Alpha leash and biting problems

Posted by Caribou
Nov 6, 2008
We have an 8 month old alpha female lab. We didn't realize she was an alpha until she was about 6 months old because she was very ill with an unusual esophageal issue. We have been using SitStayFetch for a little over a month and have noticed incredible improvement in her behavior but it has been a challenge since she is now 60 pounds and very strong. We still have two problems.

One is with leashes. We let her play with the leash when we first got her as an 7 week old puppy so she would like it and let her hold it in her mouth when we took her on walks. This worked with our past two dogs. Unfortunately, now she jumps and bites as soon as she sees the leash. Often she ends up biting me in her frenzy to get the leash. I drop the leash, turn my back and cross my arms and ignore her until she quiets and sits. I've seen improvement except when I try to take our older dog along without my husband (she recognizes him as alpha male). When we are alone, she tries to exert her dominance over both of us (she also does this when he leaves the room or house). I can't use a leash with the older dog as the 8 month old grabs the older dog's leash near her neck and leaps around like a maniac. I end up releasing the leash on the older dog to prevent her from getting hurt and have to put the leash away. I'm concerned no one else will be able to walk her. The 8 month old is actually better behaved off leash than on leash and always comes when called. The problem then is that when we are walking with the older dog, the younger dog will sometimes come charging at full speed with intent to barrel into either me or the older dog, and sometimes ignores commands to stop and sit, which is dangerous and has hurt us both.

The second problem is the struggle with alpha behavior. She is much better with me after following the SitStayFetch obedience training and techniques but continues to jump up on me and bite at my arms. She isn't aggressive (never bares her teeth, flattens her ears against her head and lets us take bones or food from her mouth without any resistance) but her behavior is unacceptable, and she bruises me when she nips. More and more often, she listens and stops after a stern "Off" or "Sit" or when I turn my back and ignore her but sometimes she is out of control and won't listen. I have tried putting her on her back or side and growling and holding my hand (without pressure) on her neck and even lying on top of her but she continues to struggle and try to nip. I immediately put her in a time out in her kennel, but have to physically drag her by the scruff of her neck to get her there.

My husband and our vet think we need to get a shock collar to stop her biting, which I have opposed. I have not gotten a halti collar as I've read there is some risk of neck injury. We had a previous lab who badly injured her neck jumping into shallow water from the dock and don't want another dog to deal with that kind of pain. We live in the middle of nowhere so professional help is not an option that I know of.

I am feeling so much more in control but need help. She is a very intelligent dog and I know she can be well behaved. She loves training sessions and is very focused.
Posted by KOPsRobyn
Dec 21, 2009
Hi there

It does sound like your dog is trying to push for a higher place in the pack. This happens commonly around adolescence as changes in hormones and sudden growth means the dogs will often challenge more dominant dogs for their place in the hierarchy. It is very important that you are are firm with her and make it clear that you are the leader of the pack. You are definitely on the right track with establishing your position as the alpha dog. There are a few other things that you could try to further reinforce to her that her place in the hierarchy is below yours. Some of these include insisting that you walk ahead of her through doorways and when walking on the leash, feeding her after you have finished your own meal, not paying attention to her when she asks for it but only when you want to. If you are playing a game with her, make sure it is you that chooses the toy and when you decide that you have had enough, take the toy away with you so that she realizes that it is you that controls playtime. Well done with all the hard work you have put in already. You are doing the right thing by growling at her when she nips and putting her on her back. She will struggle initially as she sees herself as the alpha dog and therefore being in the submissive position to you, who she sees as a subordinate, is distressing. Dogs higher in the hierarchy will nip ones below them when they misbehave so it is important for this behaviour to stop for her to realize that you are leader of her pack.

If she continues to fight you for the leash, perhaps you could try hanging it up in a place that she can’t reach. When you go to put it on her, tell her to ‘sit-stay’ first. If she gets really excited and starts jumping up, just ignore her, walk away and put the leash back. Don’t take her out until she will sit calmly for you to put the leash on. It won’t take her long to realize she has to sit still to get a walk.

It may be a good idea to try her on a ‘gentle leader’, as this will give you full control without having to fight her. This should not cause any form of neck injury, as it simply puts pressure on the nose, similar to a horse’s halter, to change her direction of movement. It will not restrict her breathing or pinch her neck. This allows you to put her in her kennel or other ‘time-out’ zone when she misbehaves without manhandling her, which she may see as a chance to try exert dominance over you. She is very strong so it’s not advised to get into a pulling match with her, as she will most likely win and then feel like she has one over you! By putting her into a ‘time-out’ zone when she behaves badly, you are yet again reinforcing your alpha dog status as by controlling her movement. This may take some time to sort out, but if you persevere, the rewards will be worth all the hard work!

I hope this helps and all the best with the training!
Posted by crazycrayonmom
Dec 21, 2009
I think the halti is a great tool, when used properly. Any tool used to control a dog's behavior can cause injury. From a simple collar all the way through training collars, prong collars and shock collars. There are injury reports for all of them. I recommend buying a halti (or one of the other no-pull collars), read the directions carefully and follow them. My lab mix Koko was a horrible puller, I never had such trouble training a dog not to pull on the leash. The halti solved my problem. I can see her attitude adjusting every time we go out. It's amazing. I think injuries with these types of collars happen when people use the standard, quick tug, to make a correction. Those tugs aren't necessary, the collar does all the work for you. I also think it's very important to get the dog used to the collar on before you start walking them with it.

I've also used a shock collar in the past and I think they are absolutely horrible. I'll never use one again and, in fact, I threw out the one I bought. I couldn't in good conscience resell or give it to someone else. I just don't like them at all.

Good luck with your training, it takes lots of time but in the end all your hard work will pay off!