Puppies can bring great joy to your family with their adorable and curious personalities. Since they are still learning how to behave, you can have significant success when training and socializing them. All you need to do is make it clear from the start that you’re the alpha dog in your household pack.
Why Puppies Need an Alpha Dog
Dogs thrive in a hierarchical pack. They do well in a structure with a mom and siblings to keep them in line, as humans do. When a puppy joins your human family, they lose those pack connections. That said, you will need to take over from their mother and become the alpha.
While still in their packs, puppies begin understanding the answer to the question, “What dog am I?” They learn how to behave like other dogs. They start socializing, exploring, and testing boundaries. But because they leave their families between 8 and 12 weeks old, the bulk of the work of socialization will fall on your shoulders.
Early socialization, especially in those crucial weeks that your puppy is first at home with you, really sets your pup up for success. But poor socialization can result in your dog having increased fear and anxiety, exhibiting aggression to people and other dogs, among other antisocial behaviors. Although being a good leader for your puppy may seem like a daunting challenge, it’s pretty straightforward.
The Basics of Becoming an Alpha
Rather than thinking of your puppy as a dog, think of them as a furry human baby. Yes, human parents are often offended when pet owners refer to their pets as fur babies. But since we’re talking socialization here, it’s vital to note that it’s the same for babies as it is for puppies.
Babies who do not form secure attachments with their parents have lifelong difficulty maintaining relationships, giving and receiving affection, and often display antisocial behaviors. The same thing applies to puppies. Your role as the alpha is to provide stability, consistency, and love to your puppy so that they can survive the terrible adolescence stage and thrive as a happy member of your household.
- Alpha Lesson 1: Respect
Dogs are intelligent, intuitive animals. Treating them like objects, or expecting them to cow to you, is an insult to their character. However, this doesn’t mean that you should let them misbehave as they please.
For starters, you’ll need to respect your furry friend. Let them know that you understand their intelligence and desire to please them, but remind them that you make the rules. Never physically dominate your dog because if you bully them, they will bully other dogs (and probably people, too). Just as you get respect by showing respect to fellow humans, the same should apply to your pup.
- Alpha Lesson 2: Gentle Guidance
You do not need to yell at your puppy; this will only make them fearful around loud people and noises. You wouldn’t scream at a toddler who spilled a cup of juice, so refrain from scolding your puppy for chewing on your shoes. Instead, by using gentle guidance, you can stop their misbehavior, redirect your pup to the traits you prefer, and praise their appropriate behavior.
- Alpha Lesson 3: Patience and Repetition
A toddler doesn’t walk the first time they stand up; it takes time. Well, puppies need lots of practice, too. Sitting on command, playing with their toys instead of destroying your precious household items, and responding when you call are traits that you can teach them.
Your dog doesn’t innately know that “sit” means to park their rears on the floor. You will have to teach them.
It can be exhausting to teach a puppy everything they need to know. Studies have shown that it takes between 30 and 60 repetitions over days or weeks to ingrain a new behavior in your pup. That’s a lot of time that you will need to invest. Your dog will not learn new behaviors in a day. Expecting an immediate response from them sets them up for failure.
- Alpha Lesson 4: Firm, Fair, and Consistent
When your puppy misbehaves, respond the same way every single time. Give them a firm “no,” redirect them if necessary, and praise and reward their good behavior. Don’t punish your dog for past bad behavior.
If you take your time reprimanding them, your puppy will already have forgotten what they did wrong. It’s unfair to your pup, and they will not even understand what they did wrong anyway.
Like training a new skill or trick takes time, so will it be for new behaviors. You’re going to start feeling like a broken record by the time your puppy is a year old, from constantly reprimanding them. Always use a firm but gentle “no” when asking them to refrain from doing something wrong.
Playtime as Training Time
Playtime is the perfect time to practice all of these alpha dog lessons. You and your puppy are both relaxed, happy, and excited. Endorphins are flowing. You can teach your puppy life skills without worrying about much.
Playing tug is the ultimate sport in your puppy’s world and your adult dog, too. It is a great way to bond with your dog while nurturing your puppy’s instinct for chewing and roughhousing. It also provides them an accepted channel to burn off excess energy.
Most of all, it establishes rules and boundaries that translate to your pup’s day-to-day life.
- Don’t Let Them Become The Boss
When playing tug, you should control the game. You should be in charge of bringing out the toy, throwing it, giving commands, and praise. If your dog tries to engage you by bringing a toy and leaving it at your feet, ignore it. It sounds cruel, but if you give in, you’re letting your pup know that it’s okay for them to make the rules.
Never let them get away with this, for the same reasons that you don’t let them control the game. If they refuse to give the toy back to you, keep holding onto it but let your arm go limp. When they back down, try to retake it.
Use “give it” or “let go” commands to tell them what you want, and if they refuse, let your arm go limp again. Repeat this process until they comply. Remember to praise them when they finally give in.
- No Teeth
You can allow your puppy to lick you during tug since licking is calming to pups and releases those good endorphins that encourage bonding. But you do not want your puppy to use their teeth on you. Besides the fact that puppies’ teeth are like tiny razor blades and hurt even in play, biting encourages this as acceptable behavior.
If your puppy comes at you with their teeth, you should immediately stop the game. Allow your pup a chance to calm down, and then resume playing. If your puppy continues to use their teeth, stop the game for the day.
- Maintain Eye Contact
Eye contact is an indicator of dominance. In nature, animals use eye contact to take down prey and establish pack hierarchy. You really want to use eye contact with your dog to assert your position as the alpha.
When you request your puppy to do something during playtime, hold their gaze, and don’t look away. Being the first to break eye contact is a sign of surrender; if you do it with your dog, you’re telling them they’re in charge.
Even if it feels strange to have a staring contest with your cute furball, stand firm. You’ll be happy you did when your pup finally backs down and let you lead.
Establish your authority from the first day
Bringing a young furry friend home can be a life-changing event. If you go into it blind and don’t socialize your puppy correctly, you might be tempted to give them away. That said, it’s crucial to begin establishing your authority from the first day.
You have to take advantage of the critical window of time between 8 and 12 weeks when your pup is ready and excited to learn. Their mom taught them how to be a dog, but it’s your job to teach them everything else. Since they are naturally inclined to please you, they will thrive if you set healthy limits and continually reinforce them.
Training your puppy when playing
Play is an excellent tool for training your puppy. It’s fun for both of you and provides time to bond, just as if they were still with their pack. Make sure you remember to stay consistent in your instructions and expectations. You should never allow your puppy the chance to think they are in charge, even during playtime. Establish a routine to playtime, and stick to it.
Puppy training entails lots of repetition. Have patience with your pup, be fair, and respect them as creatures with feelings and intelligence. Your puppy will surprise you someday. When you think they’ll never sit, take commands, stop chewing on your shoes, they’ll suddenly change for the better.
And you will do what any good owner and alpha would: you will praise their success, reward their behavior with a treat, and move on to the next task. That is how to become the alpha dog with your puppy. Treat your pup right, and they’ll grow to become the evening leader when your family is sound asleep. All said and done, remember to have fun. You’re a fur parent, after all!