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Who's Alpha Around Here?

"I've been reading the book Secondhand Dogs and trying out the techniques. has stopped using his paw to try to stop me from making him do something. He's also stopped play biting. AND he goes in his crate with minimal effort. He has a trust problem. If forced to do something, he lets you know in no uncertain terms that's he's scared and not to mess with him. But with gentle coaxing (and bribery) he's learned that he can trust what I tell him. I AM the alpha, finally!'

This note is from a dedicated PAW volunteer. Like many of us, she encountered challenges from "the dog who would be Alpha." Such a dog will not heed the owner, and may likely try to dominate other dogs in the household. But as this volunteer discovered, by applying humane techniques consistently, we can modify a dog's behavior -- and earn the dog's trust and respect.

"If you are Alpha, no dog can be Alpha; there is only one Alpha in every pack," says Eric Lundquist, trainer and owner of Connecticut-based DogStar Training Systems. "There can be only one Alpha; everyone else is just higher or lower ranking than the other pack members.'

Eric explains that even if that Alpha is not present, it doesn't make the next in rank Alpha. In addition, he dismisses the idea that dominance and aggression have to correlate. Usually, the more dominant being doesn't have to be more aggressive.

"For a person to be a true and benevolent Alpha, they need to not only believe it intellectually, but also in their heart," stresses Eric. "It needs to be a -natural" thing for the individual, in order for him or her to exude the natural confidence that is required." This can be a learned way to think and respond, but if someone starts off at the other extreme -- very shy, timid, and/or fearful -- it is very difficult to "learn" to be Alpha.

This is why some people shouldn't own dogs of certain challenging breeds (and why some have trouble with any dog!).

Dogs can sense when we are bluffing, explains Eric; they can smell when we are nervous, scared or worried. This is why as owners we must feel like benevolent Alpha leaders in our hearts. Also, being a leader who has earned trust and respect is far different from being a macho owner whose dog is submissive out of fear. We want dogs to be obedient because they respect us and look to us for pack leadership.

In addition, please avoid techniques such as the "Alpha roll," which can be not only ineffective but dangerous, particularly with grown dogs who can respond with greater speed and strength than the handler possesses. In addition, practicing such physically dominating techniques does not eliminate the dog's aggressive behavior. There is a trend in training: more and more trainers are focusing less on aversive or dominating physical techniques. Instead, they're emphasizing techniques based on positive reinforcement and classical conditioning. We can suggest a number of good trainers in the region.

For many dogs, the "Nothing In Life Is Free" approach effectively and humanely leads to remarkable behavioral improvements. As a final note, please remind adopters to exercise caution. Before they've had a chance to start training the dog and establish the people of the house as the leaders, we advise they avoid letting a dog sleep on the human's bed and other furniture, and not place their faces on the dog's level.

Note: Eric Lundquist is the owner of DogStar Training Systems. His information-rich web site is now under construction. However, you can visit: http://dogstar-systems.com and sign up via e-mail link to be informed when it is ready and to receive a free monthly all-dog e-mail newsletter, which will start publication after the web site is launched.


For more of Robin's Dog Tips, see the index at:  www.paw-rescue.org/PAW/dog_tips.php

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Last Updated: April 26, 2018 (LET) PawSupport