How to Be the Alpha Dog in Your Pack

Written by Samary Birkline, © 2020

Establishing the human-alpha position for a puppy is critical in a sound start.
Photo by: Samary Birkline © 2020.

Being a dog owner can be great! But it can also be a miserable experience, depending largely on the kind of dog you have and the relationship you have with that dog. There are a variety of factors that go into what makes a dog’s brain work the way it does, but predominately, they are: breed, early puppy-hood experiences, personality, training, and pack position. Learning how to use these factors, and to use a dog’s schedule and everyday life to naturally establish human-alpha position can make dog owning its most enjoyable for both humans and their dogs!


A dog’s breed heavily impacts the way he will conduct himself and how he will handle new situations. A Labrador Retriever is at the core a very friendly breed, predictably trotting up to a stranger more readily than let’s say, a Cane Corso. Both incredible in their own breed standard, it is vital to understand the breed a person welcomes into his or her home. Even for a mixed breed, tests are available to determine which breeds the mix contains. The breed(s) a dog is made up from can determine not just how he looks, but is also critical for behavior prediction.

There are breeds, such as the Labrador Retriever, which are fundamentally friendly and easygoing with strangers.
Photo by: Samary Birkline © 2020.

Some breed characteristics state that the ideal specimen be aloof to strangers (German Shepherds, Rottweilers, Doberman Pinchers, Chow Chows, etc.) while others expect the perfect dog to be friendly and outgoing. It’s important to keep this in mind when adopting a dog, especially if planning to adopt one of the more aloof-with-strangers breeds. Owners of these kinds of breeds, in some cases, find themselves outmatched when it comes to training, handling, and claiming the human-alpha position within an integrated pack.

Early Puppy-hood Experiences

It’s a widely accepted fact that a positive, healthy start gives one a leg-up in life, while a rough, gritty beginning can set the stage for a less than satisfactory life, with preventable difficulties and dire circumstances beyond an animal’s means to overcome.

Responsible breeders do all that is possible to prepare a puppy for what is to come.
Photo by: Samary Birkline © 2020.

Responsible breeders do everything they can to ensure that every puppy is exposed to the right stimuli and healthcare, setting each one up for a successful, well-balanced life. This includes impeccable cleanliness in their physical environment, keen observation with regards physical well-being, weight gain, and equal litter development.

Proper immunizations for each puppy is critical, with consideration to the dam’s weaning schedule and the local risks. Though raising a healthy litter should include at least one visit to a veterinarian for a general check up, some breeds also require medical attention for breed standards, such as humane dewclaw removal and tail docking. Ear cropping, later on, should only ever be performed by a licensed, experienced veterinarian who is familiar with best practices for the procedure.

The proper immunizations, administered correctly, are critical for a healthy start.
Photo by: Samary Birkline © 2020.

Early external stimuli is just as important in development as internal stimuli (such as the aforementioned inoculations). External stimuli includes common household noises, typical outdoor noises, exposure to the outdoors in both daylight hours and in the dark, after the sun has set. Well-rounded puppies have been handled by both adults and children, as well as a variety of different types of people, to prepare them for an easy transition into any family. They should also have been exposed to a large variety of household noises, smells, and human experiences. Some breeders even lay the cornerstones for indoor potty training!

Many breeders try to lay the cornerstones for potty training, using the litter’s natural instincts to train them to soil outside. Urination outdoors is usually the second victory and tends to happen in the new puppy’s home. Photo by: Samary Birkline © 2020.

Pups without these experiences can have difficulty understanding human communication and in consequence, can have real challenges finding their position in their new pack.


Each pup is born with innate personality traits. Some are born to lead the litter and others naturally tend to hover at the back of the kennel until they feel safe to come out of their ‘shell’ and become attention seekers. Though there are many wonderful tests out there, many perspective puppy owners use a well known puppy aptitude test, known as Volhards. Many kennels provide a personalized version of the Volhards Puppy Aptitude Test for testing. Great breeders can provide each pup’s results for review.

The Puppy Aptitude Test can tell a prospective owner a lot about the potential puppy .
Photo by: Samary Birkline © 2020.

