What is dominance? Because dogs live in packs, they need a way to avoid fighting over limited resources such as food, bones, and mates. They establish a pecking order with the most dominant dog as the leader. If there is one bone and two dogs, the more dominant dog usually gets the bone. Each dog is born with a certain amount of dominance in his or her personality. Even in a litter of puppies you can see which are the natural leaders and which are happy just to be a part of the pack. When a naturally dominant dog lives in a human household, he can become very confused. He feels the need to behave as the pack leader, but the humans around him send very mixed signals. He may develop anxiety, aggression, or just be very disruptive and disobedient. Here are some signs that a dog is expressing dominance:
-demands attention by frequently nudging people for petting or bringing them toys.
-purposely “bumps” into people or puts a paw on them
-shows aggression when people approach his food, toys, or bones.
-shows aggression when people wake, startle, or try to move him
-shows aggression when touched over his head or around the neck
-is deliberately slow in obeying commands
-is hyperactive and unresponsive
Establishing yourself as your dog’s leader is the key to easing his confusion and modifying his behavior. Let your dog know he has a full time job. He must be obedient to you in order to earn anything he wants. Avoid situations which tend to bring out your dog’s aggression. Rather than confront him physically, control his environment so that he understands his subordinate role in your household.
DOMINANCE CONTROL PROGRAM
Note: A majority of this program requires your dog to be well trained. If you have any doubts about this, or if your dog does not know these commands, consult a trainer.
Feeding time: Let your dog know that you control his food. Don’t leave a bowl of food available for him whenever he feels like eating. Instead, choose one or two times to feed him each day. Fill the bowl with his kibble and tell him to “sit.” If he sits, put his food down and say, “ok” to allow him to eat. After 20 minutes, remove his food bowl until his next mealtime. If he doesn’t sit, do NOT repeat the command. Say, “Too bad!” and put his food away. He doesn’t get to eat until the next scheduled mealtime. If he misses a meal, don’t feel bad. He knows how to sit and is choosing to not obey your command. Eventually require him to sit and stay while you put his food down. Always require obedience when giving him treats.
Door Etiquette: When walking your dog in or out of your house, insist that he sit and stay while you open the door. Go through the door first while he remains in a stay, then say, “OK” to release him allow him through the door. It may be helpful to keep him in a stay until his attention is focused on you.
Heeling: Do NOT allow your dog to walk ahead of you. Keep him in a heel position. If you’d like him to explore an area, stop and have him sit. Say, “OK” and encourage him to move out of heel position. When you are ready to move on, tell him, “Let’s go!” and pat your leg to continue heeling. Remember that heeling means no sniffing, stopping or searching. His attention should remain focused on you.
Toys and Games: If your dog has a favorite toy, put it away. Let him play with it only when he obeys your commands. If your dog likes to retrieve, have him sit or down before you throw the ball. If he likes tug-o-war, teach him a reliable “drop” command so you can control the game. NEVER allow your dog to win a game of tug-o-war.
Attention: If your dog demands attention from you by nudging, whining, barking, or bringing you toys, either ignore him or give him an obedience command. Teach him that you choose when and how he gets your attention.
Furniture and Beds: Keep him off furniture, beds, and other places where he is in equal or higher position than you. Be consistent!!
Down/Stays and Place: Practice longer and longer down/stays and “place” commands. Make sure you are always monitoring him during these commands. Correct him if he makes a mistake. Practice after he has exercised to reduce the need for corrections. Occasionally reward him with a treat while he remains in position. Remember, he can only move when you release him.
Handle and Groom: Make sure your dominant dog is used to be gently handled. This is not only good for dominance control, but will really come in handy for vet visits and trips to the groomer. Try brushing his belly, and make sure you are able to touch his ears, face, paws and tail without confrontation.
Exercise: A tired dog is a happy dog. This is why exercise is so important. Many times, poor behaviors are just signs of a dog with too much energy. Take your dogs for walks, to the dog park, or for games of fetch. Make sure your dog is getting 1-2 hours of structured exercise a day.
It is also important to remember that exercise is not just physical. Mental stimulation is just as important. Work on training your dog, enroll him in an agility class, or play games of hide and seek. Even changing your walk a bit will help. Just make your dog thinks a bit more.