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 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 one is the correct one. The alpha male, for example, tolerates nearly everything the alpha female throws at him without objection. However, their role
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 it 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 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 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!
YOUR NEW ATTITUDE
To develop your new attitude you're going to have to think like a dog! When your dog comes to you for attention think of it as his way of saying "I'm still in charge, right? I want you to confirm that for me".
Now, think of all of this from his viewpoint. Way down in his little brain he's thinking "geez... I hate this ... all I want to be is the adored house pet, can't one of you take over?" Compare this attitude to a 13 year old child who says "Get out of my life, I can make all my own decisions, stop telling me what to do". The kid really does feel that way, he's not making it up. Imagine what would happen if you said to the kid "Here ya go honey, here's the address where you send the mortgage payment and here are the utility bills and you do know how to do your own grocery shopping, right?? I'll be in my room, you're on your own!" As sincere as the kid is about wanting to be in charge, he knows he's not equipped to handle all of that. He needs an adult to be in charge of most things; he needs guidance and leadership.
One of the differences between dogs and children is that dogs don't grow up and move away and start their own packs. They are our responsibility forever. We have to be their leaders forever. You need to get your dog's attention and do it quickly and let him know that he's no longer in charge. This will free him of the responsibilities he now feels as pack leader and make him more relaxed and happier and much easier to get along with. He is pleading with you to take charge. His behavior is a way to push you and push you and push you some more and make you take the leadership position.
Here are some practical suggestions on dog care that will help reinforce your alpha position. Most of these are things all Pet Parents should do anyway.
Dogs should understand that they depend on you, the leader. No free-feeding. Feed once or twice a day and take the food away after 10-15 minutes. It should be very clear that you are the food-giver.
"Nothing in life is free." Treats must be earned. Require at least a sit or a simple trick every time your dog receives a treat.
Leaders eat first. Sit down, eat your breakfast or dinner, and only then give dog its food. Leaders go first. When going through a door, gate, or other opening, you go first. Have the dog do a sit-wait or down-wait. If the dog doesn't know wait/stay yet, block the entrance with your body to keep the dog from rushing past you.
Leaders control where and when. When you send the dog out and you're not going, have the dog sit and wait; then let the dog go when you say. Don't open the door until he's sitting properly.
Leaders control territory. Is the dog lying in the middle of the hallway and you have to step around him? Is he sitting in your favorite chair and you sit elsewhere instead? Make him move. It's YOUR territory. Nudge dog in hall with your foot (no kicking!) so he moves. Lead him off the chair, then sit there. And, if the dog is really alpha, work on going out of your way to make him move from where he is. Remember to keep it non-confrontational, especially when you are still establishing your pack position. If he starts arguing, save this method for later.
Leaders mean what they say. Avoid giving a command you can't enforce. When you give a command, enforce it. "Sit!" (low firm tone, no begging, squeaking, yelling). Issue no further commands if the dog doesn't obey. Instead, use proper training techniques (e.g., scoop the butt under) to help the dog with the desired behavior — then praise liberally.
Leaders are winners. Don't play any game you can't win. Tug-of-war seems like great fun but every time the dog gets the rope, he is thinking, "I win! I am in charge!" Don't play that game with any dog. Don't rough-house a pushy dog. If you do play games with toys, make sure you, not the dog, determine when the game is over. End the game before the dog is tired of it. Put the toy out of reach then, don't leave it with the dog or on the floor.
If your dog loves to fetch, make your dog bring the ball to the leader, not three ft away so you have to step forward. The dog has to bring the toy to your feet, or to your hand, promptly drop it and back away or drop in your hand when you request it. No bring, no play.
Leaders also end affection. Give your dog lots of love and attention but be attuned to the pushy dog who demands it constantly. It might be an alpha move. If a pushy dog keeps asking for something, time after time (play ball or keep petting me), refuse. Place the toy out of reach and ignore requests. The same goes for pets who demand constant petting. Ignore the requests. For pushy dogs, no sleeping on your bed. That makes him consider himself an equal, not a subordinate.
NEUTER! All those rushing hormones don't help at all.
Place your hand lightly over the dog's muzzle. Don't grab, just hold for a few seconds. Leaders have access to subordinate dogs' bellies. The belly is vulnerable and making it available to you is an act of submission. Do belly rubs, with the dog belly up. Straddle your dog while grooming, petting. Do lots of grooming/massage. Regular grooming/ massage is good.
