In any form of dog training or interaction with your dog, it is important to think about your body language. Today’s domestic dog has evolved from its ancestor the wolf, over thousands of years. The wolf co-exists with its fellow pack members by way of a Dominance Hierarchy. This hierarchy works with every member having a rank or role in the pack. The dominant pack member is in charge of the overall day to day running of the pack Referred to as the ‘alpha’, he is generally the largest, strongest specimen. He is also mentally sound. The alpha decides when and where the pack hunts; he also eats before the other pack members and has the first mating rights to the most desirable bitches. The alpha is sometimes aloof, other pack members can interact with him only when he allows and on his terms.
He is at times solitary, preferring to be alone when checking for signs of predators in his territory or around the den. He is also the main protector should another wolf or predator stray too close to his pack. When interacting with the alpha, all subordinate pack members must display the appropriate body language. They must always approach the alpha in a submissive manner, in a low position with their ears back and tail between their legs. If they do not show submission the alpha will see this as a challenge. The alpha is obvious even to the untrained eye by the way he carries himself. He stands tall and has a confidence about him that is hard not to recognise. This demeanour in itself commands respect from the rest of the pack. Therefore it is appropriate that we think about our body language when interacting with our dogs. Your dog views you as a fellow pack member, and if he is to respect you, he must see you as being above him in the dominance hierarchy. You must be the alpha. You can only ever implement the behaviours that you desire of your dog when he views you as being above him in the dominance hierarchy.
You must command respect by portraying yourself as an alpha. What does your body language say to your dog about you? Do you always lean over your dog when you praise him; are you tentative when training your dog or do you walk around like you have the weight of the world on your shoulders? What sort of message does the tone of your voice give to your dog? If you are to command respect from your dog you should pull your shoulders back, refrain from leaning over your dog, be confident and act like the dominant pack member. Speak with authority when you give your dog a command. Remember, you are the pack leader so you have to act like one in a language that your dog understands. Command respect by displaying confident/dominant body language. If you don’t then you may end up with a dog that considers himself to be the alpha in your pack which is obviously a very undesirable outcome.
Nick Wilson is an author, a former Police Dog Handler, and the owner of K9Koncepts, based in New Plymouth, New Zealand. He focuses on teaching owners how to train their dogs with a simple and forthright approach. He also specialises in teaching owners how to overcome issues with problem dogs, and helps them understand the importance of the Canine Dominance hierarchy in dog training. His recently authored book “Train Your K9” is available from http://www.train-your-K9.com