I AM Alpha Dog- Dominating Your Dog is Causing More Harm Than Good

Dominated Sad Dog, Abused

Have you ever asked yourself what it means to be an alpha dog? Does it mean ‘head of the pack’? The boss? The leader? Many dog-loving humans have various translations of the meaning of ‘alpha’. Being head of the pack does sound like a pretty impressive title, after all.

But what if the term ‘alpha’ translated into a more aggressive meaning? What if minor or major cruelty accompanied the meaning in any form? These questions, along with ongoing studies reveal significant food for thought. Responsible dog owners need to be in-the-know. Learn more about what controversies exist about alpha training practices.


To achieve more effective dog training, it is good to understand the goal.

Incorporating words like ‘GENTLE’, ‘HUMANE’ and ‘CRUELTY-FREE’ suggest concise meaning. These reinforcing words are about the love and respect every dog deserves.


Starting at the bottom of the barrel for any reason doesn’t usually invite warm and fuzzy images. Yet, there may be secret topics found there that can be helpful. Still, education and application are two different things.

For example, the ‘alpha roll’ training method is such a topic worth mentioning. If dogs could talk about the alpha roll they would most likely be angry or sad.

This aggressive technique is a degrading and disreputable canine training method. Its goal is to put the dog into complete submission by means of physical, human force. The idea is to intimidate the dog into learning who holds the alpha rank and who does not. It is a control technique that uses aggression, and pain when assumed necessary, to make a point.

Owners should understand that the dog’s instincts will likely translate this method as aggression. Using fear and aggression begets fear and aggression. Whatever happened to that old adage, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”? Dogs are others, too.

The mental picture looks something like this. A human trainer flips the dog on her back using unwarranted physical force. Often, holding the dog down by her neck follows. The risk of injury toward both the human and the dog is high. Many trainers and owners may use this strategy with no intention of hurting the animal. But, too many times this approach is detrimental in one way or another.


The word ‘domination’ isn’t what most dog lovers would refer to as being a kind-hearted word. Understanding the controversy of dog domination techniques is a must. Knowledge is power. Fur babies have no voice. Diligence is necessary to educate ourselves about training practices that are better than others.

Domination techniques, which should be completely avoided can come in many forms. Let’s refer to them as POSITIVE or NEGATIVE techniques. Let’s look at samples of both kinds:

NEGATIVE (or punishing – often triggers aggression)

– alpha roll

– kicking

– hitting

– intimidation (staring at the dog until she looks away)

– yelling

– forceful physical manipulation

– spraying water

– growling at the dog

The two top human behaviors that encourage aggression in dogs are: growling at a dog and kicking a dog. Each of these examples are harsh to a dog. Watching a human go through these unkind motions is heart breaking. Any of these examples are inappropriate dog training methods. The point is – NEVER GO THERE.

POSITIVE (non-punishing – much lower aggression response levels)

– rewarding dog for making eye contact

– training dog to sit for everything it wants

– exchanging food for whatever dog has in its mouth

– hand signal training

– short commands (ie. sit, stay, off, quiet, come, drop it, go lie down)

– remember dogs read your body language – stay calm and relaxed

According to Meghan Herron DVM and leader of a study published in The Journal of Applied Animal Behavior (2009):

“Studies on canine aggression in the last decade have shown that canine aggression and other behavior problems are not a result of dominant behavior or the lack of the owner’s ‘alpha’ status, but rather a result of fear (self-defense) or underlying anxiety problems.”

This perspective makes complete sense. After all, a dog’s nature is not designed to exhibit aggression for the sake of wanting to be aggressive. A dog’s nature is purposeful. Animal instinct is hard-wired and systemic. Smell, sight, hearing and touch all work together. When poor behavioral patterns are learned, they are exhibited. Choose non-provoking companion gestures and training methods to bring out the animal’s best behaviors.


To simplify the goal of training a dog, focus on your precious pet’s good nature and willingness to obey. Being patient during the training process will also help bring out the best in your dog. Training processes need a lot of repetition, too. The good news is, these steps will assist your dog in reducing fear and anxiety. Reducing fear and anxiety will help to increase trust and obedience.

Need some helpful hints on how to better train your darling pooch? Take a peek at the non-domination practices that work well in the next few training suggestions:

– Using small, bite-sized treats, practice gaining dog’s attention and focus directed toward you.

– Use a lead when walking. Take a few steps, then with a gentle tug, use lead to stop, gain focus and offer treat. Repeat steps often in the beginning training stage. A slow and steady pace is a great training foundation to use when working toward trust and focus issues.

– Plan ahead if other dogs approach while walking your dog on a lead. At the first sign of another dog, capture your dog’s focus with gentle insistence. Once focus is successful to trainer’s satisfaction, reward with his favorite treat. This training method should be consistent and frequent. It will help your dog rely on being alert and ready for your command.

– Incorporating fun games during walks helps to regain your furry’s focus. Use ‘sit’ as game one. Reward. Repeat this or other easy tasks to keep the dog’s focus on you.

– Never use harsh force with a lead/leash, hands, feet or voice. Use calm and steady tones to teach your pup how positive human emotions work for him.

– Always reward good doggie behaviors.

The joy of training your dog is like dancing with your favorite partner. One partner leads and the other partner follows. The leader uses his whole body to show his partner how her body should follow. So enjoy turning your four-legged partner into the dancing machine she is meant to be!


To Top