I am the alpha male in our pack.

I am the boss. I am the master. I am the biggest, the baddest, the best. From my paw flows pain and pardon, affection and admonition. I am the big dog.

Never mind that I am a 5'1” human female with much more bark than bite. Never mind that I have elders that I acknowledge as my superiors. I am the pack leader. When I speak, my inferiors listen. I didn't teach them to hear me immediately. To gain this level of control, I had to assert my dominance in many small ways, starting from the time they first joined my pack.

Several rules for Alpha Domination

The easiest rule of all? Start young.

Everyone knows that a puppy is a baby dog. However, what people fail to realize is that a puppy is a baby dog. This means that, much like a baby person, one day it will grow in to an adult. And, much like a baby person, a baby dog is learning as it grows. Do not teach it anything you do not want it to know when it is much bigger and stronger.

  • Establish dominance, the physical way.

    You are the big dog, and asserting this to a small, pliable puppy mind is much easier than trying to convince a much older, much more worldly dog. Flip the puppy on its back and look down on it. If it is accepting you as its leader, it will not struggle to right itself. It should just calmly lay there and stare back, showing that it accepts its submission to you. If the puppy doesn't do this right away, do not flag. Hold it still until it realizes how much stronger, bigger, and more committed you are than it is. When the puppy is still and submitting, it should be easy for you to play with its ears, feet, mouth, and stomach. This should be done so that the dog version of the puppy will be more compliant to veterinarians, groomers, and you (should you have to be the bearer of bad meds).

    Another method for establishing the bigger-badderness of yourself over the puppy is to hold it under the armpits and look it in the eye. Never raise the puppy above your own eye level, as this places it in a level of dominance. All squirming should cease, though some puppies will really get rocking before they finally give in. The puppy should also look you in the eye. If he is not meeting your eye, he is basically calling you a fraud. Letting him get away with this is not acceptable. It is not necessary to obtain full dominance in one setting. Don't push it, but make sure to instill who exactly is boss quickly. Try several times if necessary, but don't give up on it.

  • Pack leaders can make funny requests.

    These must be honored. Puppies should submit to the will of leaders if the pack is going to remain functional. Training should begin early to encourage compliance before bad behaviors set in. Teach the puppy all basic commands, such as sit, stay, come, and heel. These should be employed before provision of meals and toys, or to encourage a dog to calm down when it has become overly excited. Do not use violence as a punishment, but rather encourage the dog with treats and praise so that good actions are associated with good rewards. You do not have to be a tyrant just to be the boss.

  • You are the top of the food chain.

    Questions about the hierarchy in a social group encourage in-fighting in order to establish who's where on the food chain. You must always be on top. Everything that the puppy gets is from you. Toys and treats should be given only when the dog has submitted to your requests, such as “Sit” or “Come”. When it is meal time, make another request, such as “Sit”, and make sure that request is honored until you so choose to allow them to get up and enjoy their meal.

  • Hurting is not all right.

    Do not let puppies bite, especially in a way that elicits pain. Biting is a normal part of play-fighting, and especially in teething pups, it can't be helped. This does not mean that you must be your puppy's chew toy. When a puppy bites, make sure they know that they have hurt you. Say “ouch” or give some other signal, preferably not violent, and replace your extremities with a proper chewable item.

  • You are the champion, my friend.

    Games like tug-of-war may be fun, but also allow the puppy to feel dominant if it always wins-- that is, ends up with the toy. Make sure that you win most of the time. In fact, teach the puppy when it is time to let go, using commands such as “Drop” or “Let go”. Though he may win once or twice, letting him win constantly will lead to the false belief that he is stronger than you. And if he's stronger than you, what else can he get away with?

  • You are the king in your castle.

    When you go out of your territory, make sure that you do it as pack leader. Literally, you must lead the pack. Make the puppy sit outside of the door frame when you are about to enter/exit, and enter/exit before he does. While you are walking, make sure that your commands and desires are followed. I recommend Cesar Millan for this particular portion of the training though, as he has full seasons of advice, and I have only one already overwritten node.

  • You are not territory.

    Do not let yourself be marked. Mounting and humping is not a sign of affection, playfulness, or ardent desire. It is an attempt to tell you that you can be man-handled however the dominant animal desires. Do not allow this. Ever. It's obnoxious for an adult dog, but it's really disturbing when a 7 week old puppy pulls it.

All combined, the above rules should allow you to mark yourself as the alpha male in your home. As I said, the easiest way to assert dominance is for your puppy to grow up knowing dominance. The same rules should apply even for older dogs, who may have already established many behaviors. The rules may just be harder and more difficult to apply and enforce. Obviously, it will be difficult to flip a full-grown German Shepherd on her back until she stops wiggling. It may even be dangerous to try. In these situations, involving an experienced trainer or behaviorist may be best.
However, do try the more subtle dominance behaviors-- you are the winner, you are the first to exit, you are the source of everything that the dog needs. These sorts of actions will go miles in letting the dog know that you are superior to it, and it will hopefully respond accordingly.

IMHO, it is unnecessary to use excessive force to train a dog. It is not even truly necessary to go so far as to threaten the dog. In fact, especially with grown dogs, the threat of a threat is not enough. In situations with a dog who has asserted dominance, you must escalate your “threat” to the point that the dog will actually feel scared for its life in order to assent to your dominance. Are you really willing to nearly strangle your dog to death when a simple touch to the throat is insufficient? I won't go so far as to say that I haven't ever gotten frustrated and whapped a nose or a tail. I will say that if you are a good enough trainer, it is unnecessary. If you do not think you can be that trainer, get someone to teach you how to become so.

I hope all of this helps to set up a successful relationship between you and your dog. If not, please be sure to tune in to the National Geographic Channel. They really love Cesar.

The above node was written from my personal experience training dogs, talks with veterinarians, and a few helpful hints from the sites listed below.

  • http://www.canismajor.com/dog/behvterm.html
  • http://www.inch.com/~dogs/taming.html
  • http://www.cpvh.com/Articles/35.html