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.

Dog Tricks are the Key to Getting Your Kids Involved in Training

Please note: this article applies to happy, friendly dogs that do not have problems with aggression or other serious behavior issues. For these types of problems it is suggested to call a certified CPDT-KA or contact your veterinarian.

Did you know that almost 80% of family dogs in this country are usually trained by moms? What starts off as a good idea–getting a dog for the family–often ends up being the responsibility of mom.  Want to get your kids back in the picture and have them involved in training?  The answer may be as simple as adding some trick training to the repertoire.

Here are some pointers to keep in mind when starting any training program with your dog. All dogs respond better to training when they earn all of their rewards including food and treats, petting and play.  There are no freebies. When I work with families I usually suggest a plan of leadership with all family members school age and beyond repeating the same consistent behaviors with the family pet; all learning to speak “dog”.  Of course all interactions between children and dogs should be supervised. And even well-meaning friends can behave inappropriately with the family pet leading to safety issues.  By getting everyone on board early to understand how to stay safe and have fun, training becomes a part of everyday living.

One program that really gets kids excited about working with their dogs is Trick Training.  One of the foremost authors on the subject is Kyra Sundance has published more than 15 books on the topic.  Her books are richly illustrated and geared toward making your dog into a little circus performer.  But the best part is as the dog is taught the behaviors, they improve in their relationship with the family. They begin to understand and respond to commands.  And your children can earn national titles with their pets all in the comfort of their home with her “Do More With Your Dog Program”.

When introducing trick training adults should supervise the interaction between child and dog to offer encouragement and to make sure interaction is appropriate.  Training should be kept fun and positive, with praise and treats for good behavior.  It is far easier to start where there are little distractions such as indoors before attempting to train outdoors.  When working outdoors care should be taken to be in a “safe” area such as a fenced yard and it is often easier to gain the dog’s attention after they have had a some exercise and not after eating a big meal.  This usually makes them sleepy or unresponsive.

Trick training is “real” obedience because it teaches your dog to give attention when asked, to understand and perform a specific behavior, to enjoy working with their owners, and to adapt to new environments. Some favorite tricks of my students includes teaching their dogs to “say their prayers”, to jump through hoops and dance with them.  But my favorite part is having their children get excited when I arrive for a lesson to show me what they have trained their dog to do this week. In order to get the dog to understand that they must listen to their young trainers, parents should take an active role getting things started by modeling the behavior and then having their child follow accordingly.

And not surprisingly, many of the children that took an interest in their dogs early on are now active doing community service with their dogs as therapy teams and visit local hospitals and nursing homes. Some have even gone on to earn titles with their pets in obedience, rally and agility or had the thrill of entertaining their scouting friends and classmates as they work toward their badges.  It is a great lesson in patience, perseverance and success!

Want to get started?  Here are some links to find out more information about trick training.  And of course consulting a local  Certified Pet Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA) that is certified for trick training is a great start too.

For more information on trick training here are some handy resources:

http://domorewithyourdog.com/pages/spark.html

http://www.caninescando.com

Written by award-winning writer and trainer Dorice Stancher, MBA, CPDT-KA owner of Canines Can Do, llc. Her dogs are multiple titled in conformation, obedience/rally, trick training, and enjoy kayaking, surfing, skijoring and dog sledding.