Experienced dog owners and breeders rarely have dominance-related problems, because they are accustomed to presenting a “benevolent Alpha” image to their animals. This comes naturally to some people, and less so to others. It is easily learned, and not difficult to do. You must, as in all other training forms, be consistent. If you don’t it is confusing for the dog, and he will not learn or progress.
With young puppies, 8 to 12 weeks, mouthing is gently discouraged. Any mouthing is almost always dominance related, whether is is directed at your hands, legs, clothing, or the leash. Sometimes the only discouragement needed if the mouthing is directed at you is a loud “OWWEEE!! THAT HURTS!” Another excellent and non-violent deterrent is a distasteful substance squirted into the mouth. A plastic lemon that comes with lemon juice inside is ideal. Vinegar may also be used. It should be squirted directly into the mouth when the mouthing occurs, while you say “NO BITE.” Ignore the ensuing theatrics. More persistent puppies may need a gentle grasping of the muzzle, a look into the eyes, and a firm “No Bite” in a low, growly tone. Ballistic cases may need more drastic measures such as grasping the skin around the sides of the face with each hand, lifting the front feet off the ground, giving a brisk shake, and a VERY growly “NO BITE!!” with direct eye contact close to the puppy’s face. If possible this puppy should be held with the front feet off the ground until he stops struggling. In some cases, a better response is obtained by gently turning the puppy on his side, with his legs facing away from you. Hold the puppy with one hand on the scruff area, and one hand on the flank or rear area. The puppy should be firmly held in this position until all struggle stops. Once the puppy is quiet, stroke him gently. If he continues to be quiet and still, let him up. If struggling resumes, continue to hold him. After this sort of correction, the pup should be ignored or crated for a brief period, and then allowed to make up. If the mouthing continues, another correction is in order.
Jumping up or pawing should also be discouraged in puppies. The easiest solution to this problem is to train the puppy to sit on command. When jumping is likely, use the sit command, and reward a proper response with quiet praise and a food reward. If the puppy needs further assistance, I find that a gentle but firm grasp of the muzzle, and an easy, slow, push into the sit position while holding the muzzle seems to help. A hand on the chest may help with larger puppies. The puppy must be GENTLY helped into the sit. Never slam or use extreme force to make a puppy sit. You may injure growing bones and tissue. The puppy should be praised, and perhaps offered a treat when he assumes the sit position. If a puppy is persistent, or is leaping instead of just mildly placing his paws on you, he should meet the palm of your hand with his nose as he rises to jump. The hand should be STILL, not swatting at the puppy. His impetus should provide the correction, not the movement of your hand. As he contacts the hand in the way of his nose, you should say “OFF! Sit.” Praise immediately as the puppy sits.
Puppies should learn from the word go that possessiveness over food or toys will not be tolerated. I start with puppies by having 2 of each toy. We play “trade”, either for another toy, or for a cookie. The food bowl is held on occasion, and the dog is hand fed a few bites of food. He should learn that you are not going to take it away, but he is not allowed to be possessive of it. If the pup growls, he should be corrected as for the “ballistic mouther”. I personally press for the puppy to get to a point where he will growl at me, so that I can use this correction. I want to be able to express to the puppy (while he is still a puppy) that growling or challenging THIS Alpha will not be accepted. I have never had to correct a puppy more than once. If you do it correctly, neither will you.
Begging from the table, or staring during mealtime should not be tolerated. I give my dogs direct eye contact, sit as tall in my chair as I can, curl my lips to show my teeth, and growl seriously. Most (almost all) dogs will retreat and lie down. If they do not, they should be crated during your mealtimes until they show more respect for the Alpha (you!).
Positive obedience training can and should start very early. Puppies can begin training as soon as you acquire them. It is NOT necessary, NOR advisable, to wait until 6 months. You should observe at least one training class, preferably a beginners class, WITHOUT YOUR DOG, before you decide on an instructor. Find a trainer who has titled dogs, and who uses positive methods. If they are yanking and jerking dogs around on a slip collar, you are not in the right place.
