Dominance? No! It’s Lack of Confidence.

They were told their dog was being dominant but they don’t see him like that and nor do I.

It’s so common for people to refer to a dog’s lunging, barking and jumping at people or other dogs as dominance. They interpret it as dominance through a lack of knowledge and understanding. There is still so much outdated information being peddled about on the internet, TV and social media.

Education proves it’s not dominance at all. In this case it’s a dog needing to stand up for himself in the only way he knows how against something he feels is a threat. He’s actually being brave. Other dogs feeling the same way may react by hiding.

People approaching him directly.

Albert is a large four-year-old Rottie, Mastiff, Labrador, Staffie mix. Such a gentle and friendly dog generally.

It's not dominance at allOut of the house, he is particularly unhappy when people approach him directly, especially joggers. This is common – take a look at the Pulse Project.

The other day he charged a jogger who appeared around a bend. He was off lead. Having a dog the size of Albert charging at you, barking and with raised hackles, must be daunting whether you’re a person or another dog.

“COME NO CLOSER”!

This isn’t dominance. It’s fear.

In a situation like this, in order to ‘safely control’ their dog people tend to hold him tightly on lead and even try to make him sit. Sitting is a big ask whilst so aroused and feeling trapped as the threat continues to approach.

The dog is doing all he knows to increase distance. The dog himself that should be removed to a comfortable distance instead.

Increasing distance also builds up vital trust in the person holding the lead.

Albert moved from busy town to quiet country area.

From a puppy Albert was extremely well socialised, going everywhere with the young couple. They lived in a busy town and constantly mingled with lots of people and dogs. Then they moved to a quiet area and after a while Albert began to react to approaching people and more recently to other male dogs also.

To make things worse, he was attacked by another dog.

Occasional people or dogs suddenly appearing and approaching directly are much more alarming to many dogs than being in a crowd. It’s the same with us, isn’t it.

My young clients so want enjoyable walks once more with their lovely dog, walks where he doesn’t bark and charge at approaching people or rush other dogs.

Off lead, Albert charges over to other dogs. He ignores all calls to get him back. This is unsurprising as he will ignore being called at home also – something to be worked on.

He doesn’t hurt the dog (and it’s not dominance!). Possibly he’s checking it out. Sometimes, though, the other dog or the owner will be scared. The other dog may be on lead for a reason. He returns when he’s ready.

Albert must be on a lead or a long line for now. No more freelancing. In the old days he seldom needed a lead.

The walk will now start off in a more relaxed fashion. At the moment he is straining to get down the drive, constantly pulling and on high alert. He’s tense and stressed. Nobody is enjoying the walk.

We did some walking near to their house with better equipment and a longer lead. Using my technique Albert was walking like a dream. He even walked out of the gate calmly which is never usually the case. In this calmer and more comfortable state, encountering approaching people will be a lot easier for him.

Has the ‘other dog’ problem been incubating at dog daycare?

Albert goes to daycare each day because the couple work a long day.

A few weeks ago the daycare reported that he was beginning to show dominance towards some of the other dogs – one male Golden Labrador in particular.

They sent a video.

The Labrador was behind a barrier with someone, ignoring Albert. Albert was being held on lead the other side of the barrier, lunging and barking with hackles up at the Labrador. I know it had been set up for the sake of the film, but it was hard to watch it being rehearsed.

This isn’t dominance. This is fear. What’s more, daycare is an active and exciting place. Albert’s stress/excitement levels will for sure be high.

How this has developed is impossible to say, but the behaviour is probably being incubated at daycare. The more it’s rehearsed the worse it becomes.

The only way to deal with it, preferably from the very start, would be to change how Albert feels about the Labrador in carefully monitored situations which would most likely need professional help.

It’s natural to simply try to manage aggressive behaviour through control. Putting a lid on it in this way can only result in the problem festering and getting worse.

The daycare does a good job, and it must be so hard looking after a mixed group of dogs belonging to other people. As well as keeping these two dogs strictly apart, I feel they should keep Albert as calm as they can, cutting short any excited play with other dogs a lot sooner. They can give him more time quietly by himself.

The more aroused he gets the more he can’t control himself. It’s in moods like this that he’s likely to hump a couple of the other dogs. This isn’t dominance either. It’s the over-flowing of stress that has to vent somehow.

Happy walks.

Key to their achieving happy walks is for the couple to be a bit more relevant and fun so that they can can keep his attention. They can engage with him. He should soon be walking near them because he likes being there not because he’s on a tight lead, just as he was out the front with us yesterday.

He should be allowed to wander, sniff and do dog things without the pressure of going a certain distance, of making it from A to B.

This about the journey, not the destination.

On a lead or long line, Albert should no longer have the opportunity to charge dogs or jump up at a jogger. According to the recent changes to the dog law, someone need only feel threatened, with no harm done, in order for both dog and owner to be in trouble.

