3.) Dominant dogs

If you are visiting this website because your dog displays some of the typical alpha-dog attitude (regardless of whether it truly belongs in the dominant category or not), you may be already in trouble.

It is a lot more difficult to regain your position as pack leader in your family than it is to establish and maintain it in the first place. Some dogs are naturally born leaders and it is their instinct to advance their position within their pack. If you have a dog that thinks it is the pack leader AND has the ability to physically overpower you I would advise you to get help from a professional dog trainer who is experienced with large breeds. The longer your dog feels as the pack leader, the more difficult (and dangerous) it will be for you to reverse this situation.

If you live in California, you may want to talk to David Deleissegues, who has more than 25 years of experience in this realm. David is the Training Director at the Schutzhund Club where I train with my dog Andy.

To keep in mind when training or playing with dominant dogs: One of the most common mistakes dog owners make is to humanize their dogs instead of treating them in a species-appropriate way. They let their dogs jump onto their bed or couch whenever the dog feels like it, they allow the dog to disobey commands and eventually, they yield when the dog growls at them.

In these situations, it is no wonder that a strong dog thinks he has become the pack leader. In nature, only the pack leader is allowed to do what he wants. This has nothing to do with size or strength – it is all about attitude. My first dog Wolf was a classic case of an alpha-dog and I vividly remember numerous occasions where he wanted to challenge me as his leader. There is only one way to respond in situations like this and that is not to yield   (*see note about this below), and not yielding has nothing to do with violence or punishment! To make this work, we need to understand how dogs perceive their environment. It may not be a big deal for you whether or not your dog gets off the couch when you ask him to, but it certainly is for your dog. In a wolf pack, disobeying the leader would instantly trigger a species-appropriate response. This response can range from a hard, threatening stare at the offender to a physical attack by the leader. When working with dogs, eyes are a powerful tool and staring your “rebellious” dog right into his eyes with a “You have heard me!” attitude can go a long way. The end result needs to be the same and that is the dog yielding to you. Consistency and a firm hand are the essentials for dealing with a dominant dog.

*Note about not yielding if you have a potentially dangerous dog: Don’t try this if your dog has already established itself as the pack leader or you may get bit. While it isn’t difficult to correct your dog’s behavior in the early stages of “rebellion”, it can be outright dangerous if you try this once it is too late. In such event, follow my earlier advice and contact an experienced trainer.

For further reading on this subject, I recommend the Who is in charge here article by Vicki Rodenberg De Gruy [PDF file].

(Note: This post belongs to a series of multiple articles about the fundamentals of positive dog training.
Click here to go to the overview page that allows you to easily navigate to each article in this series.)

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