back down, but do not keep your
hands on him. Keep him down for 15 minutes even
if you have to put him back down 50 times.
Gradually work up to 30 minute long downs with
you in a chair beside him. If you continue
these 3-4 times a week, you should see a
significant difference in the dogís behavior.
Rather than resent this, he will, in time, be
happier with a firm chain of command. A dog who
is secure with his place in the world is a happy
dog! Most of these things will not be necessary
with a submissive dog as he will do them
naturally. If you are having no problems with
dominance with your dog they can simply be used
A successful human-canine bond is based on
trust and respect. Acts of aggression by you will
only damage that trust. Allowing the dog to
assert control will ensure that no respect exists.
The key to establishing a wonderful relationship
is to be firm, fair and consistent. You should
also remember that a correction should never be
given in anger. If you are angry with your dog,
that is the time to put him in his crate and give
yourself time to cool off and decide on the best
way to proceed.
Obedience classes can be a wonderful way to
learn to communicate effectively with your dog.
They have very little to do with teaching the dog
and everything to do with teaching you! Most
canine problems are really people problems that
can be corrected with a little education and lots