Both at daycare and out on walks, Albert is using the theory ‘attack is the best form of defence’. It’s because he doesn’t feel safe. It’s our job to help our dog to feel safe and this is easier to do with knowledge and not simply by labelling the behaviour as dominance.

 

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle with maybe a bit of poetic licence. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approaches I have worked out for Albert. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important, particularly where aggression or fear of any kind is involved. Everything depends upon context. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies tailored to your own dog (see my Help page).

Dominant Alpha or Friend and Guardian?

Staffie Boxer mix Digby came out of his shell after a couple of hours. What a character.

This is yet another story that could make me cry. A young couple get themselves a puppy. They don’t do this lightly but ‘read all the books’ and look on the internet.

Digby was only six weeks old when they picked him up and it’s probable his fearfulness is partly genetic. He’s now two years old.

The Alpha myth.

Alpha dominance doesn't work on Digby

How can a new dog owner tell if a trainer who sets himself up as an authority won’t do more harm than good?

So concerned were they by Digby’s increasing fearfulness and barking at people that they had a trainer to their home to ‘teach’ them what to do. When the sensitive dog did something they didn’t like, they were shown to throw metal discs on the ground in front of him.

Digby can become very easily over-aroused and will then redirect quite roughly onto the young man in particular, grabbing his arm with his teeth. The poor young man just doesn’t know how to deal with it.

The trainer’s answer to this was to spray him with ‘bitter’ spray (surely also wiping out Digby’s number one sense, his sense of smell, for a long while).

This trainer, in the name of dominance and teaching an owner to be the Alpha, seems to think it’s okay to push the dog over the edge with over-arousal and then to punish it.

That’s just ridiculous. Why not instead limit the arousal so that this redirection onto someone’s arm isn’t necessary? Why not get to the bottom of why it’s happening and use healthy stimulation and calming activities instead?

Here is another thing – another ignored by Dibgy’s owners. Apparently he shouldn’t be allowed to settle in one place for too long before he’s moved to another room. How can an Alpha wolf be blamed for that?

Old wolf-pack theory dominance methods rely on superstitions and quick fixes that may work in the moment. I have been to countless cases demonstrating conclusively the long-term fallout.

So, after the ‘help’ from this individual, the young couple have felt increasingly unhappy about doing this dominance stuff with their beloved family pet but have known no alternative.

Digby goes out for a walk with his tail between his legs.

He shakes when his collar comes out. Out on the street he is scared of everything. In this state he may react by lunging and barking at a person or dog he sees. The trainer’s advice was to put him on a Gencon and basically force control onto him.

This same trainer had advised them not to shut Digby behind the gate anymore when people came to the house. A couple of days after his visit, Digby bit someone coming into the house.

He was in such a state of panic that he emptied his bowels right where he stood in the room.

Poor Digby. His young owners were beside themselves with distress for him.

Anyway, things are now changing.

For the first time since he was very young, a relaxed Digby was wandering around the sitting room and lying down beside a visitor. He began behind the kitchen gate, barking. We started with him brought into the room on lead and muzzled. As the couple relaxed and the lead was loosened, so did Digby relax. The lead was dropped. The muzzle came off. Then the lead was removed altogether.

Digby fished in my bag. He nuzzled me. I gave him food. He did a naughty dash upstairs (not allowed – he was called down and now rewarded for coming). The beautiful dog was so happy.

The power of positive methods unfolded before our eyes,

Looking ahead, all instruments of harshness will be abandoned in favour of rewards and positive reinforcement. Digby will get a comfortable harness and a longer lead. The restricting Gencon will be ditched.

They will be giving him two kinds of walks, field walks and road walks. He’s much more confident out in the fields and going by car. It’s leaving the house to walk along the road and pavements that scares him so much.

They will pop him in the car and walk him on a long line as often as they can.

Meanwhile they will get him happy just standing outside the gate to begin with. They can use his tail as a gauge! If his tail drops between his legs they will turn back.

How to be an Alpha Male according to wolves

 

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle with maybe a bit of poetic licence. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approaches I have worked out for Duke. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important,particularly where fear or any form of aggression is concerned. Everything depends upon context. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies tailored to your own dog (see my Help page).

‘Alpha-Rolled’ Cockerpoo for Being Scared

Not a very good photo I’m afraid – black dogs are difficult and I wish you could see his lovely face.Eighteen-month-old Cockerpoo Algie is becoming increasingly wary of men he doesn't know

Eighteen-month-old Cockerpoo Algie is becoming increasingly wary of men he doesn’t know – and some that he does. He was a somewhat timid puppy, and when he was about nine months old they moved house. The first indication of problems was when he began to growl at the men working on their new home. As people do, they probably told him ’No’ and ‘’Stop’ and put it down to the upheaval in his life.

