THE ALPHA DOG
Thursday, January 06 2011 @ 05:14 PM EST
Contributed by: erik
THE ALPHA DOG ISSUE
THE ALPHA DOG
WRITTEN BY BARBARA JANSEN
EDITED AND ADDED TO BY ERIK HOFFER
Regardless of your reason for acquiring a puppy, you'll have to win it over. You, not your dog, will have to be the leader of the pack if your pup is to develop into a well-mannered family member instead of a burden. Dominance and alpha behavior are important concepts that every dog owner should comprehend. German Shepherds will assume the alpha role if they feel you are not up to the task, if you are unable to react and reassure them or if you have not established dominance. If the leader of the pack in your household is not you, look out.
Dogs are animals, not human beings. They are pack animals by nature. Every pack has a leader, known as the alpha animal, who dominates and leads the other members of the pack. The alpha is the boss who makes decisions for the entire pack. Usually the pack will have an alpha male and an alpha female. All the other members of the pack form a hierarchy of dominance and submission where everyone has a place. The alpha position is not guarantied for life, it lasts only as long as the pack permits it to last. You could be the alpha in the pack but if the respect is lost and regain by a canine member of the pack your leadership and control are also lost, leaving you chaos in your own home.
In your home, you and your family become your dog's pack, as do any other dogs and cats you may have. It is your responsibility to establish yourself in the alpha position and reinforce that as necessary both overtly and subtly. If you fail to do this, your dog will do it as a natural behavior and be in control. Regardless of the breed, a dog can be the biggest blessing and best friend or the biggest nightmare and a danger to those in the household. Don’t be fooled little foofoo dogs can be as aggressive as any breed. Many people assume that they are automatically in charge just because humans are superior to animals. But are you really the pack leader? Does your dog know it?
Being the pack leader does not mean you have to be big and aggressive. Nor does it mean that there has to be a battle of wills after which you are the victor. Anyone can be the pack leader. It is an attitude an air of authority. It is the basis for mutual respect, and provides the building blocks of communication between the two of you.
A pack animal becomes a full fledged member of the group by a process called subordination. With dogs, subordination begins shortly after the third week of life and continues throughout early development. Most normal, healthy puppies are basically pushy animals, and will try to advance as far as possible within the social order of the pack. The key to successfully rearing a puppy is to establish yourself as the pack leader and then maintain that position for the life of your dog. When adopting or rescuing a dog, especially a GSD, it is important to know some history of the animal. Most of the time that history is unavailable and must be developed by doing certain tests that will indicate dominance or aggression. Allow a professional to evaluate the dog and seek a quality trainer immediately after adopting just to be sure. At SW Florida GSD Rescue we thoroughly vet each animal we take in to try our best to assure the adopter of a positive experience and a quality family pet. No one can ever be 100% sure so make it your business to establish dominance and leadership as soon as possible after you and your best friend come home. The techniques explored below are quite useful and well defined by their author.
So how do you become the alpha leader? In the wild, the adults of the pack begin early to teach the cubs the rules. The adults grab pups around the head or neck and gently, but firmly, pin them to the ground. The cubs learn to greet the adults with respect by approaching them using a slightly crouching posture, with ears back, tail down and wagging, and they lick the adults' muzzles. The cubs do this as a sign of respect and affection, not out of fear. It is called the subordination display, and its function is to keep peace and harmony within the pack.
Leadership exercises can confirm humans as the heads of the family pack. Once you establish this relationship, your dog will seek you out. He will want to be with you and will treat you with respect and affection. Most rescued dogs become Velcro for the first 3-4 weeks as they are eager to establish themselves in the pack and to feel out where they fit. After he learns to submit to handling, all other tasks such as grooming, nail clipping, cleaning ears, and medicating will be easier to accomplish. But first he must learn that you have the power to handle him, and that handling will not lead to any harm. He must come to trust you entirely. Never lose the trust of your dog. Never call your dog to you to strike him or discipline him or offer any negative behavior. There is never a need to strike your dog, stern words and corrections make for a positive correction in most breeds.