Lots of touching is very good. When you first begin this, watch the dog very carefully. Some dogs are sensitive about being touched in certain areas. Proceed very, very gradually — it commonly takes much longer than you would expect. It often takes many months and at times you'll seem to make negative progress. But be patient; this is very common. Pushing an edgy dog past its comfort level is a way to get bitten if you're dealing with an assertive, or a particularly shy dog. Contact an experienced dog trainer if you are uncertain or uncomfortable in dealing with your dogs behavior.
Gradually work over all of the dog's body parts so he's used to everything being touched. You should be able to handle feet, ears, toenails, balls, and stick your fingers in mouth and ears. All dogs should not object to any body part being touched. Visiting kids wouldn't know not to touch those toes — so you want the dog thoroughly desensitized. This is especially important for a puppy. It's sometimes tough with an older dog that already has a particular sensitive spot he's sensitive about. Work on it a bit at a time.
Down is a subordinate position. Do long down stays every day, but make sure you can always keep your eye on your dog. Enforce rigorously: No breaking that stay!
Dogs understand body language. Alpha dogs stand erect, with ears, head, and tails up. They do not wag their tails. They stare directly into another dog's eyes. They place their paws on a subordinate dog's shoulder or back. The alpha allows subordinates to lick their face and mouth.
You maintain your alpha stance via:
• direct eye contact
• standing tall over your dog (for added effect I put my hands on my hips) • speaking in a firm voice
•placing your hand occasionally on the dog's shoulder.
Leaders are kind. Understand that a dog isn't a human. If you lose patience or have had a bad day, quit. There is no way your dog will understand you are in a mood.
LEADERS NEVER EVER HIT! The old school approach of swatting a dog with a newspaper does not work. It creates fear and a sense of being cornered — a recipe for disaster. Even yelling is counterproductive and possibly dangerous. If you find yourself becoming upset, take a break.
Leaders rule simply and react with immediacy. Remember the dog has a simple mentality. You: "Dog, come!" (Dog is busy with squirrel, doesn't come). When dog finally comes, you punish him. To you, you just punished him for not coming. To him, you just punished him for coming! Oops! Think immediate action/reaction with dogs.
Leaders are consistent. Consistency is everything to a dog. They thrive on rules, repetition, and ritual. They don't understand why you said one thing one day and mean it, then not the next. Keep it black and white — no shades of gray.
"A leader is best when people barely know he exists. Less good when they obey and acclaim him. Worse when they fear and despise him. Fail to honor people and they fail to honor you. But of a good leader, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will all say: 'We did this ourselves." — Lao-Tzu
Training is just as important for small breed dogs as it is for large breed dogs. Because their small size allows some people to overlook a small dog's bad behavior, dog owners don't always put as much time and energy into training their small breed dogs as they should.
Unfortunately, this lack of training can lead to a number of behavior problems including aggression pushiness, and incessant barking, It can also be dangerous for your small dog. A dog who doesn't learn to come when called is at risk for bolting out into traffic or becoming lost. And no matter their size, a well-trained dog is a much more pleasant companion than one with bad manners.
The following are some tips to help you get started on training your small dog: Nothing in Life is Free Their size means many small dogs are afforded privileges that larger dogs are not. For instance, small dogs are more likely to be allowed to sleep in your bed and sit on your furniture. While this is fine, as long as it is acceptable to you, it can lead to pushy dogs who think their pet parents are there to cater to their every whim. In other words, allowing your dog to do as he pleases all the time can lead to sharing your home with a tiny tyrant.
To let your small dog know you are in charge, get him started on a “Nothing In Life Is Free” program. This type of program is designed to teach your dog that he has to work for everything he values. Give him a command which he must obey before he has access to anything he enjoys. For example, ask him to sit before he gets fed and to lie down before he is allowed up on furniture. Your small dog will quickly learn that pushy behavior gets him nowhere.
You should make sure that everything he wants is on your terms. If he wants to go out the door or come in the door he must wait for you to invite him in. The opening of the door should not be his cue. Your invitation in is his cue. If he wants up on the bed or furniture he must wait for your invitation. If he initiates jumping up on his own then tell him “OFF” in a calm assertive manner. If he is not off within 3-5 seconds then gently put him back on the floor. You can use your body to block him from trying to jump up again.
