Coco, a year-old American Bulldog, arrived in my home in October because his owner had to move overseas for eighteen months. We’re buddies, and so I took him in. But my friend had never trained him. He wanted him to be a watch dog. That he is. Fortunately for both him and me, I know something about dogs. Unless Coco had been actively mistreated and set-up to be a vicious creature, it still had puppy needs, regular dog needs, that were unmet. It needed to be part of a pack, but had no real skills that come from training that made him part of one. Every pack has an alpha member, the leader. Without a clear alpha role to follow, Coco instinctively thought he was the alpha dog, and he wanted me to follow him.
My challenge was to get this dog to see me as the alpha without both of us going nuts. It was for the dog’s own good that he become dominated by someone who cares about him. There is a bond between the lead dog and the rest of the pack that gives order and cohesion to the rest of the group. Here are three steps I used to make the adjustments in Coco without pulling my hair out.
First, I crate trained him from day one (the howling kept me up all that first night). Coco had never been inside a house. I took him out every two hours during his in-house time and rewarded him for eliminating. I restricted his water intake at night, just like he was a bedwetting human child.
Second, He does not lead on a dog walk. Coco is 110 lbs. of pure muscle. I put a martindale collar on him, made of cloth, that constricts him when he tries to lead. Not to worry. Coco has a neck the size of linebacker’s leg. Every time he tried to lead, I stopped. He drew up short and I waited a few seconds and brought him back to my side. This went on for two months, until something clicked in Coco’s head. All of a sudden, I was alpha, and I was obeyed.
Third, during this entire time, I was teaching Coco obedience with sit and stay. I gave him positive rewards for completing the tasks, even if at first that completion was scant. But the reward for me is that now, because I am the alpha, he obeys my voice commands to sit and return to my side. This is one of the wonders of dog training. When that thing clicked in Coco’s head, I became alpha, and he fell head-over-heels in love with me. Now he obeys commands, knows he is part of a pack, a family, and is housebroken. He’s still an immature dog, a puppy, buts he’s on his way.
Remember, three things are paramount:
1. Housebreak the dog so you can live with him via crate training. 2. Teach him how to walk with you. Never let him lead. 3. Teach him to sit and stay.
There’s more to training a dog than these three things, but if he comes to you untutored, they are basic.
Every dog wants to be a part of a pack and to be loved. Sometimes you run into a dog that has been neither a part of a pack or bonded with an alpha. With patience, your dog gets the message and begins a new, better life.