When you first bring a rescue dog into your home – especially an older one who may be very set in his ways – your first responsibility is to get to know your dog. This requires constant and careful observation. You must spend time getting to know your dog, learning how to read him so that you will understand which training techniques will work best with your dog. For instance, if your dog has quickly assumed the role of “Alpha dog”, your task at hand will require immediate and influential action. However, if he is demonstrating tentativeness, he may be simply in the “role confusion” stage and only needs to see signs of leadership from you to learn where he belongs in the family hierarchy.
So job one is observing your dog’s behavior to determine what type of training will be required and in what doses. If your dog tries to “lead” you or other members of the family, he is trying to take charge. More specifically, if your dog exhibits some of the following behaviors, then you would do well to take the appropriate steps to assert yourself as Top Dog. It’s in everybody’s best interest – including your dog – that he learn from the get-go that he belongs in the lowest place in the family’s pecking order.
To determine if your dog thinks he is “leader of the pack”, look for the following behaviors:
Shows teeth, snarls, or even attempts to bite when you try to remove a toy or bone from him
Always has to be out in front – pulling on the leash, rushing out the door ahead of you
Challenges your authority, from simply ignoring your instructions to outright disobedience
Eats food on his schedule – that is whenever he feels like it – and not on your schedule
Is always trying to control his territory – like sitting in the middle of the hall – forcing all to walk over or around
Pushes his way onto your bed despite your commands to the contrary
The recommended techniques required to establish you as “Alpha Dog” may at times seem harsh. But asserting yourself as leader will be doing your dog a huge favor. For a dog to assume the role as leader in a human environment can become very stressful for your dog. This could lead to anxiety, nervousness, constant barking or even aggression. Dogs simply want to know their place in the family pack and what is expected of them. Oftentimes, an “aggression” problem is really attributable to “role confusion”.
So, how do you go about reversing roles? Start with these four general rules:
Rule 1 – go slowly. In fact the more aggression your dog has exhibited, the slower you should go. You do not want this to become a challenge to your dog to compete with you, but rather a life lesson.
Rule 2 – no more “something for nothing”. Teach your dog that all the good things in life must be earned including play time, treats, walks, petting, even meals.
Rule 3 – do not tempt bad behavior. No more dashes out the door unfettered. No leaving food on easy-to-reach counters. No more treats simply because you looked down and saw two soulful eyes beseeching you.
Rule 4 – Make your dog totally dependent upon you. Become the provider of his every life-sustaining necessity and his every life-enhancing nicety.
Here are some tips and techniques to help you achieve role reversal with your dog:
When taking your dog outside, be sure to walk through the door BEFORE your dog
Always request and get a trick, even if just sitting, before receiving a treat or when you place his food bowl in front of him
When you dog occupies space that he shouldn’t – like the middle of a walkway or on your favorite seat or your bed – gently nudge him until he moves. If necessary, lead him to where you prefer he rest
Never give a command that you don’t intend to enforce. Don’t beg or yell. Help him to obey if necessary, like gently pushing his rear to sit. Once he obeys, reward him with praise
Feed your dog afterthe family eats. And, give him ample time to finish, but do not allow him to “graze”. If he doesn’t eat in a determined time frame (15 to 30 minutes), remove the food
You determine play time
You determine which games to play. Avoid games of strength and resolve like tug-of-war and even rough housing. Hide and seek or fetch are more appropriate (if you play fetch, insist that he return the toy to your feet). Do not allow him to play keep away
Provide your dog with affection, but in moderate doses and preferably as positive reinforcement for good behavior
During this role reversal period, always remain on a higher level than your dog – literally. Be sure to administer praise and even petting from an elevated position. Avoid sitting down to play with your dog. When your eyes make contact, maintain your eye contact until he averts his stare. After you gain the dominant position in your home, you will be able to relax these silly techniques
Do not allow jumping up on people or furniture during this period. This is a dominating behavior. Either ignore the dog or use a command such as “off” or “no” while gently pushing the dog to the floor
Do not allow your dog to pick favorites among family members. This can be accomplished by having everyone involved in the “role reversal” training. Allowing the dog to dominate just one person will defeat your purpose
Do not hesitate to introduce crate training. It will be a safe haven where your dog can escape the stress of trying to be a leader until he learns his rightful place in the home
Be diligent, patient and persistent and your dog will eventually understand that he relies upon you to satisfy all of his needs and wants. This is a happy place to be for your dog, for you and your family. Now enjoy the wonderful benefits of dog ownership.