Leader/Follower pt. 2


New Member
I use this alot of times for really bad cases of leadership confusion..thought some of you would like to read it for yourselves..
Who’s the boss? Teaching Dogs who’s the Leader, solving the confusion.
©Debbie McKean All Rights Reserved
Before beginning any kind of behavior modification program take your dog to a veterinarian for a complete physical examination. To treat any kind of behavior problem without first ruling out a physical cause is grossly unfair to the dog. Take a printed copy of this page with you and ask your vet if this technique would be appropriate for you and your dog. Canine aggression is something that must not be treated without an in-person, professional evaluation. This technique is designed for dogs that are in good physical health and of sound mind and stable temperament. It is intended, specifically, for dogs that are behaving aggressively only because of confusion about their status and role in the family (pack). This technique is not intended to be used in place of an evaluation by a canine professional.

If your dog's aggression toward you is a new behavior it is mandatory that you have him examined by a veterinarian before beginning this treatment. Everything from thyroid dysfunction to an abscessed tooth can cause aggressive behavior. Even if the dog isn't displaying new behavior if he hasn't had a complete physical exam in the last six months, do it.

If your dog is an unaltered male any treatment for aggression is going to be an uphill battle. Neutering will not solve the entire problem, but not neutering makes no sense. If 90 percent of his problem is hormone overload, neutering will solve a lot of the problem. If it's only 20 percent of the problem, that's how much improvement you'll see from surgery alone. If he's behaving aggressively and you've planned on breeding him give some serious thought to whether or not this is a fleeting behavior issue. Perhaps those genes should not be passed on. Spaying of bitches does not usually affect behavior unless the aggressive displays only occur during a heat cycle.

Aggressive *display* (growling, teeth baring, etc.) is one of the many tools a dominant canine has at his disposal if he needs to control the behavior of a subordinate canine. The top ranked dog and the lowest ranked dog are the two that rarely engage in aggressive *action* (bites). One rules the pack, the other defers to the whole pack. It's the middle ranked dogs, the "beta" dogs, that will use aggression to further their ranking.
Dominance confusion is created when a dog is totally confused about his place in the pack and uses aggression (bites), or aggressive displays (growling, teeth baring), to answer the question "Who's in charge around here anyway?". In a canine only pack there are clear lines drawn in the sand. The alpha gets control of the resources, directs the hunt, breeds and makes any decisions affecting the group that need to be made. The rest of the pack voluntarily follows his lead. The caricature of a snarling, nasty, dominant alpha dog is not a correct one. The alpha male, for example, tolerates nearly everything the alpha female throws at him without objection. However, their roles and their relationship are clearly defined. She follows his lead when issues affecting the group are decided. The image of an alpha wolf throwing a subordinate onto his back and threatening him with his life is not something based in reality. In a pack situation everyone knows their place and the sub-dominant members of the group voluntarily roll over if they are being chewed out by any higher ranked individual. If you've ever seen aggressive displays of this type they look and sound very nasty, but when it's all over no one is injured or bleeding. Exceptions to "no harm done" aggressive displays are when two dogs (males or females) are fighting over breeding rights, or when a younger and stronger dog challenges the older, weaker or ill alpha. Another exception, and the one that is relevant to this discussion, involves an alpha that is not necessarily ill or elderly, but is ineffective or lacking in leadership qualities. In a canine pack situation there would be no dominance confusion because the ineffective leader would be demoted and remain with the pack, would leave the pack or would be killed. There would not be a continual struggle for that top spot on the pack ladder. If your pet dog is given the rights and privileges of a leader and then corrected for not coming when called the leadership in your "pack" is constantly changing. There is confusion.
Dogs live in social groups with well defined rules and well defined hierarchies. However, it's not all set in stone. Within those parameters there is a lot of room for individual preferences. A subordinate dog, for example, may protect his food from a higher ranking one. One of the less flexible rules is that in order for a pack to be a pack there has to be a leader, a top dog. Your dog is getting messages from you that say you want him to be the leader. That's not the message you intend to send, but it's the one he's getting. One of the reasons this is so stressful for him is that he knows he's not alpha material. He might be shy or timid, he might be a bully, but he knows he's not equipped for that top spot. The domestication of canines has resulted in dogs that are perpetual juveniles. Our pet dogs don't reach the level of maturity that wild canids do. Vocalizing is one of the hallmarks of this theory. Juvenile wolves yip and bark when excited or whine to call for an adult if they are lost or in trouble. Another indicator of the difference between adult wolves and domestic dogs is the relative ease in which we can get our pets to see us as their "alpha" figure. It's a much more difficult task to convince an adult wolf, or other wild canine, that you are in charge.

The only thing more stressful for your dog than being the alpha is being in a pack that has no alpha, so he reluctantly takes the job. So, now you have a dog who's trying hard to be a good leader, but really wants you to be the leader, and he's getting mixed messages. If you tell him "no" or "sit" or insist that he comes when called you are telling him that you are in charge. If you let him sleep in your bed even after he's growled or snapped at you or give him attention on his terms you are telling him that you're happiest when he's in charge. The fluctuation of the pack leadership can get him to a point where he will bite just to get the issue settled once and for all. But, that's not working either, there is still no stability, so the risk is that he will escalate the aggression. To make matters worse, when he uses aggression, or aggressive displays (which is appropriate alpha behavior) you answer with aggression and things just get worse from there.

The irony here is that a truly dominant dog, real alpha material, is rarely aggressive toward his owner. There's just no need. He knows he rules, you know he rules, there is no confusion. He's tolerant and often loving towards his owners, if somewhat aloof. He comes when he's called if he's in the mood, if he's not he simply stands there as if he didn't hear you. He only engages in aggressive displays if the owner gets way out of line. He might growl if you step over him while he's resting or try to move him off of his bed, but he picks his fights carefully and doesn't get upset at every little owner transgression. If your dog ignores you following some sort of conflict or confrontation it's not because he's mad at you, he's using the social isolation technique to remind you of your place in the pack! Did you think I thought this up all by myself? Nope. The dogs showed me how it's done.

I often hear from people that are not experiencing any real behavior problems with their dog, but they want an explanation for a very common phenomenon that I call "King of the Castle Syndrome". The call almost always comes from the woman of the house. Jane wanted a dog and John didn't. They agreed that Jane would get the dog and it would be her dog. Jane gets the dog and she's very happy! She dotes on him, she feeds him, bathes him and brushes him every day. She provides him with everything a dog could ever want -- except leadership. John ignores the dog most of the time, but is not unfriendly to him. When the dog approaches John while he's reading the newspaper John looks at him, then goes back to reading. When the dog approaches Jane she stops what she's doing and plays with him. What has prompted the phone call is that Jane is feeling rejected by the dog. When John comes home from work the dog acts like he's greeting his long lost, beloved grandmother. John gives the dog a pat on the head and a "Hi there dog" and goes about his business. Jane is upset because the dog is never that happy to see her and she always lavishes attention on him when she gets home! During the evening the dog will lay quietly and happily at John's feet. When he wants attention he goes to Jane and bugs her until she gives him what he wants. What has happened, over time, is that John has begun to enjoy having a dog. When John is so inclined, he calls the dog over for petting or ball throwing or to take him for a walk. As much as the dog seems to love Jane, he is completely devoted to John. John has the attitude of an alpha. That's all it takes, attitude. It doesn't take aggression, it doesn't take rolling a dog onto it's back and growling, it doesn't take hitting or yelling -- just attitude.