By nature dogs are pack animals and as such each pack follows a leader known as the "alpha dog". Our lovely canine friends although domesticated, still have the need to follow a leader which is why it is so crucial for owners to establish they are the "alpha dog" in the household. When dogs know their place within a home, they are much happier creatures all round and as such there's less chance of them developing unwanted behavioural problems.
Establishing yourself as the "alpha dog" in doggy terms really does mean you are the boss and this in turn means your pet will respect you and behave as you want them to do. There are many ways of establishing yourself as the leader of the pack but this should never involve any harsh or aggressive treatment. Instead, your leadership would be established through trust and a gentle but firm hand when teaching your pet how to behave. The thing to bear in mind is that any aggressive behaviour towards a dog eliminates any trust they may have in your and only creates fear which is something you need to avoid at all costs.
Many first time dog owners wonder how they can establish themselves as the pack leader without being forceful with a dog and this is where it is important to understand how "positive reinforcement" works. This is one of the most effective methods of achieving the kind of behaviour you would like your dog to learn. It teaches them that naughty gets no rewards whatsoever. Where "rewards" are concerned, this covers everything that encourages your pet to do what you would like them to do. This could be a verbal reward, a stroke or pat as well as a reward in the form of a healthy and tempting treat.
Teaching a dog the basics is essential and this doesn't have to be anything too strenuous for them to learn or for you to teach them. The "sit" and "lie down" command are a must, they establish the foundation for the rest of a dog's training. The thing to bear in mind is the more commands a dogs learns and knows – the better it is for the owner.
With this said, your tone of voice will play a crucial part in how your dog reacts to you. To most dogs a high pitched voice means playtime. However, a lower tone can be associated with a "telling off", therefore you should use a perfectly normal voice to give and teach your dog any commands you would like them to learn.
The "alpha dog" or pack leader always holds the "lead position" and this means you have to do this too. When you leave the house you have to be in front of your dog even when going out for a walk. If your pet gets too excited about things, you must ignore them until they calm down because "walkies" has to be done on your terms and not your pets. Before you do anything with your dog, you should get them to sit and when they do, offer them a "reward". Then, and only then should you throw a ball, put their leads on or anything else you want to do with your dog – this shows them you are in control of the situation and not them.
An alpha dog would never play too roughly or chase another dog when they are playing so you should not either. It is never a good idea to play too roughly with any dogs because it can get them over excited and this is usually when little nips or accidents can happen. Chasing your dog is not a good idea either because you might end up scaring them. Other games you should not play with your dog is anything that involves a "tug or war" action. Many dog trainers believe that if a dog wins and manages to pull a toy away from their owner's hands, it shows their "dominance". The same can be said of games that involve wrestling – if the dog wins, they think they are dominant and therefore the "alpha dog".
When dogs misbehave, it is often much better to ignore them and to wait for them to calm down. By ignoring them you are in effect not giving them a "reward". Once they have calmed down, then and only then should you react to them and reward them.
If your dog insists on trying to get your attention and they have misbehaved, you need to let them know and using a stern voice tell them to "sit" or "lie down". Small dogs should not be picked up when they ask you to do so. Instead you should use the "sit" command and make sure they listen and obey. As a rule of thumb, smaller dogs tend to be a little naughtier than bigger ones and they usually get away with it because of they are small and cute. However, small dogs need to be disciplined just as much as their bigger cousins otherwise they can make life miserable for their owners.
It is very easy to pat your dog and give them a cuddle when you get home from work and they just adore it when you do. However, you have to say "hello" to everyone in the house before you give your dog any attention. This gives your pet the time to settle down because dogs usually get very excited when their owners get home. Once they are calm, you can give them a pat and a cuddle and all the attention they need.
As the alpha dog, you must have your meal first and then feed your dog when you have finished because in the wild, the leader of the pack always eats first. Never offer any human food from the table – not only will this result in some unwanted behaviour but a lot of "people food" is very bad for dogs to eat. You have to make sure everyone in the household follows this rule. Always feed your dog when they are calm, if they are over excited, it is better to make them wait until they have settled down again and then offer them their food.
There is a bit of debate as to whether dog owners should let their pets get onto a couch or indeed their beds. Some behaviourists believe that as long as you, the boss, allows your dog to jump up on a couch or bed by giving them a command, then it's okay. However other behaviourists think a dog should never be allowed on the couch or bed and that they should have their own designated areas to sleep. This naturally has to be a warm dog bed in a nice draught-free place whether it's in your bedroom or another part of the home. It is also the place they can go to when they feel they need or want to.
Establishing yourself as the alpha dog is an ongoing task and one which everyone in the household would need to follow. It has to be seen as something that is continually evolving once the foundation has been established. Training a dog takes a lot of time and patience, it should never be done in a heavy handed manner because all this will achieve is frightening a dog. This in turn means your pet will not respond well to you when you attempt to train them. A firm but gentle hand and lots of positive reinforcement works wonders with our four legged friends who in turn become valued members of a family because they know exactly where they fit in.