Home > Life Experiments > Being an Alpha (Bitch) Leader

Being an Alpha (Bitch) Leader

For those of you who know me in real life, most of you know that my dog Evee is one of the most important things in it.  She is the first dog I’ve had as an adult, and though I love her beyond words, she has been an utter handful.  Her previous owners, acquaintances of ours, had not done a good job of socializing her with people and other dogs when she was a puppy, and we have been dealing with consequences of their bad training.  It does not help that no one is with her for 10+ hours per day recently, and let’s just say  — someone thinks she’s leader of the pack  and has an incredibly strong body, sharp teeth, and piercing claws to go with it…her ancestors are wolves, you know!

When we first got her, my husband and I tried to do our best of balancing training/discipline with having fun with being in our family.  However, a slew of bad luck which resulted in an injury made my greyhound/lab mix sort of crazy making me feel that instead of starting from square one with her, I’m starting at square -99.  Evee is smart and highly trainable but fixing bad habits has been an issue.

To give you an idea, these are the commands Evee knows:

  • Sit (voice and hand gesture)
  • Down (voice and hand gesture)
  • Wait/stay (voice and hand gesture)
  • On your bed (voice and hand gesture and double clap)
  • Come (voice and whistle)
  • Up on sofa or bed (voice)
  • Off of sofa or bed (voice)
  • Leave it (voice)
  • Back up (voice)
  • Wait on bed while preparing food (voice)
  • Wait to eat food until given the command (voice and hand gesture)
I dare you find many people who have trained to have both of dogs run into their crates and sit on their beds for food based on two claps.  And then I dare you to find someone who can then take her sweet time getting their food while they wait and drool.  And then I dare you to find someone who can put their food in their crates and make them wait some more.  I’m not bad trainer, and my dogs can be trained.  Here are the big three of the problems I’ve had to deal with Evee:
  • Aggressive play with other dogs:  depending on the dog, it is not always an issue.  Dogs that are ok with lots of physical contact do fine with Evee regardless of size, from German Shepherd who have anywhere between 30-40lbs on her to little pugs where she carries a 25 pound advantage.  However, most other dogs aren’t socialized very well either so the interaction can go south very quickly.
  • Territorial Aggression with people entering the house: it’s her house, and she’s going to let you know it.  This issue is probably the worst one.  As soon as someone rings the door bell or knocks on the door, the barking and the hackles start.  We don’t want to kill it completely because its good to know when someone is coming near (and its good to tell anyone will ill intention to get the hell out), but we have always wanted to be in more control. People who know how to handle dogs do fine, but anyone with anxiety can cause issues.
  • The Squirrel, the Squirrel!  The Bike, the Bike!  OMG is that a CAT taunting me???:  When she has something more exciting than moi, its hard to get her focus back.  Evee is seriously strong too so I can’t have just anyone walk her.  She’s actually pretty obedient on walks, but if there are big distractions, it can be an issue.
When asked for advice on how to handle these issues, one thing became very clear: Evee thinks she’s the pack leader.  As its funny for everyone (really way too many people) to think that an aggressive personality as my own would allow anyone else to be the Alpha in my family, it apparently is true.  We’ve noticed that it appears to mostly be a function of having to be out of our home so long plus the neuroses that Evee developed with her previous owner, but what’s done is done and these are the cards I have to deal with now.

So, what’s involved in being “Alpha?”  A lot more than one would think, honestly.  Basically, whenever you’re around your dogs, you have to assert control and never, ever let them think they have the upper hand because they literally will compartmentalize when they have control or when they don’t.  For example: Ever watch people walk their dogs?  How many people do you see with their dogs completely in front of them and the leash fully taut?  That isn’t the person walking their dog — that’s the dog walking their person.  Maybe at home, the owner is in charge, but on a walk, that dog is in charge.  Knowing this is a common problem, I took on this issue head on.

When I just had Evee to walk, it was actually pretty easy to make her submissive on walks.  I had a prong collar and leash correction was a snap once you got the wrist right.  However, when I got my puppy Hanu who is about 25lbs lighter than Evee and had no training, walking the two was a nightmare.  Now, I have both of them at either side of my body loose leash, rarely in front of me.  How?  Two things: positive and negative reinforcement.  I keep a stash of easily ripped apart treats (positive reinforcement), and I have my squirt bottle filled with water ready (negative reinforcement).  Is it a pain to have so much stuff ready for a walk?  Yes.  Is it worth them never pulling me?  Hellz yeah.  On top of walking loose leash next to me, they know they can never cross the street without my permission and must sit at all corners until I give them to go ahead to walk with me.

With her injury now healed, my husband has been able to run Evee and Hanu more often which helps her interactions with other dogs. As for meeting people who enter the home, we have created this “new” set of rules where she must “guard” at a certain location as we open the door and stay there until I’m done.  She is allowed to greet the person when we say “come say hello” and then give Hanu a chance to do the same.  When it works, its freaking awesome.  Unfortunately, we don’t have that many guests come regularly so its been the hardest thing to train her so far.  Lastly, I’ve found that the squirt bottle has been the most effective thing ever when trying to make her only listen to ME and not distractions.  She rarely pulls away for bikes at this point.  Squirrels, raccoons, suicidal cats, and the occasional coyote…we’re still working on that.

As part of my full out effort, I’ve taken to homeopathic nutritional supplements.  I already had some Vita-Calm and will be getting PetAlive Aggression and PetCalm Combo Pack.  She already gets some of the best dog food around (seriously, I think she has the healthiest and best diet in the house) and her treats are of the same quality.  (Hell, I even make my puppies wet dog food as a treat!)  I could consider actually Rx dogs, but I think I’d like to try every other route first.

So, herein starts yet another life journey of trying to be the Alpha Bitch of this pack.  Any advice?  Any sympathy?  All comments are welcome!
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  1. July 8, 2011 at 3:00 am

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