If you have a large area of furniture and its too hard to control all that space then use a spray bottle with a stream setting to correct him the second he tries again. please try to avoid your dogs face when using your spray bottle. it is much more effective if you spray his back, side, or bottom. Small Dogs With Big Problems If you invite your little dog to sit on your lap that is fine however, if he starts to growl when another person or dog tries to get some attention too then you must put your growling dog gently back on the floor.
That growling behavior means that he is claiming you as his and he is seeing you as one of his resources. You need to make certain that you make it clear to your dog who the real pack leader is. You must control ALL resources at all times in order for your dog to respect you as the pack leader. Resources to a dog are things such as: territory, toys, food, other pack members, furniture, and the leash. You also must initiate affection, attention, and playtime. How many times has your little dog jumped up onto your lap, paw’d at your legs, or barked to get your attention?
All of those behaviors, albeit very cute, are ways that your dog is trying to assert himself into the role of pack leader. The only way he would ever do that is if you are not providing him with boundaries, rules, structure, leadership, consistency, and the calming energy he needs. The pack leader is the most stressful position and most dogs would prefer not to take on that role. However, their instinct says that in the absence of the above mentioned leadership traits, they must take over if they are going to survive. I know it’s difficult to wrap your mind around but the truth it, our dogs bad behavior is only due to our poor leadership.
Dogs desperately want us to be in charge. They want us to give them a job. They prefer to follow instead of lead as long as the leader rules with love, calming energy, and consistent behavior. So, the next time you see a little growling, yappy, and nippy dog you will know how that behavior was created and who is really to blame. “There are no bad dogs, just uninformed Pet Parents.” - Deb Nabb "The Mutt Master"
Modifying OCD behavior!
There are five key components to most successful OCD modification programs:
1- Increase exercise. A useful part of almost any behavior modification program, exercise relieves stress and tires your dog so he has less energy to practice his OCD behavior.
2- Mental Stimulation. While physical exercise is hugely important, don’t overlook the value of mental exercise for relieving stress and tiring a dog mentally. (See “A Puzzling Activity,” June 2008, and “Mind Games,” October 2004, for more information on how to keep dogs busy.)
3- Reduce stress. This is an important and obvious step, given that OCDs are triggered and exacerbated by stress. You will need to identify as many stressors as possible in your dog’s life. Have the whole family participate in making a list of all the things you can identify that cause stress for your dog - not just the one(s) that appear to trigger the obsessive behavior. Then go down the list identifying any you can simply eliminate (i.e., shock collar for that evil underground shock fence) and commit to removing those from his environment.
4- Mark stressors. Mark those that might be appropriate for counter-conditioning - changing his opinion of them from “Ooh, scary/stressful!” to “Yay! Good thing!”
5- Manage. Finally, try to manage his environment to at least reduce his exposure to those that can’t be eliminated or modified.
Remove reinforcement. All too often, owners mistakenly think obsessive behaviors are cute or funny. They reinforce the behavior with laughter and attention, and may even trigger the behavior deliberately, unaware of the harm they’re doing. When the behavior becomes so persistent that it’s annoying, the dog may be reinforced with “negative attention” when the owner yells at him to stop doing it.
As in the case of Ben, the Golden pup, removing reinforcement by having all humans leave the room can work well to help extinguish an OCD in its early stages. Free shaping canine incarceration is the perfect opportunity to introduce your dog to some free shaping exercises. Shaping is the process of taking a complex behavior and breaking it into little pieces, then marking and rewarding each piece until you work up to the whole behavior. With free shaping, you do no luring whatsoever. You simply take a behavior that the dog offers you and gradually shape it into something by marking (generally with an audible marker such as a click! (of a clicker) or an exclamation such as “Yes" and rewarding increasingly large, intense, or extended examples of the behavior.
You can use this method to mark any behavior your dog happens to engage in – a sneeze, a blink, a yawn, putting his ears up or down – and put it on cue. Free shaping has several benefits in addition to exercising your dog’s brain. It teaches you to be patient, gives you a real opportunity to watch your dog think and solve problems, and it encourages your dog to offer behaviors. You have to be a bit of a student of animal behavior to appreciate free shaping. I never introduce it in my “basic good manners classes,” since most pet parents need to be committed to training beyond basics in order to have the patience and understanding to do this.
