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Awnold The Alpha Dog

Muscle DogHello John,

We have a 3 1/2 year Yellow Labrador Retriever who is a Alpha Male. I didn’t even know what the term meant until we got this dog. We had another Yellow Labrador Retriever for 14 years that gave us no problems at all. Arnold is his name and he is a big dog about 100 lbs and very strong. He has all the Alpha tendencies where he thinks he can do anything he wants. I do not have a lot of problem with him because he respects me because I can control him. But he rides roughshod over my wife and strangers. I do not want that to continue so we need to either find him another home or get some help for him.

– Myron

Hi Myron,

Henry David Thoreau said, “Nature abhors a vacuum” but he also added, “if I can only walk with sufficient carelessness I am sure to be filled.” Well if you live with leadership carelessness around any dog, most are sure to attempt in their own way to some extent to try and fill the leadership vacuum with their own four-legged agendas. This is true whether the dog is by nature a leader or a follower. They’re programmed to challenge weak leadership so that the cream will rise to the top for the best chance of survival. Even a dog with low drive in the wrong hands is going to give a poorly matched owner a run for their money.

I stopped using the term “Alpha” for the most part years ago. Just because you have a dog that can hear you but won’t listen to you doesn’t mean you’ve an alpha problem. If that were the case somebody would be doing a lot of complaining about problem alpha kids and husbands . I have dogs sent to me all the time diagnosed as Alpha that are basically just goofballs in need of discipline, structure and a job. Usually not much of either, just enough to turn the tide and get a little recognition as to who is filling who’s food bowl. What a lot of these “Alpha” dogs are doing is more of a reluctant dominance rather then the real deal. They don’t have any inherent need to run the show. They just figure, “Well if no one else wants the job, I guess I’ll give it a shot.” There are dogs that are Alpha personalities but most of the trouble makers I see are at the most just just creative opportunists.

There are too many other factors other then being an “Alpha” that contribute to a dog’s unruly behaviour and as you’re not mentioning aggression episodes which even then doesn’t guarantee a diagnosis of Alpha, I wouldn’t be surprised to find you have what was once a juvenile delinquent and is now a party animal equipped with a low centre of gravity, and four wheel drive with four on the floor. A frustrating creature to live with but necessarily and alpha.

If I were assessing him I’d want to start with, were his parents hunting dogs or show dogs, what are his litter mates like, what methods have you tried in training him? I’d want to have a look at both you and your wife’s handling skills. I’d be looking to see how he behaves with your wife and how you behave when your wife is trying to get him behave. Lots of dogs “run roughshod” over the lady of the household because the man of the household is unintentionally undermining their authority by using mass and muscle to control the dog’s behaviour on their own and then when they “come to the rescue” if the dog is pushing their wife’s buttons.

Get a trainer who can help you understand how a dog sees the world, how they determine who’s the teacher and who’s the student. A good trainer with some experience with balanced training will show you and your wife how to develop a relationship that in addition to love also has respect. With the right help I wouldn’t be surprised if you couldn’t get this juggernaut under control.

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