People make jokes all the time about how their dog runs the household, or “rules the roost”. It’s funny, because we all get it. Our little furbabies can be quite demanding at times, whether it’s intentional or not. But if it is intentional, it’s not a good thing. If your dog thinks he really is the boss, it’s not so funny.
I have a friend, Sherri, who has a 10-pound Chihuahua mix named Harris. He’s the cutest thing, as long as you keep your distance. To try to interact with him is a battle of wills. He wants to dominate. He wants to let you know that he’s in charge from the get-go. He insists on standing in your lap and licking your face. If you try to put him on the ground, he gets right back up. Sherri thinks it’s so cute the way he acts. She says, “Awww, look, he loves you.” No, he doesn’t. He’s trying to make a point. It’s not cute.
The thing is, it’s not his fault. From the very beginning, Sherri babied Harris. She let him do what he wanted to do because she thought she was being a good doggie parent. I understand that she wants Harris to be happy. We all want our dogs to be happy. But giving him carte banche in life isn’t the way to go about it. The more we baby our dogs, the more they believe they are in control of us.
We often talk of the pack structure or pack hierarchy in our blogs. It is an instinctive set of rules for our dogs. We observe the pack structure in-action every day within the play groups at Camp Holiday Barn Pet Resorts. The pack has a social order and each member of the pack has their place within it. All packs have a leader. You will often hear the leader referred to as “alpha”. If there is no leader, the pack becomes confused, anxious and conflicted. In your home, you should be the leader, or the “boss”. In fact, it’s imperative that you take the lead if you want a well-mannered furry family member, instead of a little “Harris”.
How do we know that Harris thinks he’s boss? We mentioned jumping in your lap, uninvited, and licking your face. Jumping in your lap the way Harris demands it is considered dominance. He stands so that he’s making eye contact. He insists on it. Harris’s determined, incessant kisses also indicate more of a dominant intent than affection. There are other ways you can determine if your dog has taken over leadership in your home.
Signs That You Aren’t the Pack Leader
- Your dog growls at you if you get near his toys or food. This should never be allowed. The fact that your dog is trying to control you – by keeping your away from its possessions – is one of the keys to recognizing that your dog thinks they’re alpha.
- Your dog stares into your eyes and does not turn away. A dog that stares in your eyes is actually considered “rude” in dog world. When intentional, staring is used by dogs as a tool to intimidate and express their position as the leader.
- Your dog claims his spot on the couch or bed, without your permission, and gets snippy if you try to move them. It almost seems like a dare… Fido hops up on your side of the bed and then kind of watches you to see what you’re going to do about it. It’s a challenge. He is letting you know that everything is his.
- Your dog practically knocks you down to enter doorways first. The leader of the pack always enters first.
- Does your dog walk you or do you walk your dog? As a leader, you should decide where you will walk your dog and at what pace. Not the other way around. You should lead, he should walk beside you, follow you, or at a loose leash only slightly ahead of you.
- Marking around your home. If your dog is marking inside the home, he is often asserting his dominance. He is claiming ownership. Marking can also be a sign of stress, anxiety, or illness too. Professional assistance may be needed to help determine the cause.
- He does not obey your commands. If your dog does not respect you as its leader, it is probably the reason he does not obey you. The “boss” doesn’t take orders from its subordinates.
- Mounting humans and other dogs is often, but not always, a problem of dominance. It is not sexual in any way but rather a method of control. If your dog growls or shows other aggressive reactions when corrected, then you are most certainly dealing with a control issue.
- Your dog jumps on you. Realize that sometimes dogs jump on you when they’re happy to see you, like when you get home from work. That’s not “bossy”, it’s an excited greeting. But if your dog tends to jump on you during inappropriate times, or after you have continually corrected him not to jump, it shows a lack of respect for you and is definitely a controlling act.
Do too many of these things ring true with you? Sounds like your dog thinks he’s the boss. We can help you with that.
First, you need to earn your dog’s respect before they will consider you their leader. How do you do it? By letting them know what is acceptable and what is not acceptable. Just like a child, we need to teach them right from wrong. We need to set clear boundaries, provide structure, and make sure they know their limitations. It is through this teaching that we gain their trust and loyalty.
Let’s get back to Harris. The truth is, due to the lack of structure and discipline in his life, Harris probably isn’t all that happy. Because Sherri never asserted herself as boss, Harris was “forced” into that position. Harris knew there had to be a leader, because instinctively, every pack needs one in order to survive. Like Harris, when a dog reluctantly assumes the responsibility of leader, he becomes pushy and assertive to prove his status within the family.
You see, dogs don’t really want to be the leader of the pack. That’s a lot of responsibility. A pack leader has to maintain order within the pack and make sure it is safe and protected. As a pack leader, they feel they are virtually responsible for the pack’s very existence! Dogs really prefer that someone else make the decisions and give the orders. Harris just wants Sherri to let him know the rights and wrongs so that he doesn’t have to prove himself all the time. That’s a lot of pressure. He just wants to lay on his bed, chew his bone, and be a dog!
How to Be the Boss
You need to take back your rightful place as leader. How do you do that? What does a leader look like?
The next time you are in the lobby at Holiday Barn Pet Resorts, watch as our Professional Dog Trainers work with the dogs. They stand tall, they speak calmly and authoritatively. They allude confidence. They are firm yet gentle and loving. This is what a pack leader looks like. This is the persona your pup needs to consistently see in you.
Believe it or not, your dog will sense the change in you. Generally, it is met with some reluctance, followed by a gradual “giving in”, and then acceptance. Sometimes it is met with aggression. In the wild, the alpha will fight those who challenge their place in the pack. If your dog becomes aggressive with you, we suggest you seek professional help. Dog aggression can be very dangerous.
Once your dog begins accepting the idea that you’re the boss, it is helpful to teach them to “sit”. Then use the “sit” command to remind your dog that you’re the boss. Have him sit while you walk through the door first, while you prepare his food, before you give a treat, when guests arrive at the door, or when he tries to jump on you.
Ever heard of tough love? If your dog has been the established leader for a while, you may need to practice a little “tough love” to help him get the point that he realizes that he is no longer in control. Tough love in no way suggests that you should yell, smack, or engage in any type of harshness or violence towards your dog. Physically punishing your dog will only create distrust, fear, and a forced sense of submission. Tough love may be things like making him sleep in the floor rather than take his place in the bed as he did before; Having him wait after you put down his food for you to give permission to eat; ignoring him when he tries to manipulate you into doing what he wants you to do. When you want to pet your dog, call him to you. Don’t go to him for affection. Remember your Mom saying, “This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you”? That’s what it feels like sometimes, but you’ll be glad you followed-through. I know it’s not easy, but it can be done.
If you are struggling with an alpha dog in your home, obedience Training is the very best place to start. Training sets clear boundaries. Learning basic commands makes it easier for you to manage your dog. It teaches your dog to look to you for instruction. It teaches your dog to listen. And Training should never stop when you get your dog home. Be consistent.
We are happy to help.