The dog world has been offering proof that the alpha dog theory is a myth, and that doing alpha rolls and forceful, dominant corrections are nothing more than bullying the dog.
The first proof came when people realized that 70-80% of all dogs on earth live wild. So, instead of putting dogs and wolves in confinement and trying to study ‘natural’ behavior, researchers go in the wild to see what real canine behavior looks like.
The second proof came from a fox farm in Russian in the last 50’s. They accidentally found that if you breed calm foxes to calm foxes then you have spotted, trainable, foxes with floppy ears within 5 generations. This is opposed to wolves who, 10 generations of domestication, do not become calmer, more trainable, or ‘domesticated.’
What does this mean to you? It means, hypothetically (here is one of those science words that mean science is only ‘best guess’), that dogs have more in common with foxes than wolves. So, if we want to know what does act like, then we cannot look at a closed pack unit, but a family group.
When we read white papers on dog behavior we learn some vital differences between foxes and dogs, and wolves. First, no single animal usurps the will and holds absolute authority over another dog or fox. If the leader of the family is a bully, then everyone just skips out and joins another family.
Another thing we learn is that protecting the pack is secondary to individual survival. This is supported by dog’s behavior when stressed. A dog that is afraid of an approaching dog will lunge and bark. It will not look towards the leader of the pack for leadership, but will ‘react’ based on its own chemical response to the stimuli.
We also learn that dogs have the ability to be extremely cognitive. However, at maturity and with optimum mental stimulation, behavior modification, and socialization at the right mental development stages a dog will only achieve the cognitive ability of a 2.5 year old. This means that while it is cognitive, it will continue to act based on emotions.
Who is Alpha Dog?
What does this mean for you? It means that your dog needs you to establish a routine in the day. Boundaries need to be well defined. Rules need to be consistent. And, you need to put your dog’s emotional needs above your need for obedience and a companion.
The alpha dog is the calmest, most social, and nurturing dog. When a dog is not stressed, ie, it trusts you, you can portray dominance with a look, or by putting your hand ‘lightly’ on its shoulder.
The alpha needs to be able to communicate its intentions, but too many pet owners are more concerned with having their dog obey. They spend no time teaching their dogs how to communicate, so they have no way to convey their wants to the dog.
Unfortunately, many of us let puppies run wild, practicing survival instincts until 5 – 6 months and then suddenly have a ‘wild dog’ and hope that teaching a few tricks and tasks (heeling, sit, stay) will domesticate their dog. If this is you, then your task is going to take a few months, but the good news is that you can succeed.
How to Be Alpha Dog Part 1
The first step to being alpha is to keep the dog safe. If the dog feels you can keep it safe, then it will trust you. This means that you need to stop the punishments, and swap that out for teaching dogs how to learn, communicate, and building a relationship.
If you want your pup to develop into a well-mannered family member then toss out everything you’ve learned about dominance and alpha behavior and get ready to learn how to use your dog’s natural behavior to create a working relationship.
Dogs are Not People
In the wild dogs do not always form packs. Even if they do the pack will be fluid, not permanent. Treating a dog like a child can cause serious, and potentially irreversible, behavior problems. Dogs cannot fill our emotional voids. Forcing them to will cause two problems.
First, you will misunderstand a dog’s communication because instead of reading ‘dog language’ in your dog’s behavior you will misinterpret it using human behavior.
Second, you will expect behaviors from your dog that will cause stress, diminish trust, and stress your dog.
My Dog Bites Me
In my experience with aggressive dogs I find that 99% of them stop biting when they understand what their owners want from them, and/or when they start trusting their owners. We make some mistakes that cause problems:
- We do not desensitize dogs to eye contact. We do not teach them that when their human stares at them something good will follow.
- Aggression teaches Aggression. Instead, put you hand calmly on your dog’s shoulder and hold it still for 15 seconds. It should relax. If it doesn’t then seek professional help.
- Do not let your dog put its head higher than you.
- Do not let your dog push you, jump on you, or hit your chest with its front paws and move you back. If anything, you move the dog back.
- Do Not Overlook Any Challenge of Authority. If you cannot handle the situation then put the dog in a kennel for a time out.
Continue to Part 2: The Alpha Factor: Pack Leader Activities
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