From an evolutionary point of view, dogs as a species are known to be direct descendants of wolves. Due to climate, geography, and environmental factors, the wolf mutated into several different breeds, and thus the domesticated dog aka Man’s best friend was born.
Although modern dogs today are a far departure from their ancestral wolf, many of their instincts still serve as foundations to their being. One of these instincts is their pack mentality.
Living in packs made it easy for wolves to survive their environment. Besides companionship, hunting and defending their kin was best done as a family. Although they functioned as a family, not all dogs treated each other equally. Dogs operate according to a hierarchy, thus there was one known as the “Alpha” or pack leader. Usually given to the strongest and most senior wolf, the pack leader was given the most respect. Most dogs still carry this mentality and thus if they feel like they are not led properly, then might assume the role of the “Alpha” themselves. This is when problems arise mainly due to owners who try to train their dogs to obey them and their commands fall on deaf ears. The secret is to put in consistent work and show distinct leadership characteristics that will define you as the pack leader.
Why being the Alpha is such a big deal
Being the “Alpha” of the pack means more than just being the big dog. Yes, for the most part it means respect but that respect carries with it the responsibilities of being a proper leader. And naturally dogs look for who the leader is, because it instinctively translates to survival. That respect can mean everything to the dog owner as it boils down to properly training your dog to stay obedient.
Do all dogs need an Alpha?
All dogs look for a leader. The reason for this is because they seek someone who can provide them with care, guidance and stability. Without a leader, your dog remains untrained and thus directionless. If they are within a pack or family, then they may take on the responsibility as the pack leader if they sense that you cannot provide that sort of security. When they have no one to look up to, dogs can end up becoming quite anti-social and reactive. Thus, dogs do need an Alpha who can provide them that sort of direction.
What does it mean to be the pack leader?
Being a pack leader means taking on leadership roles and portraying an image to your dog that commands respect. That does not mean you are given rights to bully. What it means is that you display intelligence, confidence, and security. When it comes to your commands, they are meant to be obeyed at all times.
Like children, dogs will play around with certain boundaries to get familiar with who is the alpha and what is allowed. For example, if you have a no biting rule and are firm with the feedback associated with that particular rule, while another person is a bit lenient with it, then the dog will associate you as the leader because of these distinct boundaries. It is through this display of consistent boundaries that gives dogs the reassurance that they will be protected by their alpha. Once your dog realizes this, then you can expect him or her to remain obedient.
Here are 5 steps to becoming the pack leader
These tips don’t need to be done in order, but serve as simple reminders to how to portray yourself as the “Alpha”. You can work on each, one by one, until you eventually assume the role of the leader. Just be aware that consistency and adherence to your rules is what truly matters, given dog’s ‘in the moment’ personality.
Walk the walk
You must remember that dogs are smart enough to know who the pack leader is. But they can only pick up on who is the pack leader is by the traits that person exhibits. So you must walk the walk. Beyond that you must lead, give off confidence, and provide reassurance. When giving a command, you must use a firm voice that expects respect. When you act like the alpha, your dog will follow.
Lead the leash
One of the biggest mistakes that many dog owners make is allowing their dog to lead them on walks. When you give your pup the power to lead, then that mentality can slowly trickle into other aspects of your relationship. As the leader, it is your responsibility to train your dog to walk beside or behind you. Besides leading your dog on the walk, it also acts as an extra layer of roadside protection since you’re able to act appropriately in the event of dangerous situations with oncoming traffic.
Keep your space sacred
The dog needs to understand that it is your home first and that they are living in it. And if they are to live under your roof, then that means abiding by specific rules regarding your space. This means that you should restrict access to certain areas of your house, which could include furniture, the bed and even the dinner table. By showing your dog that you control that access, you again assert yourself as the pack leader. Once your dog realizes that this is your home, then you can thus train your dog to ask for permission to be allowed into those areas. If your dog wants to lay down with you on the sofa, then he or she must ask and know that it is ultimately your decision. And that’s mainly what you want to achieve, to train your dog to look out for your call on specific rules.
Own the food and water
Have you ever noticed if your dog becomes overly protective or even aggressive when it comes to their food? If this is or becomes the case, it translates to you not “owning” the food and water. You see, the leaders of wolf packs get to control who gets to eat, how much food is distributed and when. It sounds harsh but that is the reality of many dogs in the wild. Fortunately, the domesticated dog doesn’t have to really go through the lack of food associated with being lower in the pack heirachy. But it does provide an opportunity for you as the owner to practice food behavior when it comes to food. And this can mean possible times when you randomly take and give back their food for the sake of displaying your control as the Alpha.
Come and go as you want
When you are deemed the Alpha of the group, that allows you to come and go as you wish. This might seem confusing to dog owners since the majority deal with dogs who have a massive case of separation anxiety. The reason for this anxiety can be due to your dog worrying about you and believing that you can not survive without their protection. This is also related to how most dogs become overly excited upon returning home. Trust me, it’s incredibly easy to show affection to your dog right away when you come back but by making it such a big deal can hurt you in the long run. By remaining low key, you train your dog to realize that leaving and returning is not a big deal and is a common occurrence.
Communicate with the right energy
Dogs are emotional creatures. Since they react to how things are presently, it is wise to try to cultivate a way to properly communicate with your dog in the moment. How? By displaying the correct emotion to your dog when the occasion calls for it. Let’s say your pup jumps on your bed, and you want to express disapproval. You must calmly yet assertively express the feedback necessary for your dog to realize that behavior will not be tolerated. Once your dog gets off your bed, then you must express approval by giving it positive energy. Thus your dog will begin to associate that they weren’t allowed the bed in the first place unless given permission to. Communicating with the right every does not mean giving negative physical or vocal feedback. Being a great leader means finding ways to communicate the right things with respect, even when bad behavior happens.
What’s not part of being the Alpha?
You probably understand by now what you need to do in order to be seen as the pack leader. But there are also certain rules you need to be aware of in order to maintain the identity as the authority figure. Yes, even the pack leader needs to adhere to their own set of rules, a set known as “not to do’s”.
One of the biggest themes when it comes to being the pack leader is consistency. And being indecisive about your rules, boundaries, decision and your emotions will dimish the image that you have built in your dog’s mind. They are incredible perseptive of inconsitencies and will take it as a weakness in your leadership. When respect dimishes, you must put in the awareness and the time to cultivate that again.
We spoke a little about this previously, but it’s common sense that no one will respect a leader than physically abuses. As a leader, you must inspire your dog to follow your lead as oppose to using fear as a motive. Using fear and physical punishment will produce stubborn and uncooperative dogs.
Alpha’s keep and maintain control. When a dog notices that you can’t keep things together and even have emotional outbursts, then they will sense the weakness in your leadership. This can lead them into questioning your role as a leader in their lives.
Lack of interaction
We know that dogs come from a pack mindset. They love communicating with others by giving and receiving attention. When they lack interaction as a result of isolation, poor behavior may begin to develop such as barking, growling and throwing tantrums.
In conclusion, becoming the pack leader to your dog or dogs is a true labor of love. You must realize that your dog does need an Alpha in their life to provide them direction, boundaries, feedback and security. In response, they will become your best friend and most loyal companion. As with any relationship, it’s something that you must work on day in and day out. Good luck!