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Alpha Dog Training

PetMD Editorial
Updated: April 08, 2015
Published: September 18, 2008
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Note from the Editor:

I’d like to thank our devoted readers for responding swiftly to the?error?we made in promoting this outdated training article.

While we do recognize that there are a variety of dog training methods?available to pet owners, petMD does not support dominance-based training as it can cause problems in human-animal relationships, such as fear and aggression.

Please refer to the positioning statement shared by the?American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior?for more information on this topic.

We will be removing this article from our library and will take more stringent measures to avoid?oversights?like this in the future.

For more information on dog training and behavior, please refer to these recent articles authored by board?certified veterinary behaviorist,?Dr. Radosta.

'Fixing' Your Dog: It’s a Dog, Not a Dent?

How to Find the Right Trainer for Your Pup ? ?

How to Stop Your Dog From Jumping ? ?

Ignore Behaviors and Watch Them Disappear ? ?

Many thanks for your feedback?and continued support of petMD,

Wendy Toth, Director of Content


Training the Dog that Wants to Take Charge


A dog needs to know who's the boss. But what if your dog thinks he's the boss? Bite the problem in the butt early and become your home's alpha dog.


There are times you'll find yourself in the challenging position of master (or trainer) to an alpha dog. What is an alpha dog? Let's take a closer look at this phenomenon.


Dogs are pack animals by nature, and every pack has a leader that dominates and commands the other members. As your dog's master, you must quickly assert yourself as pack leader. With this alpha position, you can then establish a hierarchy of dominance (remember, you're the king or queen of this abode!). This is especially important when there are other family members -- especially children -- because training your dog to submit to all the household members will ensure it does not develop a dominant personality.


You can accomplish this by using two methods: (1) training the dog yourself, or (2) having it attend a professional obedience class. If you decide to go the professional route, your dog will have a broader view of the world, thereby teaching him to socialize with other people and dogs, too.


Here are some early leadership exercises that can be done at home, establishing your alpha position.

  1. With your puppy facing you, sit on the floor and hold it using both hands just behind the front legs. Now, hold it away at arm's length and look directly into its eyes. If the dog struggles, make a growling sound and hold it with a strong grip until it stops.
  2. Again, sitting on the floor, cradle the puppy with one hand under its head and the other supporting its back. The dog will be on its back with its feet in the air and its belly exposed to you -- a position of submission. If the dog struggles, use the same animal growls you used in step 1, making certain not let go until the dog stops struggling and relaxes.

It is also important for the other members of your family, including the children, to establish a daily routine as well. Although they are not the pack leader, they should assume higher hierarchal positions than your dog. Have each of them separately command the dog to "sit," and "stay." A treat, such as a biscuit or bone, should then be given if the dog complies. Soon, your dog will feel comfortable with its position in the household and respond to the commands given.


If your dog growls, snaps, or is otherwise behaving resentful and you are afraid, seek professional help. Otherwise the dog’s behavior can get out of hand, and may force you to make the regrettable decision of giving it up.


Follow the steps listed above and it'll hopefully never come to this.


Image: David Goehring / via Flickr