No matter the pup’s results from the puppy aptitude test, responsible new owners will need to interpret the results, then carefully observe the 8-10 weeks fear imprinting time, and use the puppy’s natural tendencies to establish the human alpha position and provide a seamless transition into a new home. Certain types of puppies are better off with more experienced dog owners, while others will be perfectly suited for a first-time dog owner. To establish alpha position over an alpha pup is a much different experience than doing so with a beta dog, or the much more complicated omega pup.


Early training and socialization is critical for any puppy for a great start in a new environment. Enrolling a puppy in puppy classes at a local training facility is recommended by most breeders. These classes offer the chance for an adolescent puppy to meet and greet other breeds of dog, other types of people than the ones he or she lives with, and to enjoy the stimuli of a weekly trip away from the family home.

Basic training, including crate training , is critical for a great start!
Photo by: Samary Birkline © 2017.

Training is essential for any puppy; ensures that the individual knows not only how to interact with strangers, but also the process of training strengthens the bond between owner/handler and puppy. Training also helps to establish the alpha bond quickly, with positive training techniques taught by professional trainers.

Pack Position

Pack pecking order is important. A puppy who’s at the top of the pecking order will require more work than a puppy who was at the bottom. Though both can grow to become amazing companions, the alpha puppy will readily “take” the alpha position in the absence of human-alpha behavior. Beta pups can be similar, however, they tend to more readily conform to lower pack positions because they have not experienced what it is like to be alpha. Omega pups, those who lie at the bottom of the dog pile, will be less likely to try to steal the alpha position in the pack, but have been known to do so, because nearly any dog will do so if there isn’t one already in place.

Pack position can be determined in a number of ways. Observation is critical, so ask the breeder about pack pecking order. Photo by: Samary Birkline © 2020.

Alpha Laws:

In order to establish a person as the alpha of a “pack”, it is essential that the alpha-human understands what it means to be the alpha. It doesn’t mean the alpha-human needs to carry a heavy stick, or raise a hand to a pup. It means that if a human acts a certain way and follows certain guidelines in the beginning stages of dog ownership, it can make things run like a well-oiled machine. Human-alpha carries certain privileges that should remain unrivaled, and could, if the following is understood; actions put into place.

Alpha Says, “I Do What I Want!”

An alpha’s rule is absolute. They make the rules and there are punishments for dogs that step out of line (not what you think!). This means that right from the start, an alpha-human needs to have the rules in mind and they must be corner-stoned in canine instinct and human-alpha status.

Looking at your dog in the eyes and handling his muzzle [gently] are the first stages of developing the alpha-human status without any sort of violence or intimidation. Photo by: Samary Birkline © 2017.

Do’s for an Alpha-Human:

  • Look the dog in the eye. In the very early stages of canine contention, two dogs will lock eyes and have a staring showdown. The first to look away is the beta dog. If locked in a staring contest with a dog, don’t blink and don’t look away until he or she does. In canine contention, if neither looks away, a physical altercation is the next step.
  • Establish a routine immediately, and keep the routine as closely as possible. This includes feeding, walking, and play schedules. Setting a routine allows the dog to anticipate when a walk can be expected, and discourages alpha-like behaviors, like barking, whining, and other forms of demanding.
  • Handle all parts of the dog. The alpha is allowed to handle the other members of the pack however is needed. This means snout, ears, feet, tail, etc.
  • Ignore the dog when undesirable behavior is exhibited. One of the highest forms of punishment by an alpha is to pretend the offender is “invisible” for a determined amount of time.

Do NOT’s for an Alpha-Human:

  • Laugh at antics, unless the behavior is tolerable for the foreseeable future,
    • Ex: A seven week old puppy is adorable tugging at the shoelaces of a human, but laughing will encourage the behavior to be repeated.
  • Waffle in the routine. Alpha’s are steady and habitual. Setting a routine allows the dog to know when a walk can be expected.
Some antics are adorable, but should never be allowed, because the same behaviors as an adult can be potentially dangerous, if not simply undesirable. Photo by: Samary Birkline © 2020.