The couple used to take Algie to work with them when it looked like he might be alone for more than a couple of hours, and the owner didn’t actually see what happened in the second incident because it was outside the office. Men would be wandering about. This time he actually nipped. Next he bit their gardener, a man he knows, so they called in a trainer.

Following this things have escalated to such an extent that, in addition to biting a couple more men, he now barks and lunges at male callers to the house; his reactive behaviour and barking in general is increasing. The lady is having a baby very soon and Algie needs sorting out.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but if his fear had been addressed in a positive way as soon as it manifested itself, if his body language could have been read before he even did his first growl at a man, it would not have got to this stage. Instead, they got a trainer in who taught them to Alpha roll him.

Oh dear.

After twice pinning down her beloved dog for growling, the young lady felt so bad she couldn’t carry on, and they called me. It just felt so wrong. The man is a quite a well-known trainer in the area, and people tend to do what they are told. Thankfully she could tell she was damaging the relationship she had with Algie. She wanted him to feel safe near her, not threatened by her. This reaction as demonstrated on Algie by the trainer will most certainly have added to his fear of men.  The side effects of punishment can be more difficult to deal with than the original behavior it is meant to cure. Now he is reacting to nearly all men rather than growling at just a few. He even growled at me a couple of times which was unusual. It can only go one way unless approached differently.

Zak George has this to say: Immediately abandon any training advice you’ve heard about being the “Alpha” or being “dominant” over your dog. Any dog trainer advising you who uses these terms is likely basing their approach on 20th century myths that originate from flawed studies on captive wolves. These are the buzz words of past superstitions in dog training when less was understood’.

As much as anything, punishment like pinning down fails to teach the dog what to the next time he is in that same situation. It disempowers him even further. It failed to give the little dog confidence in the one person who should be his protector.

What is Algie’s growl saying? It’s saying ‘I’m feeling scared’. If this was a child, would it be appropriate to harshly say NO, or worse still, throw him onto the floor? No. We would be looking into the basis of his fear, find the triggers and work on desensitisation and counter conditioning – big words for getting Algie accustomed to men from a comfortable distance and associating them with good things.

From the start they have done what they thought was the best for Algie, sending him to doggy daycare which he loves and training him conscientiously. Like so many people they have been the victim of bad, outdated advice, but they will bring him around I’m sure – if they take things slowly.

Not Dominance but Lack of Self-Control

The Labrador is a friendly affectionate dog lacking self control

Blake

The three beautiful dogs gave me a polite greeting when I arrived and it would have been hard to guess there were any problems. Fourteen-year-old Border Collie Dizzy is no trouble at all, Yorkie Waffle, age 4, does more or less what he wants but that causes no problems really – but the one who is challenging is three-year-old Labrador Blake.

Despite training and tricks, Blake lacks self-control. He is becoming increasingly edgy with dogs when out and he pulls on the lead. When all three dogs arrive home and rush into the garden, Blake will persistently hump poor Dizzy (he’s castrated). He does this also after he’s been hosed down after a walk.

These two dogs are no trouble at all

Dizzy and Waffle

However, on the occasions when walks end on lead, the humping seldom happens. They hadn’t recognised the connection (it’s hard when you are living inside a situation to see it objectively). They thought for some reason Blake was being ‘dominant’. Charging back into the garden, off lead and without boundaries, Blake can’t cope with the whole uncontrolled thing so he takes it out on poor Dizzy – who sits down! The end of a walk is the culmination of too much excitement, pulling, freedom and worrying about other dogs, and he has a build-up ready to overflow.

A walk that ends with dogs in a very high state has probably been too stimulating.  It’s certainly not done the job it was meant to do. You know when you have got it right because when the dog comes home he has a long drink and then lies down, satisfied. No humping, charging about or unwinding.

Blake is a lovely, biddable dog. Scolding him for humping only adds to his frustrations. Calling him away with encouragement and praise for disciplining himself along with something else to do to redirect his angst is the right way to go. There are a lot of behaviours he could be offering that are incompatible with humping. Lying on his bed with something special to chew is one of them. Meanwhile, he needs to be de-stressed in every way possible.

As with so many of the dogs I meet, walks need to be completely re-thought. It takes a different mind-set and a load of patience, that’s all. When asked what they do when their dog pulls, people usually say the do things like stopping, turning around, saying Sit or Heel, jerking the lead and so on. I ask “well – you have been doing this for three years, has it worked”? No.

So it’s obvious they need to do something completely different about walking Blake. Walks need to start off in a calm controlled fashion, and they need to end in a calm controlled fashion.

They are surrounded by fields and perfect dog walking countryside, but walks are no longer fun and the lady can’t walk all three together any more which is a shame.

A couple of weeks later I received this message: “I have been doing what you have suggested and the change in Blake has been dramatic. I take him on walks on his own and it is working brilliantly ….. He is really learning. Thank you again. I have also been playing with the dogs individually whilst the other is in the kitchen – no humping! Problem solved! I am really pleased with his performance in such a short time”.