Establishing alpha status with your dog: two questions

First question:
In many threads on the SDMB which have touched upon the status of dogs in the family “pack”, several Dopers have stated that they establish alpha status with regard to their dogs by making their higher rank very clear. An example often cited is that the owner always walks first through a door, into a room etc. to indicate their leadership.

Now, when we got Bea the Wonder Schnauzer, the breeder and I had some talks with regards to training. She said that the way to establish status is give clear orders and make the dog wait for your command. This is what I have been doing for the past six years now. For example, when we come back from a walk, I make Bea sit and wait in front of the door before I tell her “You can go”. (Likewise, when I put food down for her, I make her wait for my command to be allowed to eat.) It’s seemed to work out pretty well.

These two seem to be just different methods of driving home the same point: I have a status higher than my dog’s. But is one method more “natural” to her than another? Have I been teaching Bea the wrong things these years? Should I have been going through doors first? I’m hoping to have another dog some day, since Bea lives with my parents now that I’ve moved out. I want to make sure that I train her right when the time comes.

Second question:
Bea is now six years old. She responds very well to my commands, as well as those of my mother and father. However, I have four little brothers whom she doesn’t obey as well. When they are out walking, she will pull on the leash constantly. If they tell her to sit, she will obey part of the time, but not always. Part of the problem is that each of my brothers has a different way of giving her commands like “Don’t pull” or “Sit”, despite the fact that we’ve often discussed the importance of consistent command words. Another part, I think, is that Bea somehow doesn’t see them as valid to give her orders, even though we’ve tried to teach her from the very beginning that all members of the family are superior to her (i.e. she can’t take cookies from brother’s hand; she should behave well on a leash no matter who is on the other end etc.). She doesn’t snarl, bare teeth, snap or otherwise challenge my brothers; she just doesn’t respond to their commands very well.

How can I teach my brothers that consistency is key in this sort of thing? And how can I make it clear to Bea that she is expected to respond to commands from any family member, not just me, Mom or Dad? Right now the situation isn’t that bad, because she is rather small for a Schnauzer and three of my brothers are large enough to control her and not get dragged along behind her. (The youngest brother does not yet have walking duties.) However, as many Schnauzers, her character is getting sharper as she grows older, and I’m afraid that at some point, the stubborness will become a major problem.

You need “dog whisperer” Cesar Millan. He’s got a show on Animal Planet that rocks. It’s on at about noon here, if you go looking for it.

Here’s what I think Cesar would say:

Question 1: You haven’t been teaching her the wrong things. There are many different ways to establish that you are the alpha dog, and it seems that your little Bea clearly knows who the boss is, or you’d be asking questions like, “How do I get her to stop pulling the leash when we walk?” or, “She growls when I try to take one of her toys out of her mouth. What do I do?”

Question 2: She doesn’t listen to them as well as she does to you, because she doesn’t see them as the boss. And you hit the nail on the head: the problem isn’t with Bea or her stubborness, it’s with the way your brothers act with her. They need to be taught the proper way to handle her so that she always knows they are the boss. There are gobs of techniques you can use. Consistency, as you said, is key. One is to walk Bea the way you described in question one. They make her wait before she goes outside; they don’t let her walk ahead of them and always keep her in a heel, etc. When playing in the yard, have your siblings lay her down, literally sort of rolling her over in a slightly playful way (not pushing her down, but guiding her down) until all four paws are off the ground. It’s a way to make her submit and acknowledge the alpha. Begging is also a big no-no, as this would never be allowed by the leaders of a real dog pack.

IANA expert, but I love dogs and have had them most of my life. Perhaps you can find more detailed (and verified!) info on that website or on his show.

Hi auRa,

I misled you when I said Cesar Millan is on Animal Planet. He’s actually on the National Geographic Channel.

My bad.

Marge - I’m not 100% certain you’re correct about begging, but the rest of your advice is spot-on.

(IIRC, begging behavior in the form of puppy-like licking of the muzzle occurs in adult wolves, from subordinate to alpha, and is occasionally rewarded exactly in the way a puppy would be.)