Because you're not a canine, you can't really be an alpha dog. But you can be the leader in your dog's eyes. If you don't claim the alpha role, you can bet your doggie treats that your pup likely will. And a dog who runs the household is usually problematic.
Nothing in Life is Free
The mindset you need to have when dealing with your dog is that "nothing in life is free," which means that you own everything, and you choose to give only when your dogs earns it. This philosophy applies to everything from food to walks to affection. Your dog receives nothing until he earns it. But earning in this case doesn't mean your dog needs to put in a 40-hour workweek; earning can be as easy as sitting and making eye contact with you.
Food establishes dominance and pack pecking order better than anything. Wild dogs in packs understand that the alpha dog always eats first. The others must wait until he's done and then get the leftovers. If you control the food -- voila -- you will be seen as pack leader. Do this by holding the dog bowl with his food in it and telling your dog to sit. Wait until he sits and maintains eye contact with you. When you are satisfied he has obeyed you, put down the food bowl. You have taught your dog that the food is yours, and he gets it only after waiting until you indicate he can have it -- much as an alpha dog would do.
Most dogs enjoy a good walk. But if yours has excess energy, darts out the door ahead of you and walks you by pulling ahead, he has taken the alpha role. Employ the "nothing in life is free" philosophy before a walk by having your dog sit patiently as you put on his leash. You then must exit the house first. If your dog tries to rush ahead of you once outside, turn around and go back in. Try again. Keep a tight leash by not giving him too much room to help ensure he walks at your heels and keeps at your pace. The alpha controls the walk.
Although you probably love your dog, reserve affection for when he's earned it. Maybe your dog loves his belly rubbed. He'll likely plop down and roll over as his way of commanding you to rub it. If you want to be the alpha, it doesn't work that way. Next time your dog does that, command him to sit. Then pet him for sitting. Tell him "down" or "roll over," and then feel free to engage in a nice belly rub session. The difference is you made him earn the belly rub.
You Are the Alpha
Once you've established yourself as the alpha, when your dog misbehaves, he is more likely to obey you. For example, if your dog took your sock, if he views you as alpha, all you need to do is stand up over him and say "give." Your dog will probably let go of the sock. Teach your dog many commands, such as "sit," "heel," "down," "give," "drop it," "shake hands" and "twirl," to increase his confidence. A confident dog is usually a happy one, according to The Humane Society of the United States.
Laura Agadoni has been writing professionally since 1983. Her feature stories on area businesses, human interest and health and fitness appear in her local newspaper. She has also written and edited for a grassroots outreach effort and has been published in "Clean Eating" magazine and in "Dimensions" magazine, a CUNA Mutual publication. Agadoni has a Bachelor of Arts in communications from California State University-Fullerton.