It may be easy to forget that dogs are not simply humans in a different package, and that they don't respond to situations in the same way that we do. We may think of our dogs as our best friends; they seem to know when we are happy or sad. This is because dogs are experts at sensing energy and reading body language. They watch us whenever they are with us and they excel at picking up our nonverbal cues.
Try this experiment: when your dog is watching you, give a big happy grin; when your dog does something you disapprove of, look stern and slowly shake your head “No.” Write me and tell me what response you get.
Social animals like dogs follow a leader who does not display excited, nervous or angry energy. A pack is not led by the biggest, meanest dog, but rather one that has the qualities of calmness, confidence and, yes, leadership. As pack animals, dogs look at their human families as their pack—as their leaders. A leader (the "alpha dog") doesn't yell and scream, but remains calm and in control. Dogs trust and rely on that calm energy.
Because dogs view their world in a different way than we do, you can imagine that they also view the role of Alpha differently too. "Alpha," in human terms, translates to aggressive, dominant behavior. Have you heard people say, “I rubbed my dog's nose in urine when he peed in the house,” or “To get him to stop chewing furniture, I sprayed bitter apple on a cotton ball and shoved it in his mouth.” Now ask yourself, would those actions gain your dog's trust and confidence?
Be the "Alpha Dog"—the Leader of the Pack!
To be effective an Alpha pack leader means means always taking the lead:
- We lead to go outside
- We lead the walk
- We get in the car first—Get it?
This is what the alpha dog does. Leadership is something the dog respects and knows because this is how the canine world is ordered. Dogs become unbalanced and display unwanted behaviors when they think they are the leader of the pack—so it's up to you to be the alpha dog and take charge! Your pet will be happier for it.
Stop by next time to take the “Stability Quiz”!
Julia Levitt is the founder of In Harmony Dog Training and Ann Arbor Animal Hospital's "Miss Manners" for dogs! She is available to help your dog be a better canine citizen, and answers questions about Canine Behavior here on our blog from time to time.