How do I train my dog to think I'm the "alpha dog"?

The key to many types of training is for you to be the top dog - and this page will explain how to convince your dog that you're in charge. Dog psychology is very different from how people think. Dogs descended from pack animals - they have much in common with wolves, their ancestors, in terms of how they behave. Part of what they've inherited is a hierarchy of who is in charge.


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It generally looks like this:

Alpha Dog - Always a male in the wild, this dog is in charge of everything. It's the strongest dog, and the other dogs know or believe they would lose in a fight and therefore do not challenge the alpha male on anything unless they are trying to take over its position.

Beta Dogs - The dogs behind the alpha male. They are expected to defer to the alpha male in everything, and they may have their own rank in order of which ones are strongest, with similar relationships - stronger dog gets what it wants as compared to weaker dog.

Omega Dogs - This is more likely to be a dog than an actual person. Wolves usually have an "omega wolf" in their pack - this is the lowest wolf in the hierarchy, and all the other wolves torment and harass this wolf. This can sometimes happen with dogs in a park or a neighborhood, or it might be the reason your dogs are treating one dog poorly out of a multiple dog household.

A lot of discipline problems with dogs happen when the dog decides that it is the alpha dog. If it thinks it's ahead of you in the ranking order, then why should it do what you want? Its desires come first, and you are supposed to be subservient to the alpha male. Many old training techniques were designed to exploit this to the point of cruelty, using aggression to essentially convince the dog that it couldn't win in a fight with the owner. But there are humane ways you can let your dog know it's not in charge, and it will usually begin acting like a beta instead of an alpha without you having to be aggressive yourself. Some of the common things to do to establish dominance over your dog:

1) Never back down from your dog. Try staring down the dog - betas look away, alphas don't.

2) Be firm when you talk to the dog and it tries to do something you don't want it to. Don't let your voice waver and don't give in if the dog is trying to get something from you - it gets it when you want, not when it does.

3) Change the dog's feeding schedule so it eats after the humans do. Don't feed it before you eat. Alpha dogs eat first, beta dogs get the scraps - this is a way to subtly show your dog that it is below all the people in the "pack" order. If it whines, firmly tell it no. Don't give it food you're eating.

4) Never get out of the way of the dog. If you confront each other walking past, your dog needs to move and let you past. Alphas have right of way, betas submit and get out of the way. Tell the dog to move firmly, and don't give ground until it does.

5) Control the dog's toys. They're yours, after all, because alphas own everything. Keep them away from the dog until you want to play - and take them away and put them back when you don't.

6) Learn to walk your dog properly so that it is not pulling you and so that it follows your lead. Alphas decide where to go, betas follow the pack.

7) Never allow the dog to growl at you, snap at you, or bite you without punishing it. This doesn't mean be cruel to the dog - but make sure it knows you are in charge and it is being punished. Alphas do not allow their inferiors to physically challenge their authority.

If you convince your dog that you are in charge, it will be much easier to train and many bad behaviors will stop simply with a firm word and a harsh tone of voice. 

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