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Millbrook Agility Dogs
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The Dominant Dog
(Kathrin Tasker)

Dogs are pack animals and when any number of dogs comes together, they will form a pack with a carefully structured hierarchy and a pack leader. This happens in the wild, in a class environment or at home. The order within the hierarchy can change at any time, for instance if a new dog joins the group or a puppy grows up or a dog becomes old or sick. Dogs are happiest when they know their place in the hierarchy even if it is at the bottom of the pack! The pack leader within a pack will have privileges not available to other members of the pack. He will get the best and first pick of a meal, get to sleep in the best place and will be in front of any hunting expedition, leading his pack. Most interactions within a pack are peaceful and done with body language or eye contact.

When a dog comes into our family environment he will need to find his place in the “pack”. Because dogs are such loveable creatures, because they look cute, helpless and are dependent on us they are immediately given privileges. They get cuddles when they ask for them, we take them for a walk when they ask for one, they get fed when they look at the food bowl, some are allowed on the settee, the bed, they follow us around everywhere. Many people put up with behaviour from dogs, they would never tolerate in another human being!

Dogs like people have different personalities and to an extent these can already be analysed in puppies. Most people will have been told not to pick the shy puppy in a litter or not to pick the most dominant one. Whereas an experienced dog owner would probably be able to cope with either personality, an inexperienced owner will soon encounter problems. This also applies to rescue dogs. Many owners feel sorry for the sad previous history a rescue dog has had to suffer and as a result “spoil” the dog straight away.

Dogs have a great knack of training us to perfection in a very short time! · We are sitting on the settee watching television. The dog comes up and brings us a toy. We throw it for him.

· He comes up for a cuddle and looks at us with those big brown eyes. He gets a lovely stroke. He rolls over and we tickle his tummy.
· He goes to the back door and barks. We get up and let him out.
· We sit down again. He scratches at the door, barks and we let him in.
· He goes into the kitchen and whines. We get up and feed him.
· He stands at the front door with his lead in his mouth. We take him for a walk.
· Etc. etc.

Every time we are obeying his every command straight away. In most cases this may never cause a problem. However some dogs will want more and more privileges and if these are not granted or if he is challenged, problems can then result.

A dominant dog is not a bad dog. In fact most people who take part in competitive dog sports will chose a dominant, strong puppy and correctly handled they will make brilliant pets and working dogs.

If problems occur, some very simple rules need to be changed to help the dog adjust in the human pack. A dog that has to be aggressive or challenge all the time is not a settled happy dog. Rule Number One:

You train the dog; the dog does not train you!

So any privileges the dog asks for from now on have to be earned. If he comes up when you are watching television and wants you to throw a ball, he has to do something for you first. Make him lie down, count to three and then let him have the ball. The same if he wants a cuddle, ask him to sit, then stroke him. You do not have to give up any of the things you enjoy doing with your dog, but you do them on your terms. Feed him after you have had your dinner and do not stick religiously to the same time every day. Do not let him follow you everywhere. To go into different rooms is your privilege, shut the door behind you, make him lie down and wait and if he is quiet, go back to him and praise him. If you take him for a walk, make sure you go through the door first; do not let him push ahead of you. You are the pack leader, you go first. Teach him not to pull on the lead, by fitting a gentle leader, or similar head collar and training him to walk next to you. When playing games, do not let him win all the time, teach him to give up a toy by swapping it for another toy or a treat. Do not ever let him mouth or play bite you. Teach him to come to you when called the first time every time.
Give him some work to do, a dominant dog often needs an outlet for his energy, go to obedience or agility classes, teach him tricks and take him for plenty of exercise including swimming. Vary the venues you walk him at, so he does not become too possessive of one place. Make sure you are in charge of the walk, you chose where you go, vary the route, play hide and seek games, suddenly turn and go the other way, call him often and reward him, make him lie down and stay for a few minutes each day in different places.

Have you noticed that with all these changes not once have you raised your voice or used aggression to re-train your dog!

Good Luck!

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