Dogs are pack animals. Dog packs are lead by alpha dogs, while other dogs within the pack are submissive to their pack leader. Alpha dogs are important in canine groups because they establish order and maintain stability.
Though most domesticated dogs don’t have packs, they instinctively understand pack order and alpha leadership. Even your new puppy understands what an alpha dog is. Most puppies instinctively look to their owners for leadership, but if their owner does not establish leadership, problems can occur. If you’re a new puppy owner, establishing dominance is important for ensuring order and a healthy relationship between you and your dog.
Why Is Being Alpha Important?
Members of your household are the members of your dog’s “pack.” To maintain control of your dog, you must be the alpha. Establishing dominance once your dog is older can be tricky, or even impossible – and many undesirable behaviors may develop along the way. This is why it’s important to establish dominance while your dog is a puppy.
How Do You Show You’re An Alpha?
There are many things you can do to be an alpha dog in the eyes of your puppy.
Set the rules. Be consistent.
Alpha dogs set boundaries for other dogs, which in turn leads to predictability, safety and security within the pack. As the alpha, you must establish rules and consistently apply the rules that create a sense of structure. This shows your dog their place in your family.
Don’t slip on the enforcement of the rules, or your puppy will start to question your leadership and their own place in the pack. This can make training your puppy more challenging, thus leading to behavioral problems and bad habits that could stick around for a long time to come.
Maintain a calm demeanor.
Alphas are confident in their authority. This confidence is reflected in their behavior. Maintaining a calm demeanor with your dog shows that you understand your role and your puppy’s role in the home. In turn, your puppy will understand their role as well.
If you’re naturally anxious around your dog, or if you’re uncertain about how your role can shape your dog’s behavior, enroll your puppy in obedience courses. You and your puppy will attend these classes together. While there, you’ll learn how to assert authority over your dog, which in turn will give you calm confidence while dealing with your puppy’s more unruly behaviors.
Make your dog wait calmly for food.
Alpha dogs eat first, while other dogs wait for their meal. Making your dog wait calmly for their meal simulates this natural order. Give your puppy the sit and stay commands. Set down your puppy’s food, then give the ok for your puppy to eat. Don’t let your puppy pounce on their meal! If your puppy has trouble with sit and stay, this is another good reason to enroll them in obedience training.
Make eye contact when giving a command.
Eye contact means a lot to dogs. Making eye contact while giving your puppy a command shows that you’re serious and you mean for your commands to be followed.
Train your dog to do a job.
Dogs have roles within their pack. Your job is to be pack leader, so your puppy’s job must be something else. Giving your puppy a job is one way to give your puppy a feeling of fulfillment and a sense of their place within your home.
If your dog has been bred to do a job – like herding or sniffing – reinforcing and encouraging these behaviors will give your dog a sense of happiness and purpose. If your dog is a designer dog, they may have multiple strengths and instinctive behaviors. Make up games that allow your dog to exercise these strengths at home.
Know When to Get Help
If your puppy is displaying leadership traits to assume an alpha role (example: growling when anyone approaches their food, won’t listen to commands), get help from an obedience professional. Working with a pro can help you turn the relationship around.