Establish Your Rank With a Puppy Now, or Face Challenges Later Establish Your Rank With a Puppy Now, or Face Challenges Later

Dogs are social animals and live in packs which means if your pup is the only canine in the castle, he will adopt you as a pack member. While this may be a touching invitation could have strings attached. Within the pack dogs have social ranks, with the alpha dog as the leader. The alpha dog tells the other dogs what to do, never the other way around, and you can bet your dog probably has that position in mind for himself. (It’s good to aim high.) Dogs need security and part of that security comes from knowing their place in the pack, and what is expected of them. Yes, it is cute and adorable to think that your puppy sees his new family as a dog pack, but if you don’t establish your rank as alpha early on it could lead to unruly and possibly dangerous dog behavior and a great deal of frustration. The good news is it is easy to establish or reestablish rank in the dog pack as you will learn in this article.

Most dogs are just happy to be here and while your dog may test his rank once in a while, as long as you consistently display alpha behavior, and provide for the pack, your dog will feel secure, know his role, and be perfectly content to submit as a lower member of the pack. But rest assured, if you or any member of your family are lax or inconsistent in the role of top dogs, your dog will sense this and challenge his rank, especially if he is a social climber or born leader. While social climbers submit to the alpha dog, they are always looking for that opportunity to climb the social ladder—so you better believe that those puppy eyes are watching your every move. While both social climbers and natural born leaders will take lower ranks, you can never be lax in your alpha attitude or they’ll challenge you. (Don’t break out in a sweat. Challenges start small, like poking you with his nose until he’s scooted you to the dog treat jar.) Basically the alpha dog doesn’t take commands from anyone—he gives them.

If you’re asking yourself, why all of a sudden is the dog acting up, being stubborn, pulling on his leash, nipping, growling, or simply not listening, it may mean your dog is stepping up as alpha because you have in some way acted as a lower member with your actions. It’s not that your dog is trying to take over and kick you out he’s just stepping up to provide for the pack. There’s no democracy in a dog pack, you either assume the role as leader or move over for a dog that can. If you catch this early, you can reestablish alpha rank in the pack very quickly, however, if you let this go on your dog may growl, show his teeth, or even bite if he doesn’t like what you’re doing (like picking up his toys.) When this happens, it is more time consuming and challenging to reestablish rank, and you may have to call in a professional dog trainer.

The Pack Mentality

Because dogs are pack animals, your dog will communicate with you in accordance to your rank in the pack--as he sees it. Once you understand the pack mentality and ways dogs communicate you can interpret the signs your dog sends and respond in a way he understands. That is the great thing about dogs—you always know where you stand by the way they treat you.

You want to be the leader of the pack (ego boost, yes, but necessary for training and for a dog to live pleasantly within a family) and all other members of the family to establish a rank higher than the dogs. Think of how much respect a dog shows his mother. The mama dog is the boss and what she says goes—she is the alpha dog. You want to establish this same rank and let your dog know he is not your equal, in order to gain respect from him. Letting your dog know he is not equal in rank doesn’t mean you’re being cruel or unloving—it simply means you call the shots not him. When you take the dog for a walk, you lead the walk not him. When you give the dog treats, make him sit first rather than letting him bowl you over and inhale it. That is the essence of what being alpha is about.

If your rank in the pack ever slips, or you are being challenged, you will know by the way the dog treats you. Many dogs who think they’re alpha are affectionate and friendly dogs, except when you want them to do something they don’t like. Then alpha dogs can become nasty, teeth and all. In order for your dog to coexist pleasantly in a family setting, especially if you have children or senior citizens, it is vital to establish your alpha rank.

How to be the Pack Leader

Your dog needs to look up to you as the pack leader, so how can you become the top dog? Before we discuss actions of alpha dogs, let’s talk about attitude, because first and foremost the alpha dog is confident, authoritative, capable, smart, and has a body language that oozes dignity. Think of people you have the utmost respect for and chances are they have these alpha qualities. Your dog wants to look up to a leader—not an insecure, inconsistent, unconfident pack member. Can you blame him?

Aside from the attitude, there are a few other ways to establish your rank rather quickly. First, never let your dog eat dinner at the same time as you, or sleep on your bed or in the bedroom. Feeding your dog before you or at the same time, or letting him sleep near you is a sign to your dog that he is of equal or higher rank in the pack.

Secondly, when you take the dog for a walk make sure he knows you’re taking him, he’s not taking you. Never let your dog bolt out of the house with you barely hanging onto the leash behind him. With the working breeds, like huskies, this is a real challenge because by nature they pull. And if you have a hunting or tracking dog, you can be seriously hurt if your dog sees a rabbit and pulls you down with a quick jolt. To establish you’re in charge of the walk, make your dog sit next to, but further back than you. If he is excited, make sure he is calm before going out the door. As you walk, the dog should be at your side. You’re leading the walk, not your dog, so don’t go in a direction just because he’s pulling. While these are guidelines, it is important to take your dog through training, to properly learn methods for leash walking.

To train your dog to walk by your side you can give him small treats to keep him there, but this is only during training. You may also want to say a word as you give him the treat to associate that it means, walk by your side. I used the phrase “this way” so that when he sees a rabbit or a leaf dart by and wants to hyper space it in another direction, I just say “this way” and he walks by my side where ever I’m going (he’s a husky and a natural born leader so it can be done.)

Thirdly, always enter the house, or a room before your dog, to show him you’re the alpha dog. If you are in the process of reestablishing your rank, cut back on playing tug of war, or any tugging game. If your dog wins, it only furthers his cause. While it may be difficult for you, make your dog sit before petting him, and even then, cut back on belly rubs and affection. Dogs with lower ranks flourish the alpha dog with affection, so by limiting petting while you reestablish rank, you’re sending a message.

Don’t forget to exude confidence and security in the dog’s presence and always follow through with commands. If you seem squeamish your dog will pick up on this and if he is a social climber or natural born leader, he may challenge you.

These are quick and easy ways to establish your alpha rank in the pack, but remember, you not only have to attain your rank in the dog pack, you have to keep it too! So make all the tips you’ve learned in this article a habit in your everyday routine. As an endnote, remember to never use violence, hit, kick, or throw items at dogs. This won’t establish rank—it will foster aggression. Some dogs are simply natural born leaders and are more challenging to train, but the same dogs, once established in their lower rank, are some of the most loyal and affectionate dogs you’ll meet.

Got a New Project You're Proud of?

Post it on Your Projects!