With dominance problems concerning older dogs, these sort of physical corrections may not be in order, or possible. However, proper pack order can still be restored by a persistent owner.
Regular obedience training is a must, and positive, reward-based methods should be used. Harsh corrections may cause a problem to escalate. Choose your instructor wisely, and avoid anyone advocating harsh or violent corrections.
At home, the dominant dog should be required to do the following:
- Sit before going out or coming in any door. Handler goes first. Ditto for in and out of the crate. No charging out allowed. A well-timed crate door closing will quickly teach the dog not to rush out. You should get to the point where you can open the door, and the dog will wait for you to say “OK” to come out.
- Sit before mealtime, any treats, or any petting. If petting is demanded by the dog, he must at LEAST sit first (down is better), and then you should pet the dog briefly (30 seconds), fold your arms, and say “That’s it”. No more petting for at least 10 minutes after the dog demands to be petted. Games should be initiated and ended by the HANDLER, not the dog. No tug of war, or any other type of game that pits the dog’s strength against you. Retrieving is the only game recommended for large dogs exhibiting dominance problems. The dog must be trained to retrieve the object and release it to you. A retractable lead is very handy to use in this sort of training.
- No stepping over the dog in the house. If he is in the way, he must move.
- The dog should learn to stand still for regular grooming sessions, including toenail cutting. This may need to be done gradually.
- A long down should be taught and enforced each night. The dog should learn to do a 20 minute long down, preferably during your mealtime. No staring or begging allowed. If this cannot be discouraged by direct eye contact from you and growling, the dog should be placed on his down behind a sofa or other piece of furniture so he cannot see you. The down should be enforced by simply returning the dog to his original position each and every time he moves. Neither the stay nor the down command should be repeated. If the dog gets up 100 times, you must put him back 101. No toys, cheweys, or other distractions should be provided to the dog during this long down. The dog should be formally released with an “OK!” afterwards.
- No getting up on the furniture with or without you. Dog should not be allowed in your bedroom at all. Free access to all parts of the house is not allowed. Dog should be denied access to “key areas” like a staircase where he can “survey his domain”, or doorways with a view of larger areas. This is easily accomplished with baby gates. The dog should sleep in a crate away from your sleeping area at night.
- Crates are not recommended for use as punishment, however, in some dogs with dominance problems, a “time-out” area has been successful in shaping better behaviors. This time out area should be away from the main living area of the house, perhaps in a spare bedroom. If the dog is not behaving in the expected manner, and the recommended methods are not helpful, he may be isolated in this room in a crate for a brief (10 minutes) period.The adult dog with dominance problems is a very serious issue. These dogs are often euthanised because of the inability to resolve these undesirable and possibly dangerous behaviors. Humans are not equipped to confront an adult dog on a physical level to resolve these pack-leadership problems. The methods described can help in many situations to return the HUMAN to his/her rightful position as pack leader.If you have a puppy, especially a male, be wise, and don’t ever let him feel that he is the alpha. This is not cruel. Dogs are much more comfortable and happier when they have a strong leader figure to guide them. The pressure is then off of them to make decisions. In my home, a slightly gentler regimen is always followed. Sits before meals or treats are regular procedure. No food or toy guarding is ever demonstrated. No begging is ever done at the dinner table. There is no correction needed. The dogs know what is expected. I even occasionally give the dogs a treat from the table. They know, however, if they beg or stare, no treat will be forthcoming. As mentioned in the beginning, I do not have, nor have I EVER had a dominance problem with any dog I have raised. In the event one of my dogs “forgets” her manners, a direct look from me is all that is needed. Everything runs smoothly, because there is an absolute pack order. Your home can be the same way. Just be the benevolent Alpha!Bibliography (and suggested reading):