These exercises will help establish leadership but should not be used with an older pup who has learned to use his teeth to get his way. Exercises one and two are recommended only for small puppies up to three months of age. Exercises three and four are suitable for pups up to six months of age as long as there's no problem with aggression. Be gentle but firm with all exercises, as you would with a baby human.
1. Sit on the floor, then pick your pup up off the floor with both hands supporting him just behind his front legs, facing you. Hold him away from you at arms length. Look directly into his eyes. Growl at him if he struggles, using a low guttural sound. Hold him till he relaxes. Vary the time you hold him in this position from 15 to 45 seconds. Vary the location.
2. Sit on the floor and cradle your pup, placing one hand under his head and the other supporting his back so that he is upside down on his back, and up in the air. Hold a larger puppy across your lap. Hold the pup for 15 to 45 seconds, using the same growl as in exercise 1 if he struggles. Hold him until he relaxes.
3. If your puppy is large, substitute this exercise for the first two. Straddle your pup, with one of your legs on each side of him. You should be facing the same direction as your dog. Lock your fingers together under his chest, just behind the front legs. Lift his front legs off the ground for 15 to 45 seconds. If he struggles, growl at him till he is quiet.
4. Place your dog on the floor with all four legs pointing away from you. Hold him firmly by the neck with one hand, and press down on his midsection with the other hand. Talk to him softly after he is quiet. It might take two or three minutes to get him to relax. If he exposes his belly to be rubbed, you are on the right track. Do not allow him to struggle, get up, or nip. Always praise him lavishly in a quiet tone when he relaxes. Now is also a good time to handle all four paws and look briefly into his mouth so he can get used to tolerating your handling him gently. Be sure to do this exercise four or five times a day at first. Taper off as the pup gets more used to you and accepts your leadership.
Eye contact is also one of the ways order is kept in a wolf pack. Only an alpha animal may use the stare to remind everyone who is in charge. When you initiate eye contact, you express your alpha position. Encourage your pup to maintain eye contact for several seconds, making it a pleasant experience. Do not force him to do so. Use the term "watch me" and always praise him the instant you have eye contact. However, you do not want to try to do this with a dog who thinks he is already in charge of things. The dog must know you are the leader first. Otherwise you will begin a stare-down contest. An alpha dog will not be willing to be first to avert his eyes. If you are the first to avert or even blink your eyes, it will help confirm the dog's alpha status.
Alpha discipline: Pack leader activities
There are many pack leader activities you can use as part of a daily training routine. Probably the single most important command your dog can learn is "sit." You can incorporate "sit" into everyday situations as a reminder that you are in charge of things. Tell your dog to "sit" before you feed him, before you play, before he goes out the door. This shows the dog that he must respond to you before indulging in his own pleasures. If he is obedience trained, put him in a down-stay while you prepare his dinner.
Your dog will accept you as pack leader as long as you are consistent and fair in your demands. You must never permit him to growl or snap. If he does, a severe scruff shake is necessary, followed by no attention from you for 10 to 15 minutes. The scruff is the loose skin around the dog's neck. If your pet growls or snaps and you are not afraid to handle him, grab him firmly by the scruff with both hands, stare him in the eyes, and shake him. Then put him in his crate for 15-20 minutes and ignore him.
If your dog growls or snaps and you are afraid to discipline him, seek professional help. Don't ignore the incident; a dog allowed to threaten his family can easily become a biter.
Never overlook any challenge to your authority. Most dogs will test their owners, usually in adolescence. When the issue is settled immediately, it usually ends the matter.
There are several books that will help owners establish leadership to assure a long, healthy relationship with a pet. There are also several training clubs and businesses in the area for those who prefer an instructor's assistance and for those who need help with problem dogs.
No one knows what is going on in your dogs head! You can think all is fine when all hell is about to break loose. Do not leave the alpha position to chance, make sure you are consistently firm yet kind and establish dominance through these techniques. For questions feel free to call the Fort Myers or Punta Gorda Schutzund clubs, Peace River Dog Fanciers Club or your local trainer or vet to get advice on how to handle your unique pet.