I’m starting Johnny’s story with a little rant on dominance from my soap box.
As a force-free, modern trainer/behaviourist I don’t need to dominate a dog to get compliance.
I won’t say that dominance – being very firm and overpowering – doesn’t work. It can and it does. Sometimes.
In the old days I’m ashamed to say I didn’t know better and that is what I did until I learnt how inefficient it was. I have been there. I know what I’m talking about. Being kind and allowing the dog choices does not mean being permissive. I apply rules also. I don’t use force.
Many people still believe that being what they erroneously think is ‘being the Alpha’ is the right way to train and control their dog. It’s not helped by certain TV trainers who make a lot of money using old-fashioned techniques that look like quick fixes.
Unsuitable for ‘Alphadom’
Few dog owners psychologically would make effective ‘Alphas’ anyway.
A confrontational approach relies upon the human being more determined than the dog, using intimidation (even if only verbal) and keeping it up all the time.
Using force, dominance or aggression, even if not physical, invites defiance from some dogs. Wouldn’t it with people?
Others dogs may just keep their heads down and live a life wondering what weird thing their human may do next.
Most problems I see are because the human, going down the ‘I’m the Alpha’ route, isn’t consistent. Each family member will be doing something different. Sometimes he (or she) weakens. Sometimes the dog gets away with something and sometimes it doesn’t.
For dominance over our dog to work, it means we must never back down. Once we do, the dog may take up the challenge. We have introduced a contest – a staring battle of wills.
What happens now? Neither option is good. We either have to back down or to somehow intensify our control.
What’s more, if the controlling human isn’t present, has the dog learnt self-control? Can the dog be trusted? It’s unlikely.
Being the Big Boss is so difficult and so unnecessary.
Allowing the dog choice, watching his body language, being quiet and gentle, using motivation and rewards works every time.
Dog is happy. We are happy.
Instead of a confrontational relationship with our dog, we now have a cooperative one. It could take a while to build the dog’s trust when we make this change in our approach.
Johnny is a young Springer Spaniel. When the man gets up to move, he growls, barks and may fly at him. He targets the man, never the lady. (I have met almost exactly the same thing again recently with another dog and a man).
The man is inconsistent, sometimes loving, sometimes playful and at other times he uses dominance.
When Johnny’s owner stood up and called him over, I could see that Johnny was conflicted. It’s like he needed to come but at the same time was afraid to do so.
If the gentleman works on his approach, he will find Johnny a lot more willing. It’s not that he’s unkind – he’s just treating his dog in the way he and probably his parents before him have always treated their dogs.
For instance, when calling Johnny he can do so gently not in a ‘command’ voice and turn sideways. Another way is to lower himself. What is the motivation for Johnny to come to him anyway? He doesn’t like hands on top of him so petting isn’t a reward.
My dogs work for some of their daily kibble. ‘Thank you’ for doing something I ask. Why not? It can sometimes be hard converting people over to regularly using food.
Dog body language
I have asked them to try not to impose on Johnny anything he doesn’t like. If they watch him, he will tell them. I don’t believe the dog is being difficult. He’s a lot more sensitive than they had realised.
This is all part of a bigger picture where nearly everything stresses the dog in some way. In this state of mind he needs to control his environment – including the family and their other dog. The more difficult a person is to control – the more dominance they use – the more defiant and sometimes intimidated Johnny is likely to become.
Success will depend upon how the gentleman manages to adapt his own approach. He has nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Motivation v. dominance
They will make more use of things Johnny likes – food and the ball. This means motivating him to do what they want and making him feel better about things he’s worried by.
The man needs a reliable procedure for getting up or moving past him.
He moves to get up. The dog growls and barks. Sometimes he flies at him. Usually this will end in confrontation which clearly doesn’t work.
How would it be if they gave Johnny some warning and then, as they move, they threw him something – food or his ball? They might gently say ‘Stay’ as he does so and throw another reward.
Teach him what the do want instead.
They worry that food will reward the behaviour. It’s not really the behaviour itself we are changing but the emotion that is driving it – his state of mind. Change that, and the behaviour will stop. You can’t punish (or reward) an emotion
The process needs to be followed every single time until the habit is broken and, whenever the man gets up or moves, relaxed behaviour becomes the norm. It could take days or it could take weeks because the relationship as a whole needs fixing. Also, habits are a lot quicker to form than to break.
Understanding Johnny’s emotions and dealing with him sensitively and without force or dominance should bring good results.