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 There is still so much outdated information being peddled about on the internet, TV and social media.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).

Walking the Dogs is Not Fun

German Shepherd Rottie mix

Marley

They are not enjoying their two lovely dogs as they should.

Marley is a three-year-old Rottie German Shepherd cross, a beautiful dog. He’s a little on the nervous side with new people, but particularly uneasy on walks where he is reactive to other dogs (he’s always on lead) and scared of traffic.

Rottie Staffie mix

Bella

Rottie Staffie mix Bella had been a stray whom they adopted a few months ago. Marley hadn’t been castrated and Bella was also entire – so no prizes for guessing what happened next! Nine weeks ago Bella had nine puppies! They have managed to find good homes for all of them which is an achievement.

The two dogs lack sufficient healthy stimulation and seem to be getting more stressed – a gauge of which is the level of play that breaks out between them when things get a bit too much for them. They don’t have things about to chew or to do, so excess energy boils over.

Most particularly the family members aren’t enjoying walking the dogs. This is sad. If the people are finding walking a real drag, the dogs will be picking up on this. A walk should be a joyful occasion for them. Marley even tries to avoid going out with one of the family members on account of her lack of patience – getting cross and using physical restraint and control. It is so understandable because trying to walk with pulling reactive dogs can be incredibly frustrating when you don’t know any other way. It becomes a battle. It was the same for me many years ago, so I understand.

They dare not let Bella off lead in particular as they are sure she would run off. Neither dog pays much attention when asked to come. I am often surprised to hear the tone of voice with which people call their dogs. If someone called me like that, I wouldn’t come either!

I saw that they very seldom rewarded the dogs in any way. We work better for pay and so do dogs – their currency usually being food. It was amazing how fast we taught Bella to sit, to stay sitting and to lie down – using food rewards. She became focussed and motivated.

Trying to stop our dogs doing unwanted behaviours can sometimes be overwhelming. Life is one big ‘no’. It can completely change people’s attitude when they look for alternatives to give the dogs – ‘yes, do this instead’.

They will be working on Marley and Bella coming to them when called with ‘recall games’ around the house until it becomes second nature to them, and then on a long line when out.

With the walking they will be going back to the beginning and starting again, getting rid of the retractable lead and Halti and using comfortable harnesses – preferably where the lead hooks onto the chest. They can teach the dogs to walk near them on a longish loose lead, one at a time. They will walk the dogs individually for several very short sessions a day to start with.

Meanwhile, by pretending another dog appears, they can rehearse what to do so when they see another dog for real they are ready. They have a strategy in place to deal with Marley’s lunging, barking and trying to chase away busses and motorbikes – giving him an alternative behaviour and an escape route.

Most of all, by starting all over again with different equipment and a different technique, using encouragement and rewards and taking things slowly, walks will start to be FUN. If the humans start to find walks enjoyable, then for sure so will the dogs.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have planned for Marley and Bella, which is why I don’t go into exact detail here as to the methods I have suggested. Finding instructions on the internet that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies tailored to your own dog (see my Get Help page).