I always figured that being alpha meant being strong, confident, and brave. Since I am none of these things, I’m not sure how I managed to always be the alpha to my dogs.
My goal has always been to be a family (human terms) or in dog-speak, a pack.
As a parent, I know I need to be the one in charge of the family, not my kids. Ditto with dogs. So I acted accordingly.
My Beautiful Keeshonds
Thunder, Kiera, & Ashes
I have never allowed a dog under my roof to growl at me when I came near their dish. The consequences are swift and severe: loss of dish and the food therein until I feel appropriately appeased. There is a big show of returning the dish to the dog who will sit politely while I put the dish down and allow me to pet him or her while she eats.
I never tolerated growling at my young children, by the dog. I was totally allowed to growl (sometimes literally) at them. They learned early to be gentle with the dog, less so with their sibling – but I tried! If a child did anything that might frighten or hurt the dog, I did my job as the alpha and corrected them. I protected all the members of the pack.
But then Sandy came along.
A full grown dog who saw herself a guest in my home. She was well-mannered but unimpressed with my alpha-ability.
I was going to be put to the test.
Sandy is part beagle, meaning she is obsessed with interesting smells and most of all: food. So I expected my “I will touch your food” to be a tough lesson for Sandy. But it wasn’t. Probably because when I first reached for her dish, I was adding to it. (I’m not stupid.)
Because I insisted on being alpha, she did learn that I will approach her and touch her, even when she has a spiffy new toy or a special treat. Since I gave her the spiffy new toy or special treat, I was surprised this was a problem. It took time, but she adjusted. She came to trust that I did not have bad intentions.
She still doesn’t like it. She still tenses up. But she tolerates my intrusion on her “private moment.” It’s part of the deal.
That’s the for-public-consumption explanation. It makes me look good and sound smart. But the more honest reason is simpler: I believe I deserve it.
I have this whole “I pay the bills. I manage the house. I ought to be in charge.” attitude. I may have said exactly that one or more of the dogs over the years. I give them what they need and in return, I expect my due as an alpha: respect. I won’t tolerate anything less.
Cesar Milan explains how to determine who is alpha here.
Read more in this series
Being Alpha part 2
Being Alpha part 3
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