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Old 06-02-2008, 01:30 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Default How do you define "being alpha"....

or how are you alpha over your dog(s)?

I have come to a point where I think "being Alpha" has almost become a cliche and to a degree a misunderstanding by many "dog people". I sometimes cringe when I read a post or have a discussion with a person that uses the word "Alpha" in it. I think many people misinterpret "being Alpha" as being a dictator with an "I say and you do it NOW" type of attitude. If there is no compliance it seems some people think all fire and fury has to be unleashed to "enforce the Alpha-ship" when in fact a quiet correction may be all that is required.

I personally think "being Alpha" is more about being a calm, confident leader who can and will lay down the law when necessary with a firm but appropriate correction. There seems to be a mindset any more Alpha = dictator and to me this attitude can ruin what could otherwise be an awesome relationship with the family dog or even a working partner.

What exactly is a firm but appropriate correction? In my pack this "firm but appropriate correction" can sometimes just be a touch on the neck, side or flanks to get their attention back on me. Other times a mere presence is all that is required. Sometimes just a quite look or short "sound" (ught). Every once in a while the "drill sargent" in me has to come out but I am finding that the DS seldom has to come and visit.

If you watch any wolf documentaries on TV (or better yet get to spend some time within a wolf pack) you will see the Alpha rarely gets involved with lower pack conflicts. He rarely has to inflict his "might" within his pack. You will never see him "roll" another wolf into submission. The lower ranking wolf will put THEMSELVES into a submissive position of their own accord.

So how do YOU define "Alpha" and how do you become the leader within your pack (one dog or ten doesnt matter)?
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Old 06-02-2008, 01:41 AM   #2 (permalink)
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Default Re: How do you define "being alpha"....

Amaruq,
I just want to say this is an excellent post. I don't really have a lot to say on the subject as you described the way you handle your pack, very similar to the way I handle mine.

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Originally Posted By: Amaruq.

If you watch any wolf documentaries on TV (or better yet get to spend some time within a wolf pack) you will see the Alpha rarely gets involved with lower pack conflicts. He rarely has to inflict his "might" within his pack. You will never see him "roll" another wolf into submission. The lower ranking wolf will put THEMSELVES into a submissive position of their own accord.
I am so glad to see you write this. So many people don't get that.

Excellent post.
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Old 06-02-2008, 02:01 AM   #3 (permalink)
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Default Re: How do you define "being alpha"....

Great topic!

I am in line with you, Amaruq. I have been trying to strike the word from my vocabulary and instead use leader. My animals are my major companions, especially Rafi. I don't think of him as lower to me in rank. We treat one another with respect and we have earned one another's respect. He doesn't bite too hard when trying to get a toy from me and I don't yell at him unless his life is in danger.

My first dog was a very hard dog and I was very young and had no dog experience. I overdid the alpha stuff. It didn't phase her but when Chama came along it was clear that I had to change my style to work with her. Massie was an amazing dog but Chama was so easy to train because I changed my style. Now I've changed it even more to focus on rewarding the positive and ignoring the negative, unless it's a serious problem.

It's been 22 years now since I adopted Massie and my leadership style runs something like this:

The dogs know exactly what's expected of them. They have basic rules they are expected to follow in the house, in the yard and on walks and in the truck. They know they can count on a certain amount of exercise every day in addition to all their other necessities. They look to me for leadership. I believe it is my job to protect them and to make major decisions for them.

They are not allowed on the furniture but that is a hair issue for me and not a pack issue. I do allow Rafi up on the couch in my study.

I don't think it matters when they eat and when I eat. In fact, I always feed them before I eat. This has not caused any sort of coup in my house.

I also don't think it matters who goes through the doorway first although Rafi is trained to let Chama and Cleo go through first so that he doesn't knock them down. He is also trained to wait until released to go out a door. This is so that he doesn't bolt out.

Corrections, when necessary, are issued with my voice. That's it. I say something (Eh-eh!) and they stop. Period. If necessary I will use my body to block or stomp or step in between. I almost never need to do this.

Btw, my dogs are extremely well behaved. People comment every day on them. But I do very little training beyond the basics and following the fair and respectful leader model.
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Old 06-02-2008, 08:39 AM   #4 (permalink)
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Default Re: How do you define "being alpha"....

i tend to think of it that luc and i are partners, and teagan and i are partners. we work together. i'm the one in control of the partnership - i.e., i'll make the decisions - but i look at it more as a joint effort.
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Old 06-02-2008, 09:21 AM   #5 (permalink)
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Default Re: How do you define "being alpha"....

To me, being alpha means that first and foremost, I need to develop a clear, concise, and consistent pattern of communication with my dogs. For us, that typically means "positive" training. I'm not averse to corrections and other methods, as long as all corrections and rewards are fair, and more importantly, understood by the dog. For me it's just easier and more natural to communicate via clicker/marker word and use simple verbal corrections. Even my verbal corrections had to be "trained" so that the dog understands what is a correction and what is a marker.

Also, being the leader means all things belong to me and *I* decide who gets them and who doesn't. That does NOT mean that dogs are banished from the furniture and can only have toys and chews in the crate. It simply means that when I say "off", they get off the couch. When I say "out", the release the toy. My dogs are allowed on the couch and the bed and have toys and chews at their disposal 24/7, but if I want to take one, I can. This goes back to my previous paragraph. I used communication to teach the dogs what "off" means and what "out" means so I don't have to physically dominate my dogs to get what I want.

