Role of the Alpha. Help!

by Lisa
(Indianapolis, IN)

We have three dogs. Delilah, our 15 month old Rottie is the youngest, but the biggest. We have a westie who is 8 years old and Tucker who is 17 years old.

ot a problem. We have an Alpha female, Delilah, and a Alpha male, Benny (the westie), Tucker is a beta. All three understand that I am the alpha. I have complete control over all three of them. HOWEVER, Delilah determines when Benny can eat, play, lay with me, and what toy Benny can play with.

They play really well together until Delilah starts to push her authority around. She never hurts Benny, but she is loud and pushes Benny into a corner until he cows down. If Benny is laying down, she will go over and wake him up because SHE wants to play. Then she gets mad when Benny is not doing what she thinks he should. When they are playing and the energy level gets to high, I make them stop, I lower the energy level, and then everything is ok.

So as to Delilah dictating when Benny can eat, play with toys, get attention by me…. what is acceptable for them as a pack. Do I allow Delilah to be the alpha towards Benny as nature intended, or do I try and stop the behavior?

Please keep in mind, she has not hurt Benny, it seems mostly loud growls and barks and a lot of pushing around. When I intervene, she does nothing to come back at me. I just get annoyed with her when Benny tries to eat and even though she just finished eating, she will stand at the bowl until she determines that it is ok for Benny to eat.

And two bowls don’t help. She just runs back and forth and will not let Benny eat. And the funny part of it is, Benny won’t until she goes and lays down. I can physically remove Delilah from the bowl, but Benny will not eat until Delilah deems it ok. Crazy!

Hi Lisa
As the owner of a very alpha female myself, parts of your post made me laugh – my girl sometimes does the same ‘running from bowl to bowl’ routine as Delilah!

Seriously though this can become an issue if you don’t make sure that you control it well. Luckily it seems as though Delilah is not aggressive about this, just dominant, and Benny totally understands the dynamics, so hopefully it will remain this way. However, Delilah is still an adolescent and over the next year or so she will likely become more dominant and challenging as a natural part of her development and maturity. This could make the situation more volatile.

There are lots of different theories or opinions on how to handle this, and I can only really give you my personal take on it. I allow a certain amount of natural interaction in terms of which dog ‘calls the shots’ etc. as long as both dogs are okay with it and it’s not turning nasty. But, I wouldn’t allow Delilah free rein to bully Benny too much.

As long as Benny gets to eat without pressure once Delilah has eaten, then I don’t think the mealtime situation is a big issue. However, if does become one you can feed them in separate rooms as that way Benny won’t feel intimidated.

All dogs need one-on-one attention and love from you, and if Delilah muscles the others out of the way and won’t allow you to pet or cuddle them, then you need to set up separate times for each. With the others safely outdoors, in their crates or otherwise amused so that you can spend time with each when you want to.

A bit of barking or pushing is okay too in my books, but if it becomes too much or Delilah gets too vocal or pushy then I’d step in. She needs to know that you’re in ultimate control and that there are limits to her behavior.

It does sound as though overall you’re doing that, so I think you’re basically on the right track. I try to follow my own instincts with this sort of thing as much as possible, if it ‘feels’ okay to me then I let it go, but if it feels out-of-line or uncomfortable then I step in. As long as all dogs recognize you as the ‘Top Dog’ they will accept your decision as final!

If you have more trouble with this as she grows, talk it over with a dog trainer or behavioral specialist, sometimes it takes a little one-on-one help to make sure you’ve got the balance right and a professional opinion always helps.

I know that there are quite extreme opinions about him, and obviously it’s a personal take on things, but I think Cesar Millan has a lot of very good advice for owners with dominant dogs or a multi-dog household.

You may want to check out this webpage to learn more if you are interested…

Cesar Millan Dog Whisperer. Also he has a leadership course that you might want to investigate…

Purchase DVDs and help save homeless dogs!

Hope all of this helps. I wish you the very best of luck with it all.

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