Saturday, February 18, 2012

Top Dog Or Untrained Dog???

Not a day goes by that someone does not share with me a story of their dog being 'alpha', 'dominant' or 'top dog'.    Most of the stories make me smile, some make me cringe, but most of all it makes me more aware of how important it is for pet parents to understand dog behavior.

Here are some of the common beliefs people have about their dogs behavior and my attempt to clear up the confusion.  

My dog runs out doors ahead of me, he thinks he is Alpha.
Dogs run out of doors to get outside!!  They are excited, great things are outside, they have fun outside and clearly no one has trained them to 'wait' at doors until released to exit. 

My dog wants to eat human food and begs at the table, he thinks he is Alpha.
This is purely human error, if you feed your dog from the table, your plate, etc, you will establish a habit of begging for food, after all if they beg and you give it to them, then begging works.   Dogs repeat what works :)

My dog wants to sleep on my bed, he thinks he is Alpha
Dogs sleep in our beds because we let them, our beds are warm and comfortable.  Having a dog sleep in your bed is not right or wrong, it's a personal decision.  If your dog is housebroken and safe to be free in your home and you WANT to share your bed with them, then go for it.  If you would prefer they not sleep in your bed, then buy them a dog bed of their own and place it in your room on the floor.  

My dog does not play well with other dogs, he thinks he is Alpha
If your dog does not play well with other dogs, it is most likely due to lack of proper socialization with other dogs during puppy hood.  It's also important to note that not all dogs like playing with every dog they meet and that's alright.  

My dog barks/growls when someone comes to the door, he thinks he is Alpha
This is probably more fear or anxiety of strangers, especially if the dog has a limited socialization history.   **There are cases of  Dominance or Territorial Aggression,  this is rare and often misdiagnosed and should be evaluated and treated by a qualified professional such as a Vet Behaviorist.** 

My dog takes our personal belongings and chews on them, he thinks he is Alpha
This is most likely a bored or unsupervised dog who has access to your personal belongings.  The rule in my house is 'If you place value on something, put it away', especially with a young puppy or untrained dog in the house.  You should also provide your puppy/dog with an assortment of 'legal' chew toys.

My dog guards his toys, he thinks he is Alpha
A dog who guards possessions, food, a location, etc is typically an anxious dog who has not learned to feel comfortable with humans near him when he has a possession.  Resource Guarding is an anxiety driven behavior, not a dog seeking higher status in your home.

My dog does not listen to me, he thinks he is Alpha
A dog can't listen if he has never been taught to speak our language, after all English is a second language for dogs.  If a dog is not listening they most likely have limited or no training.   Training classes are fun and a great way to bond with your puppy or dog.  

My dog does not like to be handled, he thinks he is Alpha
Not all dogs enjoy being handled, it's not right or wrong, it's just an individual preference.  We can help our puppy or dog accept human handling by using positive/gentle techniques.  If you have a 'sensitive' puppy or dog make handling exercises part of your daily training routine.


My dog chases my kids and bites them and knocks them down, he thinks he is Alpha
We need to teach our puppies and dogs how to play with humans.  The humans need to play appropriately with puppies and dogs, no wrestling, teasing, chasing, etc.   It's unfair to whip your puppy into a frenzy and then scold them for playing too rough.  We need to teach them bite inhibition, provide them with daily exercise, refrain from rough handling or punishment and teach them through appropriate play that humans are not chew toys. 

My dog humps people, he thinks he is Alpha
I often refer to this as 'mounting tension'.  When a puppy or dog becomes overly excited they can mount people or other random objects.  This is rarely an attempt to take over the house, just a dog who is too excited and needs to be redirected. 


If you think your dogs behavior is an attempt to gain higher status in your home I would highly recommend reading Dominance In Dogs, Fact or Fiction?  by Barry Eaton. 


The following are articles on the subject of Dominance.

http://www.whole-dog-journal.com/issues/14_12/features/Alpha-Dogs_20416-1.html

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=pEXQsYEaYcI

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