Are you the Alpha dog? It is very important to understand that in the wild, dogs live naturally in a pack and are therefore always aware of their position. At home, this pack contains you, your family, other pets in the household and of course your dog. The Alpha dog is the leader and protector of the whole pack, and it is crucial that you are seen by your dog to be taking this role. He will be calmer, more secure and better behaved if he understands his position and knows who his pack leader is (I have written a more in depth article of dog psychology here).

Firstly you need to learn which signals your dog will understand. It is essential to consistently communicate “alpha signals” to your dog in a compassionate and patient way. Do NOT be aggressive, overbearing or bullying to your dog! You must learn the language that a dog understands and use the correct signals to communicate with him effectively. Unclear signals and inconsistency will confuse your dog – he will deduce that the pack leader is not effective, he will become stressed and feel that it is therefore up to him to try to take over as alpha to give order to the pack. If he does this, it is not because he is being “bad”, but that he has made correct conclusions (from a dog’s point of view) from what you have communicated to him.

So how do you let your dog know that you are an effective alpha? Firstly, the alpha dog always eats before all other pack members, so you MUST eat your meal completely and clear the dishes before feeding your dog. You should ensure that he sees you eating and therefore understands completely that he will only be fed when you, as pack leader, have completely finished.

When you have eaten your meal and cleared away, make your dog sit before giving him his bowl of food and allowing him to eat. If you have been in the habit of feeding your dog before your dinner, or even during, this new routine may be very confusing for your dog at first. Be patient – if he whines or makes a fuss while you’re eating, it is simply part of his learning process. You are giving him new signals, new information about the pack and you must give him time to understand this. Be firm, kind and patient.

Secondly, you should always enter boundaries before your dog, especially doorways, stairs and narrow passages. You must NEVER let your dog push past you or go in front of you. The alpha dog in a dog pack would not allow a subordinate dog to enter a boundary before him, and neither should you. Use a lead to control your dog if necessary, but always ensure you enter before your dog.

You should never let your dog run up a stairway in front of you. This allows him to run to the top and look down on you, exhibiting dominant behaviour. The key to this is NOT to punish the wrong behaviour – it is too late to do that – simply physically stop him from exhibiting this form of alpha dog behaviour in the first place. Use a leash, close doors, give a short, sharp shout, whatever your dog responds to, and always remember to be firm, kind and respectful. You are talking to your dog, not trying to bully him into submission. The key these principals are repetition, consistency and patience.