Alpha Eats First

The alpha in the pack eats first and usually in front of the rest of the pack. This means a dog owner should eat his or her own breakfast prior to, and in front of, the family dog(s). This means without begging (within a reasonable distance). This extends to the alpha’s spouse and children, and all other humans living in the home. This means the dog stays hungry until the people eat.

When feeding a dog, the beta dog must ‘dance for his dinner’, meaning he must follow the alpha-human around for an appropriate distance. In some homes, the dog food is kept in one area, and the dogs are fed that food in a different room. The idea is to make the dog follow his human around for the food prior to receiving it. It also helps to make the dog perform a command, such as a sit and stay, then releasing the dog to eat the meal.

Humans eat first and in front of the family dogs.
Photo by: Samary Birkline © 2018.

Do’s for an Alpha-Human:

  • Eat in front of the dog – this extends to the alpha’s children.
  • Feed any food scraps in the dog’s dedicated bowl
    • Alternatively, save them for training, but at a later time.

Do Not’s for an Alpha-Human:

  • Feed the dog before the people eat. (Sorry, Fido!)
  • Feed the dog from the human’s eating location, like the table or couch.
  • Allow begging, within a reasonable distance.
    • Dogs that don’t beg are allowed to sit at the feet of the alpha while he eats.
Dogs that do not beg are authorized to lay at the feet of the masters while they eat, but should never be fed from the table or any other location in the home where the humans eat, such as a couch. Photo by: Samary Birkline © 2017.

Alpha Takes the Best Sleeping Spot

The alpha-dog in a natural pack takes the best sleeping spot, and yet a recent survey by the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association found that 42 percent of dog owners allow and/or encourage their dogs to sleep the night in their beds. The survey found that 62% of small dogs, 41% of medium-sized dogs and 32% of large dogs sleep with their owners. While it’s a comfort to have a pet in the bed, studies show it is unsanitary, can spread disease, and sends the wrong message to the dog. When an owner shares his or her plush mattress with the dog, the dog is elevated to the position of equal. It is beneficial in the long run, to restrict cuddle time to a space where dogs SHOULD be allowed…such as the couch (though every now and then, it’s important to refuse the dog access to that particular, just to reinforce his below-alpha status).

Do give a dog a comfortable bed, but not the one the alpha sleeps on.
Photo by: Samary Birkline © 2019.

Do’s for an Alpha-Human:

  • Give the dog a comfortable dog bed, but not your bed.
  • Set clear boundaries for where the dog will not be allowed to lounge.
  • Periodically move the dog’s bed, just to reinforce the human-alpha position.
  • Establish a place (such as a couch, or floor pallet) were it is appropriate for the dog to cuddle with the human portion of the pack.

Do Not’s for an Alpha-Human:

  • Allow the dog to sleep on a human sleeping surface.
  • Allow the dog to chew or otherwise mark a human’s sleeping surface
  • Respond to the dog’s attempts to bark, whine or ‘cry’ when the dog is objecting to a crating or relocation. (Alpha doesn’t even HEAR it; does not respond.)
It is wise to establish a place other than the alpha-human’s sleeping space where it is appropriate for the dog to cuddle with its human pack. Photo by: Samary Birkline © 2020.

Alpha Owns the Road

Alpha owns it all. That means the food, the space, the road, the hallway, etc.; everything! Alpha eats first, walks through small openings first, and says when the dog can go before him or her. We use a command that means, “Yes, go ahead of me.”. Since no one in our house speaks Spanish, we use a Spanish command ‘pasale’.

When training a dog, it’s important to enforce this rule by teaching the dog to pause to wait for the alpha-human to pass through any narrow opening. Sometimes a correction is needed, like a knee to block the dog’s way, even after training, but the alpha will always own the road. If a dog consistently rushes the doorways before his owner, it is evidence that dog thinks he is the alpha and needs more work, though if the dog is further in front than a few steps, just allow the dog through first. The idea is that the dog yields to the owner when there is a debate on who will be going first, based on close proximity.

Dogs should be trained to hang back from a doorway until the alpha-human has gone through.
Photo by: Samary Birkline © 2019.

Do’s for an Alpha-Human:

  • Train the dog to hang back from any narrow opening when walking side by side.
  • Issue corrections, such as a blocking knee, when the dog attempts to rush the opening
  • See a trainer or enter a training class, if needed!

