Help with Snarly Dog? Alpha Female? Insecure Aggression?

Discussion in 'Dog Behavior Problems' started by traxxie, May 11, 2008.

  1. traxxie New Member


    I have a rescue dog that is about 7yo, and 50 pounds. She is spayed and looks like an Australian Cattle Dog or a Canaan dog (without the face mask.)

    Her background is that her parents divorced, the wife left, and the husband put her out in a side yard for about two years. No grass, no toys, no shelter. He had a dog, and kept his inside, so she lost her companion dog as well as her Mom.

    I also have a lab mix that is almost a year old. So she is around the pup all the time. I have a backyard, walk them in the neighborhood, take them out to the park, and take them to the dog park.

    She is generally VERY eager to please and loves being loved by people. In fact, if another dog is getting loving, she is quick to horn in. She has learned to play from watching the puppy, or at least mimics his play. She loves to take a toy away from the pup and keep it for herself.

    She has a vicious looking snarly face and performs nasty corrections. I've let her do it with the puppy so as not to interfere with the heirarchy at home. But she's never bitten.

    The dog park was a little more iffy, but she's improved a lot and her behavior now is usually fine. I've taught her to walk away from a dog that she doesn't like, instead of engaging.

    But every once in a while, she is a total Nazi at the dog park. She'll correct or drive off young dogs that try to approach her. Since she's there with another young dog, it can happen alot. She may decide to protect the puppy from playmates and jump in, turning play into a fray. Or she may intervene and steal the toy they are playing with, and then guard it.

    No one gets hurt, but it looks and sounds like she is on the verge of a fight to the death. I'll call her over to me and have her sit out of the action. Or, if she repeats the behavior, I'll leash her and keep her at my side or take her out to the car.

    People have suggested to me that she is an alpha female. She does sometimes want to hump other dogs, if she see's the puppy try it, she'll jump in. I think she has insecurity issues from her previous situation. And I don't know what the trigger is on her 'bad' days.

    I'd appreciate any tips on managing her, managing the trigger, and knowing if I've assessed her correctly. Is it alpha? Is it insecurity? I saw on another thread about the "Click to Calm" book. I'm going to read that -- she is very food motivated. Any other resources?

    Thanks so much. :msniwonder:

  2. drivingtenacity New Member

    Off topic, I know, but it really angers me to hear of people abandoning and neglecting dogs.
    Good on you for saving her, and good luck with her 'issues'.
  3. josiebell New Member

    I'm going through something similar with my male dog. I've been told to muzzel him when I'm around other dogs.

    I'm loathed to do it but I know its to give me more confidence to control the situation.

    I empathise with you in your situation. I truely would love to have a dog that is dog friendly but alas I don't think Duke will ever be that. But I'm going to try to alter his behaviour.

    BTW he is also a rescue but is now only just over a year or there abouts. We don't have any information about his backgroud except to say that when we got him he was literally skin and bone.

    He is also a people lover and would not harm anyone.

    I hope you find a way forward.

  4. kiaradiva Well-Known Member

    ACD - typical behavior

    Traxxie -

    I also have a female Australian Cattle Dog. What you describe is very typical of ACD behavior. They are very protective dogs and will often correct any dog that comes near me. She will also bark at strangers that come towards us. She has snapped at dogs 5 times her size. She has no fear. And most ACDs don't. But she has never hurt another animal. She goes to doggy daycare twice a week and she is known as the "deputy" there because she keeps everyone in line. If the little dogs are getting picked on by the bigger dogs, she corrects the bigger dogs. If someone is getting out of control, she corrects them. However, it isn't quite the same as when I'm around. When I pick her up, she gets very upset if any of the dogs she was JUST playing with try to greet me.

    And, my parents have 2 other ACDs (Kiara's siblings) and 3 ACD/Pit Bull mixes and they all show similar behavior. They can all be protective and snappy.

    So, I would take it as a compliment that she is acting like this. It means that she has bonded to you and wants to protect you and the puppy. But, I also know that other people get nervous when a dog is snapping at their dog. I find that the "Leave it" and "Come" command work really well to minimize confrontations.
  5. mysomerdai Well-Known Member

    I can't give you an exact diagnosis without seeing your dog in person, but it seems that you are missing some some obvious signs of dominance. You are seeing your parents' dogs exhibiting the same behavior most likely because they are all powerful, naturally dominant breeds (not bad, just having the natural instincts to control the situation using dominance and force). Seeking affection by pushing you hand or pushing between you and the other dog puts her in a higher rank. And of course there is the humping. So does taking toys away from the other dog. And I'll bet if your second dog tries to get into her food bowl while eating, or while she is chewing on a bone, she growls and snaps (just a guess).

