Dominance and Alpha Status

I repeatedly hear, “someone told me I need to gain dominance over my dog,” and, “I need to be the alpha, right?”

People often do not understand what exactly “dominance or alpha status” means, how to achieve it, or the reason they are being told to do it. The terms are generic, and the advice given to achieve this status commonly increases the behaviours they were attempting to correct. When I hear these clichés, I roll my eyes, sigh, and begin to explain, once again, why the Dominance and Alpha trend is one of the worst things to ever hit the dog-world.

DOMINANCE – to have power and influence over others, often without the consent of others and commonly achieved in an aggressive manner. 

ALPHA – a title given to the member of a group, pack or unit who holds a leadership, and commonly, dominant, role.

Behaviours such as jumping, nipping, stealing objects, pinning (the human when laying on the couch), licking, refusing to obey commands, barking in the face, poor leash manners, etc., can lead to a dog being labelled as “dominant”, resulting in the dog-world convincing people they need to gain dominance.

When dogs are aggressive toward people or other dogs, people are commonly told they need to gain alpha status. Techniques to achieve dominance or alpha status are commonly reactive in nature (kneeing, yelling, disciplining) or restrictive (such as taking away the privilege of being on the couch).

These techniques only serve to show the dog that their person has little to no ability to effectively teach expected behaviours, calmly guide him or manage situations. This approach can lead to increased unwanted behaviours, (Terrible Twos coming to mind?), or increased anxiety. Using physical force (such as pinning down a Dog), a spray bottle or E-collar, or forcing a Dog into a crate, can be necessary safety measures “in the moment”, but they are not methods for rehabilitating aggression or anxiety, and if used as methods, can increase aggression and anxiety.

Common Recommendations to Gain Dominance or Alpha

The following rules are commonly suggested to achieve dominance or alpha Status, but are often ineffective because they make no sense to dogs, they are restrictive in nature, and/or they take the focus off the person and put it on a routine.

  • Going through the door, and/or up and down the stairs, BEFORE your dog
  • You should eat BEFORE your dog eats
  • Your dog should not be on your couch or bed
  • Refraining from playing tug-o-war or Hand-feeding

My goal, and the goal of the majority of people, is not to dominate or show alpha status over our dog. The goal is to change the dog’s perception of his persons’ ability to teach expected behaviour and calmly manage him and situations. The Tools of UPWARD Methodology allow us to achieve this.

(From “The Art of Urban People With Adopted and Rescued Dogs Methodology”)

Now that you have a better understanding as to why:

  1. Operant Conditioning is not always effective with dogs over 6 months of age
  2. Common methods, such as Distraction Training, may fall short when working with dogs over the age of 6 months
  3. Gaining Dominance and Alpha is often counter-productive

you may be asking yourself, “What options are there to effectively work with dogs?”

To find out, Please proceed to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy…