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Do I Need to be "Alpha" with my Dog?

By Jason Wright

November 14, 2022

You Don’t Need to be Alpha; You Need to be a Leader

Is being an alpha different from being a leader? Instinctively, dogs follow a social hierarchy where there is an “alpha” and their role is to keep the entire pack in line. Naturally, dog owners feel the need to follow suit, becoming the alpha in their households. 

This, however, is not necessary, and in fact, should be avoided, as it can cause a problematic relationship between you and your dog. Instead of focusing on becoming the alpha, it is important to view yourself as a leader. This approach is more effective in helping build trust between you and your dog while forming a strong and healthy bond.

Dangers of Alpha Rolling and Why it Needs to be Avoided

Some trainers and dog owners believe in the concept of “alpha rolling,” a technique used to address behavioural problems in a way where dominance is asserted over one’s pet. It may seem like an appropriate approach. However, this technique is dangerous. 

Alpha rolling is not only ineffective, but it actually hinders the relationship between you and your dog. While it is essential to be the leader and demand respect, it’s important to do so in a way that builds trust and a healthy relationship. In addition, consistently alpha rolling your dog can lead to worsened problematic behaviours such as biting, which is why this technique needs to be avoided at all costs. Instead, focus on using the highly effective operant conditioning method.

Benefits of Operant Conditioning and Why it Works

Operant conditioning and balanced dog training are the methodologies that we utilize at iTK9. Both methods incorporate a mix of rewards and consequences in your dog’s training to help reinforce a happy and obedient lifestyle for your dog. 

With balanced dog training, the focus is simple; show your dog that certain behaviours can either have positive or negative reactions. When a command is completed, or a trick is performed, praise can be given to encourage your pet. However, if poor behaviour occurs, initiating a balance of corrections or consequences is necessary so that your dog can understand that these actions are not acceptable. 

Below we discuss 4 quadrants of operant conditioning:

Negative Reinforcement

Negative reinforcement can be defined as the removal of something unpleasant once the desired outcome has been achieved. One example often given is pushing down on your dog’s rear end after the sit command has been given. Once your dog sits, the pressure on its rear is removed. 

Negative Punishment

Negative punishment is often in reaction to an undesired action performed by your dog where you remove something desirable. This can include taking a ball away from your dog when he/she becomes possessive of it and acts out aggressively.

Positive Punishment

Positive punishment is the inclusion of an unwanted action towards your dog after an undesired action has been performed. An example would be a spray of a Pet Corrector or leash correction if your dog jumps up on a child.

Positive Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement is one of the most commonly used training quadrants and includes the introduction of something positive for your dog after a positive action has been completed. This may be a treat after you have commanded your dog to sit and they have done so.

Properly applying a variety of all quadrants of learning/operant conditioning in a balanced approach will help ensure communication is clear and will give your dog the best chance of success. As an owner, this approach will teach you to become a leader, establishing a strong relationship that’s built on respect.

How to Establish Leadership With Your Dog

Adopting the approach of being a leader for your dog is not only easier than using unnecessary techniques such as alpha rolling, but it is also more efficient for training and cultivating a healthy relationship. Here are some tips to help you become an effective leader:

  1. Set Boundaries: Dogs perform best when there are rules, boundaries, and restrictions. Having set boundaries in your household will prevent your dog from adopting problematic behaviours and cultivate a healthy relationship built on trust and respect.
  1. Be Consistent: When setting certain rules and boundaries in your household, be sure to follow through. This will prevent your dog from getting confused and will help them understand the structure and their role in the household. This will also help to prevent your dog from regressing in its training.
  1. Hold Your Dog Responsible: Your dog needs to be held accountable for their actions. This is why unearned treats and praise are not recommended. Instead, be sure to discipline your dog when they don't behave and praise them when they perform a desirable behaviour.
  1. Spend Time with Your Dog: To cultivate a healthy relationship, include some playtime with your dog during your day. This should be done either outside or in a specific room in your home, as this will signal to them that it is an appropriate time to play. 

The iTK9 Way

At iTK9, we utilize highly effective operant conditioning methods in our Board & Train Programs that are guaranteed to improve behaviour and obedience. Our Board & Train Programs allow the trainers access to your dog 24/7 and takes them away from any reinforcement and environment which may be aiding bad behaviour. Training can occur in multiple environments and alongside other dogs and triggers to allow for better socialization and progress. 
We do the hard work for you. Contact our team to learn more.

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