Take Back Your “Alpha”

The word “alpha” has become one of those “don’t go there” words since it is often used to justify excessively harsh behavior, or to put forth the erroneous comparison of dogs and wolves.  But too often in an attempt to train positively, many dog parents will completely give up their position of power and rank within their dog family hierarchy.  This is not a good thing.

For me the term “alpha”  means strong and consistent leadership.  It is a person who makes rules and then sticks to them.  And when authority is challenged it is dealt with in a clear and concise manner, and without cruelty.  The best alpha is confident, has a game plan, sticks to it and when there is a need for corrections does not bite when a growl will do.  Being a strong leader takes courage. And when we step up to the challenge we can help fearful dogs gain confidence, stop dog fighting within our homes and keep our dogs well-trained.

It is a known fact that dogs thrive on consistency. In an attempt to be good pet parents, many will give in to demands or negotiate with their dogs in an attempt to win them over through bribery or accepting non-compliant behavior.  This is a mistake. Trained behaviors begin to unravel until one day it happens-your dog gets loose, is headed for the road and you can’t get them to come back.  They were allowed to make their own choices little by little, until one day they decide to take charge with potentially disastrous results.

Some frustrated owners at this point will put their dogs with a trainer who will “fix” their dog for thousands of dollars over the course of weeks, using aversive methods such as e-collars and prongs. They bar the owner from witnessing their methods, deliver a “trained” dog and over time the behavior falls apart as the owner starts to give in to the dogs demands.  And some dogs cannot handle the rough treatment.  I was savagely bitten once by a Wheaten puppy that had gone through a program like this in NJ at 6 months.  It remains on Prozac to this day and wears a muzzle in public. Being an good pet parent is a commitment and is hard work.  But it can be done in a way that builds a strong and reliable bond based on respect between the handler and the dog.

Here are 5 tips to taking back your leadership position:

  1. Set the rules early, make sure all family members are in agreement and begin training at home and in multiple settings to make certain that the dog understands that “sit” means sit no matter where they are.
  2. Once a behavior is taught through the use of reinforcement and motivators (food, praise, play, touch, free space) and understood through multiple repetitions in multiple settings,  compliance is reinforced.
  3. Behaviors are taught with distractions and in the case of multiple dogs, each dog is taught the behavior separately and then reinforced.
  4. When a dog disobeys it is held to task. A corrective word or sound marker can be used and the behavior once again reinforced, checking to see where the behavior has broken down.  When was the last time you used this command? Practice makes perfect.  And when your dog complies be sure to pay them off with one of the five motivators.
  5. Don’t give in to sloppy behavior. Many owners fall prey to the “just this time” thinking and ultimately this can lead to a breakdown in response.  Say what you say and mean what you mean. Positive training does not mean permissive.

As you are training remember that trust can be a very dangerous thing.  I can guarantee that dogs will behave like dogs almost 100% of the time and that is why when in public using a leash can be so important for controlling and re-directing behavior. Distractions and new situations can throw off even the most well-behaved canine.  I knew a dog once that was a tremendous obedience champion until one day an animal escaped from the zoo and he was gone for days following it!  When working in public the use of a long line (not a flex-lead) should be a part of your tool kit.  My next post will show you how to use SOUND to teach your dog how to be more responsive.

Copyright 2016 © Dorice Stancher/11666274_1135397353155251_7128176675293338049_nCanines Can Do, llc.  All rights reserved.

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