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.

Here’s how to get the most out of group training classes…

ImageAre you ready to accelerate your dog training education?  These tips will help you get your dog to not only listen and learn in class but in everyday life as well.

1. Have your dog come to class HUNGRY and bring something of high value as a treat when training.  Those hard biscuits and dried kibble just may not cut it with all the distractions so make it special based on your dog’s dietary restrictions.  Some of my favorites include cheese, cooked hot dogs, chicken, freeze dried meat from Omaha Steaks for Dogs, cooked liver, etc.  WIll your dog get fat?  Not if you reduce this amount from his daily intake.  Will he become treat dependent?  We use intermittent reinforcement with treats gradually raising the bar for performance, and substitute praise and petting kind of like a roulette of payoffs.

2. In the home between classes training is part of everyday life.  Training sessions are ANY time you are with your dog.  They do not have to be long. In fact five minutes here and there can be very effective.  I often train between television commercials and when cooking in the kitchen.   And remember always for your dog they must EARN EVERY REWARD.  It’s like saying “please” and it will help get your dog to understand you are his fearless leader.  Does your dog sleep in bed with you?  Alas, your task will be more difficult since he equates himself as your equal with this high honor.  To restore the pecking order have him get off and on.  If he won’t comply then opt for separate sleeping arrangements until the obedience is under control.  I use the crate and invite the girls up when I want to. It is not their decision. Going outside, leaving the car and entering a store always requires that my dogs go AFTER me. They must wait.  This also teaches self control.

3. Train in many places.  Here I am training at Porcelanosa in Ramsey, NJ.  I have also trained at the Apple store in Chestnut Ridge and other public places including the entrance to Home Depot.  Again high-reward treats and a hungry dog will help with this in addition to patience and consistency.  You will need to work up to this level but it is totally worth it! I am having a FREE walk 2/9 at 1 pm in Glen Rock by the Duck Pond.  Here is a chance to meet other owners and train with new distractions.  And we always have fun!

4. Get the entire family on board.  The more impressions that you have or experiences that are consistent with everyone the better your training will be.  I encourage families to post a list of their commands with their meanings on the refrigerator.  Keep it simple with four or five basic ones. This way when company comes you can figure out what words you will use to command Fido.  And if Fido ignores you and you keep saying the word he will learn that he doesn’t have to do it. They are smarter than we think.

5. Consider a private lesson. I am not trying to drum up business. Really.  I have many customers. But honestly I find that a one-hour lesson often helps owners get on track and sets a nice foundation for future training.

6. When in class get started with your dog right away. If you can multi-task as I give brief instructions you may continue to work with your dog.  You may ask questions but for the sake of fellow students they must be short as we progress through the lesson. The last five minutes of class are for all other questions on any topic.

HOMEWORK: Please watch this video and do these exercises: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7V3EwEoPF7Q  You can use the clicker or YES

NEXT CLASS:  Lots of Loose Leash Training

Here are some excellent training resources…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=csuMGROvvVU&feature=related  Teaching a Polite Greeting (note the use of YES it is like using a CLICKER)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kfiNFtembDA  We will be doing this in class

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VDFL14SYUk8  Teaching your dog to STAY (I like this series of free videos)

http://centerforshelterdogs.org/Home/DogBehavior/ProblemsandManagement/JumpyMouthy.aspx   Interesting video on the Jumpy/Mouthy Behavior

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zX3ChYTrpYs  Learning self control at the doorway

Dog Trainer’s Secret to Weight Loss, Staying Young and Feeling Great!

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Feeling sluggish from too much holiday excess? Clothes a little pinchy? Feeling ho- hum and a bit pale? Try these five secret tips we dog trainers use for looking and feeling great! After all you never know when someone will need a new show on Animal Planet!  It all starts simply with taking a walk!

1. When you WALK your dog use your five senses to really take in your environment. Turn off that cell phone and give yourself at least 30 minutes of bliss listening to the birds, taking in those luscious aromas coming from the bakery that is driving your dog mad, watch for cute doggies to say hello to and guess their names before you meet them. By engaging your mind in this way you will relax and reduce those worry lines. And by walking on a regular basis you will shed yucky pounds and feel great. Check with your doctor and vet before starting your regimen and you are off! Make n appointment with yourself to walk so that no one steals valuable “me” time. You are not selfish. You are taking care of your health. No guilt here please.

2. Before venturing out use a good MOISTURIZER with sunscreen. many dog trainers have found the Jergen’s brand of self-tanning daily moisturizer imparts just a hint of healthy non-flakey color. Others swear by Clinique and my personal choice is Luminesce with vitamin C from CVS plus sunscreen. Whatever you choose remember to protect the kin you are in.

3. Learn to SMILE even when you are feeling pfffffft. Yes what your mom said is lines using the muscles for smiling can trick you into feeling better. Practice in front of a mirror if you need help deciding between natural not creepy. Smiling makes you attractive and feel confident. A nice combo to add to the increase in endorphins while walking.

4. Practice GRATITUDE and give thanks for your dog. He or she has loved you through thick and thin, the ups and downs and all the way around. Look at your walk as an opportunity to connect with your adorable living creature, fur child, who is utterly and shamelessly in love with you even if you feel fat and blue. Say thank you with some uninterrupted bliss together. And then say “thank you” for your life, your health and the ability to get outside and enjoy life. Think about paying it forward by helping someone.You will feel calmer, happier and more connect5. Expect great things and dare to DREAM. Some say that you age and are old when you forget to dream. Don’t let anyone destroy your ability

to imagine great things for you and your dog. Yes there are realistic goals. But we are talking about big stuff here. You can get all practical and lay the foundation at home. We are talking the big Hollywood picture here starring you and your dog. Think about travel plans for the two of you, fabulous fun like planning a party or dressing up and dining at a local bistro.

Wishing you big, juicy, healthy, fat-free and mind blowing fun with your clever canine.

Dorice Stancher, CPDT-KA

http://www.caninescando.com