    Until the problem is sorted, I do not recommend letting her into the dog park. There are way too may triggers there, and it seems that you may not be very adept at spotting body signals (please note--I'm not putting you down, just stating an observation that is important). Please contact a local trainer for more assistance.

    I'm not going to be completely popular by saying the following, but I want to share my personal experiences with working with aggressive dogs. I am often called in to evaluate aggressive dogs in regards to rehabilitation, particularly German Shepherds, and Pit Bulls (I work with GSD rescue groups and the local shelters are FULL of abandoned Pits). Some dogs can be rehabilitated using the "Nothing in Life is Free" method, obedience work, and using basic behavioral modification. HOWEVER, there are many dogs that this just isn't enough. Dogs in a pack don't deal with a dominant and insubordinate dog by giving it a treat. Those dogs are given the option to fall into line or face the consequences. Interestingly enough, most dogs and wild canids rarely have to fight, because they use pack leadership skills on a daily basis as a way of being and the rest of the pack respects the leader without question. The alpha canines don't usually get to be at the top because they fought everyone else (the pack would gang up on the leader and chase him away if that happened), and he didn't get that way by passing out gold stars and cookies. He earned it based mostly on pure attitude and the occasional correction to reinforce his point.

    If after you work with a trainer and you are still having problems, consider that another owner with more experience and pack leadership skills might be a better placement for your dog. Sometimes this is the hardest decision, as a loving owner it is your job to make sure that every dog in your household can live its life to the fullest without stress.

    I hope that you are able to sort out your problems before there is an accident!!
  6. Sara Pourdana New Member

    Hi I just adopted a German Shepherd as you can see by my picture she is no more then 2 and no younger then 1 from all I know, she follows me everywhere and is great off leash when we are alone, but today my friend brought his lab over for a swim with my dog, she started to bite on his neck and try to mount him, he didnt care but she also tried to attack some other dog when they were together she is not neutred and I was wondering if that is the issue, and she also pees like a boy dog, a lady said it is because she is a alpha female.
  7. jackienmutts Honored Member

    Goodness, lots going on in this thread. To first address traxxie - welcome to DTA. It's so nice of you to take in your girl, she's had a less than ideal past, hasn't she? She does sound like she's displaying fairly common ACD traits. They have been bred to deal with cattle - they're tenacious, they're focused, they're high-energy, and they do give those small bites -- nip nip nip nip (keep those cattle moving). I agree with mysomerdai above, I don't think the dog park is the place for her. First, if she's possessive of toys (there shouldn't be toys in a dog park for that very reason, but...), her decision to "own" someone else's toy is enough to possibly cause a fight (with the wrong dog) some day. Her "guarding" of the puppy can also trigger a fight. The fact that she "corrects" or "drives off" other dogs who try to approach - it's just not nice behavior. She's obviously not comfortable at the park. It's also possible she's throwing off all kinds of signals announcing that, but you're maybe not seeing them. When people take their dogs to the park, they should be able to look forward to their dogs having a good time, they shouldn't have to worry about their dog being assaulted by the "dog Nazi" (as you put it). No unsuspecting dog deserves that. You indicate it sometimes sounds like a fight to the death (altho no one gets hurt). YET. Don't wait til someone does get hurt. You call her over, and if need be, leash her. A leashed dog in a dog park will intensify any kind of arousal the dog feels. It's aroused, it's now trapped - other dogs may approach, it can't respond the way it wants to, arousal intensifies even more ... wait til I'm free, ohhhh, I'm gonna get you one of these day.... Please, no more leashing in the park, and for this dog, she just doesn't sound like a dog park dog, to me.

