The Alpha...You, not your dog
Dogs are pack animals.
The instinct to be part of a social order stems from the original dogs that soon realised numbers assured safety and it is still evident, even in today's "house" dog . As pups, the human family takes the place of the litter situation. As they get older, the family becomes the dog's social order with a pack which has a top dog or Alpha figure. Dogs have an instinctive need to be part of a pack and the human 'family' fulfills that need. Dogs need to fit into a pack for security. They need and will accept their place in the pecking order. Most will not want the alpha position and look for a human to give the orders and make the decisions. However, if the human does not assume that alpha position the dog will take on the role.
That's when the trouble starts. You are then 'below' him in dogs status and he will be the dominant figure. He will not want to give up the alpha position and will expect you to acknowledge him. Trouble with a capital 'T'.
The Alpha or the Top Dog/Bitch in any pack gets to eat first, gets the best food, gets to sleep in the best place available, gets whatever he/she wants. The other members of the pack acknowledge the leader and bow tow to him/her. Any challenge for that alpha position is dealt with physically and the challenger is put in his/her place very swiftly and without reserve. This behaviour is natural and instinctive in the dog's world. In a 'human' pack situation this can be very dangerous.
Some dogs accept their lower level or position within the family 'pack'. Others don't and some are natural born leaders and will challenge the human alpha continuously. Others are always challenging those above them on the pecking ladder. These 'leaders' and the 'social order challengers' are the ones that cause unsuspecting families big problems.
Some humans unwittingly offer the alpha position to the dog. They dont realise what they are doing. They allow the dog to sleep on beds or sofas; they don't enforce any command; they feed him when he demands,etc. In a dog pack situation, only the alpha dog would get these types of priveleges.
In the litter situation the bitch shows the pups she is the alpha figure and the pups have to respect her. They accept that because it provides the security that comes from the bitch. Most dogs will want that feeling of 'security' they had in the litter situation and will respect the human alpha. However, in a family 'pack' the dog has to accept the bottom position in the pecking order. He will sometimes only want to respect the alpha and will not accept other humans as above him in the order. This is one problem that often occurs and he needs to be trained at a very early age that his position is below 'all' family members.
If you watch dogs you will notice that they don't "speak" to each other as we know speech. Eye contact and body attitudes appear to be the main means of communication. Your dog will always be watching for body language from you and will sense any insecurity on your part. He will know if you do not follow up on a command to force him to obey as would a canine pack alpha. That is when he will attempt to tell you that he is assuming the alpha role. A dog will sense attitude immediately because that is what he got as a pup from his mother, the alpha figure, and he will respect it. It is up to you to take the bitch's place as the alpha figure and enforce the pack order and rules.
To become the Alpha, you must assume the attitude of an alpha. Stand erect. Dont bend over the dog. Have you watched an alpha dog put down a sibling that is below him in pack order? He stands over the sibling with hackles raised in order to look bigger and to show his sibling he means business. Use your eyes and your voice. Get across to him that you mean business. Use a deep, firm voice,a different tone from that you normally use. Don't ask him to do something, tell him. He will recognise the change in personality and will instinctively respect and understand.
Having said all the above, you will get a dog that doesn't want to give up his alpha position. He likes it the way it is. Afterall, he has been pampered and does what he wants when he wants, gets fed when he wants it, sleeps where he wants, demands petting when he wants it, etc. etc.
You can't blame him for that. The blame lays at your feet. This dog, that has probably taken over the household and has reinforced his alpha status by growling or even biting if threatened when he did not obey, is going to need desperate attitude changes.
I emphasize here that you should not treat aggression with aggression. It will only result in you being bitten or hurt. An alpha dog knows he can beat you hands down. After all, he is the alpha !! The human brain is a lot bigger than a canine brain. Use this to your advantage. Out think him !
For this to work you will have to involve the family members. All members of the family need to know and understand how to change this dog's attitude and get him to accept that each and every family member is above him in the pecking order and that you are the alpha. The law as it stands in most countries will not tolerate a dog that threatens or bites. Unless you have plenty of money and are prepared to contest litigation I would strongly suggest you start immediately in training your dog to accept that he is a dog, not a small human in a fur coat.
In his litter situation he knew how to respect the alpha and take orders. You now have to jog his memory so he can realise who and what he is. You are going to teach him that he has to earn what he gets...no more freebies and hand-outs. Obedience is the way to go from now on. No obedience....no reward....no nothing.
You will have to teach him some basic obedience. If you have not already, start with the sit command. Give the command and make him sit. Push his rear end down as you hold a reward above his head. Don't just push his rear down or he will interpret that as a challenge. If he can see a reward above his head he will not worry about his rear being pushed down. Once he sits, and only after he sits, then reward him with praise and some tidbit he likes. Don't fuss over him but a "Good Boy" will suffice. Change your tone of voice for rewards.
Once you achieve this, then EVERYTHING he wants to do has to be preceeded by a sit. If he refuses to sit, just walk away from him. If you aren't sure he understands the command, keep it up until you are positive he is just not trying you out. If he just doesn't want to obey, walk away. No sit...no reward. Ignore him. Never repeat the command once you are sure he knows what it means.
Don't leave food out for him. You decide when to feed him. Make him sit before you feed him. No sit....no food. Walk away and ignore him. Try again later. Continue until he gets the message. DO NOT give the 'sit' command more than the once. Remember the alpha dog always eats first. I have found a good idea is to hide a piece of fruit or anything at all, in your hand when you go to feed him (after he has complied with the sit command)and pretend to take the fruit or whatever from his food bowl before giving him his food. Eat the fruit piece in front of him and let him see you finish eating before giving him his food. Spit on his food before you give it to him. That way he will be sure you have had your feed first.
In order he does not just accept you as the alpha, you must get the rest of the family to participate in his training. Let each take turn in feeding him and making him obey the sit command before being fed. That way he will understand that all his human family are above him in the pack pecking order. If he finds that one member of the family will give in to him he will then think he is still above that one member of the family, not at the bottom of the pecking order within the family pack where he should be. If he still even thinks he is somewhere other than the bottom position you still have a problem.
You have to stay one step ahead of him. Never let him go out the door before you. Never step over him if he is laying in your way. Make him move out of your way. The alpha never steps over ANYONE. NEVER let him sleep in your bed, EVER !! Once you allow that the bed then becomes his', his "lair" or "den" and he ALLOWS you to sleep on HIS bed. While it suits him to do so. Your bedroom must be off-limits until you have total alpha control.
You will notice that the alpha dog in a dog pack is always getting "petted" by the other subordinate pack members. They will lick touch and groom the alpha. You must ensure you do not pet him when he wants to be petted. Pet when you want to and only then give a few words of praise and then stop. Then walk away and ignore him. Never give praise at his level. In other words, always stand tall above him, otherwise he will interpret your attitude as submissive. If he won't come when called, dont allow him outside without a lead on him.
Never play games that encourage a "winner", like tug-of-war or rough-house wrestling or any other 'game' that encourages him to use his strength against you by the use of hisr teeth. Try non-dominating games like fetch or catch etc. However, you must ensure you prompt any games and you decided when it finishes. Make sure the game stops before he gets bored and does not want to give up the ball etc.
How long do you have to keep up this training? As long as it takes. You will know if you are making any progress if he starts looking for directions and you should see some eagerness to please you. If he has accepted you as the alpha he will approach you with his head slightly lowered and with ears held back in a submissive attitude. If he comes to you with head erect and his ears high you still have a way to go yet. Stay with it. Don't give up on him. It will be worth the effort.
Submitted by John Chandler