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Posted on Mon, Apr 25, 2011 : 10:55 a.m.

Your pet will be happier when you learn to be the 'Alpha dog'

By Julia Levitt

Alpha Dog.jpg

Julia Levitt walking dogs.

Julia Levitt | Contributor

It may be easy to forget that dogs are not simply humans in a different package and that they don’t respond to situations in the same way that we do. We may think of our dogs as our best friends; they seem to know when we are happy or sad.

This is because dogs are experts at sensing energy and reading body language. They watch us whenever they are with us and they excel at picking up our nonverbal cues.

Try this experiment: when your dog is watching you: Give a big happy grin. When your dog does something you disapprove of, look stern and slowly shake your head “no.” Write me and tell me what response you get.

Social animals like dogs follow a leader who does not display excited, nervous or angry energy. A pack is not led by the biggest, meanest dog, but rather one that has the qualities of calmness, confidence and, yes, leadership.

As pack animals, dogs look at their human families as their pack — as their leaders. A leader (the “alpha dog”) doesn’t yell and scream, but remains calm and in control. Dogs trust and rely on that calm energy.

Because dogs view their world in a different way than we do, you can imagine that they also view the role of Alpha differently too. “Alpha,” in human terms, translates to aggressive, dominant behavior.

Have you heard people say, “I rubbed my dog’s nose in urine when he peed in the house,” or “To get him to stop chewing furniture, I sprayed Bitter Apple on a cotton ball and shoved it in his mouth”?

Now ask yourself, would those actions gain your dog’s trust and confidence?

Be the “alpha dog”— the leader of the pack!
To be effective an Alpha pack leader means always taking the lead:

We lead to go outside

We lead the walk

We get in the car first

Get it?

This is what the alpha dog does. Leadership is something the dog respects and knows because this is how the canine world is ordered.

Dogs become unbalanced and display unwanted behaviors when they think they are the leader of the pack — so it’s up to you to be the alpha dog and take charge! Your pet will be happier for it.

Julia Levitt is the founder of In Harmony Dog Training and is also known as Ann Arbor Animal Hospital’s own “Miss Manners”, for whom she writes a regular blog. Julia is a member of the International Association of Canine Professionals. She is available to help your dog be a better canine citizen, and answers questions about canine behavior. She can be reached at


Dog Guy

Tue, Apr 26, 2011 : 2:28 p.m.

This is the second rational piece has published on dog ownership.


Mon, Apr 25, 2011 : 11:55 p.m.

Our dog is the leader and king of the house and that is fine with us


Mon, Apr 25, 2011 : 6:55 p.m.

We get in the car first? And that works how? "I'm in Fido, now go around the other side and let yourself in the passenger door. "

tom swift jr.

Mon, Apr 25, 2011 : 7:43 p.m.

heh... I had that same thought. My pup rides in a secured crate in the back of my Jeep, she would need her own lock remote and a friend to close the hatch in order to get in after I did.

tom swift jr.

Mon, Apr 25, 2011 : 4 p.m.

I was so disappointed to see the term &quot;Alpha Dog&quot; in the title of this column. This term brings thoughts of Cesar Millan and his self declared &quot;dog whisperer&quot; title, and all the things that are wrong with what he teaches. It may be that you did not intend to encourage people to adopt his approach in whole, but the encouragement to think of dogs (which have, for the most part, long since evolved beyond the &quot;pack animal&quot; stage) as mini-wolves that have to be dominated to be controlled or trained is misleading. In February 2009, the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) issued a &quot;position statement&quot; about the use of punishment for behavior modification in animals, detailing 9 possible adverse effects of negative reinforcement (punishment) training. While not naming any trainers by name, the statement was written to counter Millan's techniques featured on his National Geographic channel show, The Dog Whisperer. The AVSAB recommends that veterinarians not refer clients to trainers or behavior consultants who coach and advocate dominance hierarchy theory and the subsequent confrontational training that follows from it. Also, please reference this study from the University of Pennsylvania ( <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> ) which clearly shows that &quot;dominance&quot; is NOT the way to a well behaved dog. The article linked above states: &quot;This study highlights the risk of dominance-based training, which has been made popular by TV, books and punishment-based training advocates,"Herron said. "These techniques are fear-eliciting and may lead to owner-directed aggression."&quot; Too often pet owners fall under the spell of what can almost be termed &quot;cult influence&quot; of various trainers and techniques, and the &quot;alpha dog&quot; belief is probably the most damaging in the long run. Please do your homework and talk

John Spieser

Mon, Apr 25, 2011 : 7:48 p.m.

Ask Mother-dog, she is the one who most likely has the right approach !


Mon, Apr 25, 2011 : 6:31 p.m.

It is not a kick, but just a light tap to get the dog's attention. My puppy is not afraid of me in any sense. I think you are misinterpreting the lessons. I know how my puppy behaves and he is not at all afraid. But to each his own.

tom swift jr.

Mon, Apr 25, 2011 : 5:48 p.m.

I guess it depends on how you define &quot;punishment&quot; . Have you ever watched Millan do his little &quot;kick&quot; when a dog isn't focused. That's &quot;punishment&quot; as far as the dog is concerned. Is it &quot;abusive&quot;, no, not in the sense that he's physically hurting the dog, but the dog sees it as a &quot;punishment&quot; none the less. And, his &quot;holding the dog down&quot; is intended to instill fear in the dog, submission. Millan's techniques are all about controlling the dog, trust that a dog trained using these methods is operating out of fear. Will this dog be &quot;well behaved&quot;? No doubt it will be, but that's not the dog I want. Does Millan use positive reinforcement at times, of course he does, but I don't believe that negates the damage done by his &quot;alpha dog&quot; dominance philosophy.


Mon, Apr 25, 2011 : 5:35 p.m.

Cesar Millan does not advocate punishment. I used his book, &quot;How to Raise the Perfect Dog,&quot; as a guide when raising my standard poodle puppy, Jimi, and it is all about positive reinforcement, not punishment. Jimi is a wonderful, happy dog, as anyone who knows him will attest.

tom swift jr.

Mon, Apr 25, 2011 : 4:03 p.m.

to finish my sentence above.... &quot; Please do your homework and talk to your vet before you decide to be come the lead &quot;wolf&quot; in your family &quot;pack&quot;&quot;