    She shouldn't be allowed to perform "corrections" at will on the puppy at home "so as not to interfere with the heirarchy". Rank among dogs is fluid - she's pushy, and needs to learn some basic manners. I also would suggest you seek the assistance of a good *positive-based* trainer. He/she can observe her behavior <in your home> and give you good suggestions on how to change things. I do think a good place to begin would be the NILF as suggested above (Nothing In Life is Free). You want something, you work for it -- much like our life is. You want pets, you'll wait until I say you MAY have them (and that means, perhaps you give the command WAIT while you pet your puppy, then her reward is she gets petted). You want dinner, you SIT first. You want a cookie, you do a Down/Stay first. You want to go on a walk, you'll do a Sit/Stay. She gets NOTHING she wants without working for it. Even something as small as a Sit - but it's something. No grabbing, no taking toys away, no more horning in for pets, etc. Truly, tho - please find a trainer who can observe and help you. It would be best for your whole situation. You owe it to your puppy, if nothing else.
  8. jackienmutts Honored Member

    First, I'll just say ... beautiful girl, thanks for adopting her!! Both of mine are rescues, too. No way to know exactly what was going on from your description, but I do have a couple questions. First, how long have you had her? Do you know for sure she's good with other dogs? You say she tried to bite on his neck -- was she aggressive? Did you have to pull her off? When she tried to attack some other dog, did you have to pull her off that dog? Lots of unanswered things here.

    IF you had to pull your dog off these dogs, I'd say she does NOT enjoy the company of other dogs, and would suggest planning activities she could enjoy with you and other people, but no other dogs. If she bit the Lab's neck briefly, almost in a playful or "playfully agressive" (for lack of another way to put it) way, and he really didn't care, and just went on swimming and playing, and everything else was fine, then I wouldn't think much about it. The attack on the second dog, tho - "attacked" how? As for peeing like a boy - I assume you mean lifting one of her back legs a bit?

    She could have a strong alpha female personality. I will say this tho - strong alpha's seem to accomplish a lot more by glances and stares, than by attacking other dogs. That seems more like a bully (if it was indeed an attack), aggression, or fear-aggression. What it was, I don't know - not enough details. Getting her spayed would be a good idea. I have a very strong alpha female. She had one puppy left from her litter when the rescue org got her (her owner turned her in to the pound). She was spayed when I got her. She has fear-aggression, but once she finally has met (over a loooong period of time) another dog, she can play with them, etc. There have been occasions when, during play, a male dog will attempt to mount her - OMG, she'll almost rip their faces off!! She turns into a whole different dog - from playful and fun one second, to a maniac .. one step closer and you'll lose something precious to you!! I've never seen a male dog do anything except back off. She doesn't just go pick fights for the fun of it tho, she only gives a warning growl/snarl/bark - and then it's over. Your girl is still young and just really coming into maturity, being somewhere between 1 and 2. She's like an older teenager (sort of).
  9. mewzard Experienced Member

    Jackie - i love reading your posts...:D
    Oka plays in that manner - neck biting...She is not dominant BUT she is very dog confident. I (possibly wrongly) assume an "attack" as a sudden bite to another object and the lack of attention to the other objects cue's e.g. not heeding yelps/pain signals.... the intent to cause harm.
    Oka and my nieghbours lab play rough; shoulder barging, bashing each other, neck bites, 'pinning' each other - there is no aggression in this...but i think many people would think it's a "dog fight" if they saw it in the park.
    Sara, i would suggest that you look up 'dog body signals' to help you determine how your dog is feeling...maybe this will help you see if its aggression or just boisteroius play. Good video of Shepherds playing:
  10. jackienmutts Honored Member

    Thanks Mewzard!

    Really good video you posted - good example of good dog play - lots of stops/starts, shake off, running and waiting, etc. Different breeds play differently, and someone not familiar with how sheppies play may indeed think "attack" while it may be normal, it's just hard to tell from a very brief description. My girl also plays rough, does lots of fast neck bites, shoulder and hock nipping, body slams (geez, she's starting to sound like a wrestler), etc - and she's loud, lots of barking when she plays and her eyes get wild. :LOL: She's funny, any doubt whether or not she's playing, look at her wild eyes - if they're crazy/funny, she's all play.

