Re-establishing Who’s Alpha–And It’s Not Louie

Louie has slipped back into some of his old bad behaviors. He does not want any other dog to enter into our home. And he’s not too fond of humans walking in either, but he tolerates them. This behavior is displayed only in my home and it wears on me.

But then it occurred to me. I have been lax in my being a consistent Alpha to Louie. You see, 90% of the time, Louie is a very well-behaved dog, and he minds well. And for this reason, I have let some little bad behaviors slip through the crack. This creates a chain effect of Louie thinking he can get by with those bad behaviors; getting on the furniture, getting into the trash, getting on the beds. Because he sometimes gets by with that behavior and other times not, this causes confusion for Louie. And when he’s confused, he operates in fear. It’s my fault that Louie is confused and feels the need to be territorial and protective.

One of the toughest principles for me to grasp over the years since Louie first came to live with me was how to be the Alpha in Louie’s “pack,” and my trainer was clear that I was a weak Alpha. My lack of strong leadership confused Louie, forcing him into the position of having to step up and lead, and that issue still exists today.

Before Louie and I found each other, I never gave much thought to asserting my role as Alpha Dog. Consequently, my dogs assumed that role, and I let them. It didn’t seem to matter because they were small and harmless. And by the time I got home after a long day at work, I was tired of being Alpha, so I let them boss me around. But that approach doesn’t work for Louie, and it does not work for people

There is so much that goes into being a good Alpha; being consistent, providing safety, setting appropriate boundaries, giving genuine and abundant praise, and offering a necessary correction. Again, all of those things must be rooted in trust and undergirded by love.

I remember back four years ago when the trainer first met us, Louie behaved very badly, and I was at my wit’s end. The trainer described my body language as defeated. Louie responded to this with fear and confusion. The words that moved me off the dime were, “I’ve seen you do leadership seminars, now you’ve got to do what you do in those workshops. Exude confidence. He needs reassurance that you know what you’re doing.”

Really? For my dog? I had made the common mistake of assuming that he would instinctively know that I’m the boss – simply because I’m the human, I’m larger than he, and I think more “knowledgeable.” The trainer taught me that it is about my level of confidence in where I’m going and what needs to be accomplished. That confidence is in knowing what’s best for Louie, giving him firm direction, and drawing out his very best behavior.

As leaders, our assumptions about others and situations around us unintentionally confuse our team. We have expectations that are not always clearly communicated, and then when not met, cause disappointment on our part and confusion on the part of others. Ken Blanchard often refers to this as seagull management, meaning a manager who only interacts with employees when a problem arises. This style of leadership involves hasty decisions about things of which they have little understanding, resulting in messy situations for others to clean up.

Being a strong leader is about so much more than claiming an impressive title, wearing expensive clothes and appearing important. It is about:

  • Owning the leadership role we’ve been given
  • Resisting the urge to react out of our own fears and insecurities
  • Addressing problems before we lose our cool
  • Effectively communicating the vision and seeking to understand our team

Dogs and people need a humble leader, not a bossy dictator. I’ve committed to leading with intentionality, clear vision and goals. I encourage you to do the same – whether you’re leading canines or humans.

I am happy to say I have assumed my role as Alpha of the house. Louie needs and desires my approval much more than he wants to be alpha, and consequently, Louie is a much happier pup. I’ve had to wrestle him to the ground once or twice to make him understand submission, a method I do NOT recommend for your team. But it is clear that he understands and appreciates my love and leadership. And I now know the value of being consistent in my leadership role.

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3 thoughts on “Re-establishing Who’s Alpha–And It’s Not Louie

  1. Such great leadership principles Danise and a timely reminder at the start of a new year. Thanks for continuing to challenge us!

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