If you are a Whole Dog Journal reader, you probably are committed, so let’s get started! Any one of a number of random movements. Here is a good exercise for dogs who are on total restriction. Your goal is to get your dog to offer one of these behaviors on cue – Nose Lick, Head Turn, Ear Flick, or Paw Lift – without any luring or prompting on your part. Here’s how:
• Sit on a chair with your dog in front of you. If he wants to jump on you, put him on a tether and sit just beyond his reach.
• Wait for him to offer one of the four behaviors.
• When he does, click (or use some other reward marker, such as a mouth click or the word “Yes!”), and then quickly give him a treat. Once you have clicked and treated one of the four behaviors, stay with that one; don’t click and treat randomly for any of the other four.
• Wait for him to repeat the chosen behavior. When he does, click and treat.
• Keep doing this until you see him start to offer the chosen behavior deliberately, in order to make you click and treat.
• Put the behavior on an “intermittent schedule of reinforcement.” That is, click and treat most head turns, but occasionally skip one, then click (and treat) the next offered one.
Gradually make your schedule longer and more random by skipping just one more frequently, and sometimes skipping two, then four, then one, then none, then three – so your dog never knows when the next one is coming. This makes the behavior very durable and resistant to extinction. (Like playing a slot machine, your dog will keep offering the behavior because he knows it’ll pay off one of these times!)
It’s important to put the behavior on an intermittent schedule before raising the shaping criteria so he doesn’t give up when you are no longer clicking each try.
• Decide if the behavior is fine as it is, or if you want to shape it into something bigger. A Paw Lift, for example, can be shaped into Paw On Your Knee, Shake, High Five, or even Salute. Head Turn can be shaped into a Spin. Ear Flick could become Injured Ear, while Nose Lick might become Stick Out Your Tongue.
• Determine the “average” response your dog is giving you. If you want to shape Head Turn into Spin, envision a 360-degree circle around your dog. Perhaps your dog is offering head turns anywhere from 5 degrees to 75 degrees, but the average is 45 degrees. Now you are going to click and treat only those head turns of 45 degrees or better. Over time, your dog’s average will move up as you click only the better attempts. When that happens, raise your criteria again – perhaps it was a range of 30-95 degrees, and now you’ll click only those head turns that reach 60 degrees or better. Keep raising the criteria – gradually, so you don’t lose your dog’s interest – until you have a complete Spin.
• Now give it a name (Spin!) and start using the verbal cue just before your dog offers the behavior. Eventually you will be able to elicit a Spin with the verbal cue – all by free shaping. You can figure out how to do this with the other three behaviors. If your dog has to be kept confined for a long period, you might have time to teach all four, one after the other. Lucky you!
• Targeting/object discrimination. Teach your dog to “Target” on cue by giving him a click and treat every time he touches his nose to a designated spot, such as the palm of your hand or the end of a target stick (see “Right on Target,” WDJ March 2001). As soon as he can do that easily, add the cue “touch!” just before his nose touches your hand (or the stick).
When he will target on cue, transfer the targeting behavior to an object, by holding the object in your hand and asking him to “Touch.” When he’s targeting well to the object, give it a name: “Bell, Touch!” or “Ball, Touch!” When he knows the names of several different objects, you can have him pick out the one you ask for (see “Higher Education,” April 2004).
• Take It. This behavior is a piece of the retrieve, but you can do it without the run-after-and-retrieve part (see “Does Your Dog Get It?” September 1999). It’s also useful for teaching your dog to pick up dropped items and carry things for you. Just show your dog something you know he’ll want – like a treat or a favorite toy – and ask him to “Take It!” Odds are he will, happily. When he’s good at taking his favorite things, try a slightly less-beloved toy, and work your way down to non-toy objects. Click and treat each “Take It!”
When he’s good at “Take It!” you can gradually extend the amount of time before you click and you’ll begin teaching him to “Hold It!”
Working with an OCD dog takes consistency, practice, and patience, but the rewards are well worth it! If you need help with your OCD dog, give me a call (our Cavalier King Charles "Cooper" has taught me so much and I'd love to share my knowledge with you)!
Deb Nabb "The Mutt Master" 303-552-1306