    In a dog "attack" vs play, the dog will neck bite, but in an attack, the dog will not let up. It may pin, but again it won't stop. In play, it will stop/start/stop/start - lots of really fast stops and starts, as seen in the video, and any good videos on dog play. Dogs have very clear 'rules' about play. You'll often see dogs do 'shake-offs' when they play, and when a dog shakes-off, the other dog(s) will always allow it time to do so, without jumping on it, etc. In an attack, that may not be the case. First, you probably wouldn't see a shake-off, and second, there are not rules. Play often stops for a few seconds - again, like in the video, you see the dogs run along side each other for a few seconds, some will go sniff stuff, then they chase, then the "attacking" game and biting starts again - all in good fun. Usually if a yelp happens (uh-oh, someone got too rough!!), a shake-off follows, play stops for a few seconds (basically, a time-out, a few seconds of recovery), then play resumes. If only we people were so resilient!
  11. mewzard Experienced Member

    Sounds like Oka and yours would get along great! Oka jumps at the shoulders to knock the other dogs over. She's never made another dog yelp that i'm aware of. I'm told that not all dogs play quite so boisterious as the Shepherds. I can tell where the NI part of her comes in....she doesn't bark much at all. Oka gets 'crazy-eyed' too when playing.
  12. running_dog Honored Member

    I love the video of german shepherds playing and all the descriptions of how some dogs play rough. Lurchers can play like this only more so! If you haven't had a rough dog before this can be quite unnerving and you ALWAYS have to make sure other dogs and owners can cope! It is not worth trying to explain that your dog isn't aggressive to some owners, make sure they understand what is going to happen before the play accelerates. Zac is/was best friends with the 3 other dogs in these pictures.

    reveuse and mewzard like this.
  13. Sara Pourdana New Member

    Well she bit his neck to try to get him from stop moving and actually started to hump him, and she kept doing it till she could get a chance for him to stop diving into the river,but she wasnt like growling or anything, just wagging her tail and trying to jump on him, but then when another dog came she tried to bite her, the dog right away went into a submissive postition and my dog backed off, and I had her for just a few weeks, and she is good with some just not small dogs, so I wont be taking my chance by going to a dog park, I might get her a mouth guard and slowly introduce her to more dogs, and then get her fixed aswell, and she actually like marks her terroritory like a male dog, lifts legs to trees and everything, sniffs other areas and constantly marks areas.
  14. mewzard Experienced Member

    love the pics running_dog
  15. Lexy88 Well-Known Member

    Lol Blade is a steam roller at play as well. Shoulder barging, pinning, etc. He plays rough with my Mums younger Lab who is probably only a third of his weight but she gives as good as she gets!! We very rarely come across other dogs big enough or confident enough to play with Blade :( Ive put the word out at my obedience club etc for any one wanting play dates but Blade is still the biggest there [with over 100 regular members].
    mewzard likes this.
  16. reveuse Well-Known Member

    Ro would seriously enjoy a playtime with Blade. He considers larger dogs to simply be extra on the fun quotient as well as in weight I guess. His girlfriend is a 65+ lb lab and some of his best friends are much larger than that. Not to mention he keeps trying to eat the 9 month old pitt puppy downstairs who is built like a tank (not his smartest move tho the pitt is super submissive to him).
  17. mockingbird New Member

    I'm in the same situation, I have an alpha female also rescued. We don't have that much information about her background just that she spent alot of time in a dog crate while her owner worked. She is aggressive to other dogs on & off the lead. We can't seem to put it down to a certain dog or gender so we had to get a trainer to try & help.
    As well as the aggression she was a puller on the lead so we had to address that as well. He was a great help with the pulling but we don't seem to have been that successful with the aggression.
    He tried something called 'conditioning' which is to teach her to react to a loud noise created by stones in a tin, when thrown on the floor is meant to shock her into instantly stopping her bad behaviour. It seems to work for certain things but as for getting her to focus on us instead of other dogs is proving to be hard work.
    I'm sorry I can't answer the alpha or insecurity question, I'm not sure myself.
  18. running_dog Honored Member

    To be honest I don't like the idea of "bad behaviour", it isn't bad of the dog it is just dog behaviour :).

    Rattling stones in a can does not give the dog any incentive to relate to you rather than attack the other dog. Really if you need to shock the dog like that you are too close, the dog is probably not able to refocus. It takes a lot of time and positive reinforcement to make a dog realise you still exist let alone focus on you while there are these kinds of distractions.

    While you are training a dog to focus on you and leave something alone you should be just outside of their reaction zone doing something else (even if it is just your dog sitting quietly eating treats) with the distraction going on in the distance, then gradually you can make "in the distance" a little closer.
    jackienmutts and tigerlily46514 like this.

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