Do Not’s for an Alpha-Human:

  • Allow the dog to walk in front of the alpha-human on walks. Dogs should walk to the left of the alpha-human, shoulder to leg.
  • Enforce the narrow opening rule if the dog is more than a few steps in front of the alpha-human.

Alpha Means Business

Alpha is absolute, maintains consistency, and once established, is rarely challenged. To a trainer, it means issuing a command once, and not again. At risk of stating the obvious, this means that unless a trainer or owner can back up a command, it should not be issued at all.

This also means that growling at and roughhousing with the alpha-human are absolute no-no’s. It can be fun playing rough, but this kind of activity opens the door for the pup to realize that, physically, he could take on his alpha and win. This does NOT mean that wrestling with a dog will provoke an attack. It only means that the act of wrestling itself, with the alpha, is not allowed in a natural pack situation unless there is a challenge for power.

Horseplay between dogs within a household pack is acceptable, but the alpha-human does not allow horseplay either with him or her, or the children of the house. Photo by: Samary Birkline © 2019.

Do’s for an Alpha-Human:

  • Allow dogs to play rough with one another
    • This rule is not absolute. In some households, horseplay should be discouraged. Houses with intense rivalries between individual dogs can see horseplay easily escalate into a true dog fight!
  • Use canine behavior to ‘punish’, such a penetrating staring contest or the complete opposite: ignoring the offender for several hours. (Both are used by canines to communicate major negative feedback.)
  • Fight the contender for alpha with consistency and canine behaviors.

Do Not’s for an Alpha-Human:

  • Lose your cool or use unnecessary harshness. Alpha is always in control!!
  • Physically punish a dog. Alpha is always in control.
  • Shower a dog with too much attention
  • Isolate offending pets. This is not a dog behavior and can bring on blow-back behaviors, thereby escalating the issue.

Beware the sneaky takeover

Takeovers often come with wiggly tails and sweet puppy eyes!
Photo by: Samary Birkline © 2020.

One final note about being the alpha-human: The challenge to the alpha-human most often does not occur in the form of snarling, growling, and baring of teeth. In most cases, it’s not a hostile takeover at all; instead, the culprit sneakily and affectionately creeps into the alpha position using cute puppy eyes, bit-by-bit rule breakage, and silly (most humorous) antics to keep an owner from drawing a line or enforcing a rule. A great example is the classic invasion of the human’s sleeping spot. The bed is the most coveted place in the house (usually for the humans, too!), and it attracts a lot of attention in the canine world. If the rule is no part of the dog on the bed, that means the front half of the dog, as well. If the alpha decides the front half of the dog is allowed, then fine, but otherwise, the advance must be met with negative reinforcement, or positive training. (Using the opportunity to teach the command “off” instead of just pushing the dog away, for example.)

Half-obedience is another way a canine will slowly begin to challenge the alpha-human, until one day, the alpha-human no longer requires obedience at all. This is why a human-alpha is never to issue a command unless he or she can enforce the command. Because, resistance should be futile, even with cute puppy eyes.

The benefits of owning a well-behaved dog are many.
Photo by: Samary Birkline © 2020.


Little doubt lingers with regards to the benefits of dog ownership. Studies have shown dog owners live longer, are more resistant to depression, stress less, and tend to be more fit as individuals. However, even the most docile dog will take the alpha position if he or she senses the position is up for grabs, and that can shift the paradigm in an undesirable way. Gaining (or regaining) the alpha position doesn’t take long, for either dog or human, and as long as the trainer/owner abides by certain rules when interacting with his or her dogs, keeping it is relatively easy. As long as the human-alpha maintains his or her status, most dogs will fall in line, grateful for the leadership.

Published by Birkline Dobermans

A division of The Kennel Birkline, Birkline Dobermans is dedicated to the betterment and purification of the Doberman Pinscher breed .

6 thoughts on “How to Be the Alpha Dog in Your Pack

    1. That is absolutely true! Most dog bites are a result of a dog finally having enough of the poor line of communication, mixed signals, and primate-based reactions we have to them! We just can’t help it. We’re both mammals, but primates are such different creatures than canidae.

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