I don't make my dogs do tricks before dinner, I don't make them sit and wait to go out the door (well, sometimes...), I don't care who gets fed first, who goes out first, etc. My dogs come first in my life and neither one has ever tried to bite me, push me around, dominate me, or guard a resource from me taking it.
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Old 06-02-2008, 10:56 AM   #6 (permalink)
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Default Re: How do you define "being alpha"....

That's pretty much the way I see things too. The whole 'be an alpha' thing makes me cringe all the time. Not because you shouldn't be a good leader to your dog but because everyone thinks it's a 'DO IT NOW OR FACE THE CONSEQUENCES' type of training style. And I'll admit, I sort of started that way with Ris. Sit when I say sit or there will be **** to pay (once she knew what sit was, of course). Yes, I am ashamed I did that to her, but I didn't know better at the time. I'm glad I changed my ways. Our relationship has blossomed because of it.

I've learned a lot about dogs since I brought Ris home. . .and I thought I knew it all before! I think of my canine relationship more as a partnership. I am not the boss of Ris, but I am in charge. I'm in charge of keeping her safe and happy. If she refuses to sit when I ask her. . .I should ask myself "Why?" In most cases, it's not her challenging my position (actually I don't think Ris would even do such a thing). She may be distracted. She may not have heard me. She might be too afraid/worried to sit down. Not taking the "It's my way or the highway" approach with her has helped her see me as a better leader and makes her pay attention to me better. I actually take her concerns into consideration and don't just lay down the hand of God because she didn't do what I asked. And with a reactive/fearful dog, that means the world to them!

There are rules in my house and they are followed. I don't let her barrel out of doors ahead of me, but it's for safety more than anything. I also expect her to not drag me around town on a leash. To wait before just diving into her food every night. She does eat after me, but it's more out of convenience for us than anything else. While she's calming down from exercising, I can make and eat my dinner.
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Old 06-02-2008, 12:13 PM   #7 (permalink)
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Default Re: How do you define "being alpha"....

I think it depends more on the type of dog than any other factor. Has my dog got a towering, tyrannical dominance agenda? Or is she/he the meek, unassuming Edith Bunker of the dog world?

Our ideals for what type of training & management is "best" need to sometimes be set aside when the dog needs something different than we plan to give in terms of management. There are dogs (& relationships) that are truly damaged by old school, heavy-handed techniques. There are, however, also dogs who completely fall apart withOUT some firm corrections. And here again, dogs & relationships can be damaged in this case too, if the handler isn't openminded enough to correct when the dog needs it.

My own dog thrives on positive training for learning new things, positive, motivational training for keeping our relationship healthy, but this is a dog who can only relax, settle and be comfortable with reliable firm-but-fair corrections should he test.. and test again. NOT a dog with a towering dominance agenda, but a dog who totally relaxes when someone keeps things feeling safe for him that way. "Oh.. the top spot in the pack is still taken? Okay, cool! Gonna go chew my Kong now, Mom."

If I could go back in time, I would have stopped the original owners of my last GSD from using harsh methods with Chell. If I could go back in time with the dog I have now, I would have been more balanced in my training with him-- yes, tons of motivational, positive training... but I would have been a firmer leader with him re corrections. Thank God, I have a dog who doesn't need frequent reminders.

In any event, whether doing NILIF to calm an anxious dog/stabilize & soothe an aggrivated dominant dog... or choosing a training style.. it can never be one size fits all. I think we have to be openminded to what each dog needs, watch how our manegement styles effect them, and accept criticism, and work to do what brings our own dogs the most stability and comfort, whatever fosters a loving, warm relationship-- and run management/training advice through our mental filters.

Gotta do what is best for each individual dog, and prioritize what works best for that specific dog, over other people's advice-- and sometimes even over our own ideas.
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Old 06-02-2008, 12:41 PM   #8 (permalink)
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Default Re: How do you define "being alpha"....

Excellent post Patti. When I posted last night I posted general "Paq handlings". My Paq has a wide range of personalities and tolerances. I handle KC and Rayne probably similar to the way Patti described- lots of postive basics but when they decide to see what they can get away with they sometimes need a firm but fair correction. Sometimes just verbal, sometimes a touch, every once in a while something a little firmer (firm leash pop). Tika on the other hand is a tough girl but she is VERY handler sensitive. With her I can give her a command (that she knows of course) and if she doesn't comply a stern look or snap of the finger and she complies. Too stern of a look and you can see the disappointment POUR over her as if a barrel of water was dumped over her because she let me down. One quick smile and she is back to her normal bouncy energetic self.
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Old 06-02-2008, 01:41 PM   #9 (permalink)
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Default Re: How do you define "being alpha"....

I think that it means learning all you can about the animal you want to lead and communicating in such a way that they willingly follow. Trying to get a dog to see you as his leader doesn't work when you treat him like a horse (trust me, I've tried).
It doesn't matter what it means to YOU to be a leader, only what it means to the animal. Without an understanding of how that animal thinks, learns and reacts you will not be able to effectively lead because they won't follow.
It's about earning respect, IMHO
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Old 06-02-2008, 05:50 PM   #10 (permalink)
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Default Re: How do you define "being alpha"....

I wanna pop back in and bring up the whole 'dominance' thing too since it's so closely entwined with the 'alpha theory.' I personally believe that dogs are NOT looking to be dominant over their people (with rare exception). Most dogs are more than happy to have their humans in charge. Afterall, they can't open the door or get their own food. They want us to be the leader (and who can blame them--being a good leader is HARD WORK).

I do believe dominance exists, but mainly in the dog pack. Not in the human/dog relationship. And, like the whole 'alpha theory,' I think too many people focus on 'dominance' more than just training and developing a good communication system with their dog.
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