Training a Dominant Dog

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Leader of the Pack

When discussing wolf packs, the leader is referred to as the "alpha." Animals that show alpha instincts are generally pushy, manipulative, demanding, and dominant. They like to be dominant in any relationship, and expect others to follow their lead. If your dog acts like the dominant member of your pack, you'd be wise to begin taking steps to turn your relationship around.

"Dominant" versus "aggressive"

It's important to note that the terms "dominant" and "aggressive" don't mean exactly the same thing, although the two traits often overlap. While a dominant dog likes to control his pack, the aggressive dog takes it one step further, using threats and actual aggression to gain and keep control.

Interestingly, a dog's dominance level may be high when it comes to his relationship with people, but quite low with other dogs—or vice versa.

Your role as pack leader

Your dog should see you as his pack leader. Being the leader doesn't mean acting like an ogre with your dog. In fact, it's your responsibility as pack leader to treat your dog humanely and fairly, and to protect him from physical and emotional harm. Being an effective pack leader means being authoritative without being harsh; gentle and kind without being overly permissive. Like a good parent, being the leader means combining the best traits of a guardian, teacher, ally, and friend.

Games to eliminate

If you are a novice dog owner with a dominant puppy or dog, it is best to play only games that encourage teamwork and that are non-adversarial in nature. "Fetch" is a good example of a game where your dog is taught to work with you, rather than against you.

However, playing games that pit a dominant puppy or dog's strength against yours—such as tug-of-war—may encourage rowdy or aggressive behavior, especially if the puppy initiates the game and frequently "wins" it. Allowing this to happen can teach your dog some lessons he (and your family) could do without.

Keep him off the furniture

Territories carry great significance to a dog. If your dog is dominant or difficult to handle, it must be made clear to him that your furniture belongs to you, not him. This means he shouldn't be allowed on it. This is especially true of your bed.

Ways to show that you're the pack leader

Doorways signify territories. This means that if you and your dog both come to a doorway at the same time, you should enter or exit ahead of him. Allowing a dominant dog to rush through ahead of you sends him the wrong message.

Owners of dominant dogs should also prevent their dogs from blocking doorways. Dominant dogs frequently control access points (such as doorways) throughout the house by lying across them and expecting members of the family to walk around them.

A well-exercised dog is a happier, healthier, and better-behaved dog. A lack of active physical exercise and stimulation often leads to a hyperactive, destructive, difficult dog.

In the world of dogs and wolves, pack leaders eat first. So if your dominant dog is dominant by nature, it's important that you control who gets fed first.

If you have a dominant dog who frequently demands your attention by jumping up or pawing at you, teach him to earn your attention and affection by making him sit, stay, or lie down. This will help create and maintain a reciprocal relationship where your dog gets the love and affection he craves, but on your terms.

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