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Being the Top Dog in Your Home

It's imperative when dealing with a dominant or aggressive dog that you become his leader — the alpha dog — in no uncertain terms. Use these strategies every day to remind your dog that you're the top dog in the house.

Practice every day, and you'll soon do these procedures automatically:

  • Always enter or leave first when you go inside or outside. When you leave the house or open the yard gate or your car door, insist that your dog wait while you go in first. (It's part of his obedience training anyway.) That tells him the territory belongs to you, not him. This same principle applies indoors as well. Never step over or around your dog when you walk through a doorway or down a hall. Gently order him to move.
  • Eat your meals before you feed your dog. Your dog should not eat before you do. In the wild, the alpha dog chows down first, and lesser pack members snivel in the background waiting for the leftovers. Eat your own meals before your feed your dog. If your dog's meals are scheduled around your own breakfast and supper times, be sure that you feed her after you have eaten. Put her on a Down-Stay or in her crate. Your dog's canine mentality will get the message. (Of course no begging at the table! That's also bottom-line good manners.)
  • Make him earn his meals. Require that he sit before you offer him his food dish. Ditto for his cookies. When you give him treats, make him obey some command, Sit or Down or Speak, before he gets a goodie. The plus here is that you're also giving him more opportunities to succeed and demonstrate what he knows, which will build his confidence and your leadership at the same time.
  • Do not pet your dog when she nudges you with his nose or paw (in dog language, ordering you to pet her) or "just because you love her." As with food treats, petting must be earned by first obeying a command. Give a simple command and then pet upon response. (If she fails to respond to your command, you now have two issues to work on!)
  • When you pet your dog, roll him over and rub his tummy. This is a submissive posture he'll enjoy. This petting principle is not a "forever" rule, just one to be implemented during troublesome behaviors or occasionally as a reminder of who's boss.
    Never pet a dog who is growling or continue to pet a dog who growls for more.
  • Implement a 30-minute Down-Stay every day. All dogs should be proficient on the Down command. It's one of your most important (and convenient) training tools.
  • Give a command only once. When you give a command, say it firmly only once and mean it. If she does not respond, help her to perform the behavior, but don't repeat the command. As insurance, never give a command you're not prepared to reinforce, and never give one if you think she won't or is unable to comply. It sets you both up for failure. If you're looking at chronic noncompliance, you already know what you have to work on.

Believe it or not, your dog will actually feel more secure without those subtle power struggles and will be happier knowing you're the boss.

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