Alpha Dogs: Addressing Dominant Behavior in a Household

Most large male dogs are naturally alpha dogs. For some pet owners, they don’t have to experience the trying and challenging aspects of raising a naturally dominant dog from a young age. What is Alpha and what are these characteristics? Well, in every pack, there is one alpha male and female. Being that dogs are descended from wild wolves, it makes sense that these particular traits trickle down through breeding and genetics. These characteristics come naturally to the dog as if they were on their own in the wild and not domesticated as a house pet. The same characteristics of being assertive, alert, and prepared to protect his honor and his pack are shared among Alpha males and females.

 

 

Typically in the wild, the alpha male or female takes on this leadership role that is clearly understood by the rest of the pack. They make the decisions and ultimately have the last say. 

 

Consequently, these characteristics are survival tactics that help them stay alive in the wild. Now when those behaviors that may seem aggressive end up at home... a lot of paw parents start scratching their heads and trying to figure out what to do.

 

I know what this is like because I’ve been in this situation, and although it was challenging in the beginning, I will say that having an alpha dog definitely has its perks. For one, dogs that are alphas will always be astute and aware of their (and your) surroundings. This is particularly helpful if you have a family dog that is also a protection dog. No matter where you are, whether at home or in public, your dog will always be ready to protect you, should that be necessary.

 

I can speak from experience because I have a four-year-old male GSD who displayed these challenging behaviors around age twelve months. It was definitely a struggle but after doing my own research and enlisting the help of a professional, I was able to correct these behaviors and learn how to correct them at home for future situations. My point in sharing this is that before getting a dog, it’s important to research their specific breed characteristics. Yes, I knew that GSD was great family dogs, smart and loving, but I didn’t do enough research to understand that most GSD is natural alphas. Establishing your dominance in the household as the human is so important because, without that, the dog will basically try to run the household -- which exactly happened in my case.

 

Here are some important tips to establish your dominance towards your furry friend:

  • Eat your meals first, then feed your dog.
  • Make them work (e.g. completing a specific task like sitting or waiting) for basic things, like water, meals, and treats.
  • Feed them out of your hands. Most dogs are very particular about their food. They don’t want you near their food. This can lead to aggressive behavior during or before feeding times. By feeding out of your hand, you are establishing that YOU are in control of their feeding.
  • Never allow your dog to sleep with you in your bed (I know this is hard but this is critical to establishing the difference in roles).
  • If your dog IS allowed in your bedroom, establish their sleeping area beneath you
  • When you DO get challenged, establish yourself in height and width. For example, if you and your dog are sitting on the couch and they begin to challenge you, stand up and look down on him.
  • By raising your voice (you don’t need to yell, but raise your voice to be firm and commanding), you demonstrate that you are in control.
  • Do not engage in going back and forth (e.g. fighting over a toy), if the negative behaviors persist, remove yourself from the equation.
  • That lets your dog know that his behavior is not desirable and therefore will not be reinforced in your absence.
  • NEVER aggressively handle your dog, no matter how angry they make you -- even if they are snarling at you or exhibiting other negatives, challenging behaviors
  • NEVER put your dog in the crate when they are exhibiting these behaviors because they will learn to be afraid of the crate which can lead to more problems down the road
  • Establishing your dominance is definitely a cumbersome task but with correct administration, your dog can learn this within weeks.
  • Establishing these roles will truly be beneficial in the future when your dog gets older. All positive behaviors like following commands and completing tasks should ALWAYS be reinforced by being rewarded. You don’t have to give treats every time. Giving a good rub down and lovingly praising is a great way to reinforce these desirable behaviors.
  • Sometimes these things aren’t enough and if you are struggling with your pup, the best thing might be to enlist a professional that can come into your home and help correct these behaviors.

Has anyone had these issues with their furry friend? Let us know what you think and what advice you would give if you are/were in this boat? 

Disclaimer: These are just suggestions, but if you find they do not work in your situation, the internet is a great place to find other ideas on how to handle it before you resort to hiring a professional.