Dog dominance has many faces. Dominance is inherent in dogs. This is primarily why establishing a solid foundation of pack leadership is crucial for any dog. Some dogs are more or less dominant than others, true. But dominance is a language of all dogs. They all understand it. Once you position yourself as “the” dominant dog in the pack (Pack Leader) all other training is built upon that foundation. This applies to all dogs, but even more with dogs that have issues, such as aggression or fear. In this article, we will detail how fear and dominance can go hand-in-hand (or paw!). Fear, and the many faces of dominance in dogs, needs to be closely evaluated to determine your specific dog’s specific issues. From there, you can move forward with a training plan tailored to your pooch.
Where I dropped the ball
Where I went wrong with Hanani was not exposing her to enough of a variety of environments on a consistent basis. Granted, I was sick and could not get out days at a time, but the result is still the result. Although she became a wonderful, compliant pack member in and about our home, even out on walks around our neighborhood, she was able to avoid more stressful situations. Thus, she never learned how to appropriately deal with the stress of those situations. Now, when put in those situations now, she is fearful.
At the same time, Hanani is a dominant dog. Both of my girls are dominant in a sense, but Mia is rather soft. She will take a back seat to a more dominant dog, until she sees a moment when she can sneak in and take over! We call it her “sneaky puppy” move 🙂 Hanani, on the other hand, is a bully. She wants to be top dog where ever she is, whenever, no matter who is around. We did get a handle on this in and around our home, but add the stress of fear + dominant driven and we have the potential for a very dangerous animal.
Domiance + Fear
Here is a clip of my nephew, Brendon, and sister, Teri, visiting over the holidays. Watch Hanani closely. Watch her ears, where her eyes are fixed and the level/angle of her head, even after she is corrected. You’ll see her appear to sniff his leg, but she pushes hard and then very quickly backs off. If she were not muzzled, she would have nipped or bit him. She then sits back a distance, still trying to challenge him. She is both afraid and trying to dominate.
Her ears are flat or half-perked and her eyes are fixed on my nephew almost the entire time. She even raises her head up a bit. Brendon did fabulous just ignoring her, letting her know he was not going to bow to or react to her challenge. The only time I tell her “good girl” is at the very end of the clip when she makes the decision to turn away altogether.
Signs of dominance are not always blatant.
Other than for the initial push on Brendon’s leg, I did not correct Hanani for her staring and other challenges because I want you to clearly see how subtly fear + dominance can display itself. At this point, she is not depending on me–the Pack Leader. The stress has whittled her to pure instinct because she has not learned yet to manage appropriately. In this case, with a dominant dog who is afraid, her instinct is “I will get you before you get me.”
Evaluate your dog and your leadership role
When assessing a training program to work out aggression issues with your dog, the first place to look is: YOU. Evaluate your leadership role with your pack as you look closely at your pup. In the above video is a clear example that no matter how much Hanani respects me in our “normal” situations, she obviously pays little to no attention to me when introduced to a new set of variables. You can see through most of the video, at least one ear is pitched to the side. There she is giving me a little attention. Once Brendon moves, her full attention is solely on him.
Normally, in an actual training session, I would have corrected her until her full attention was on me. But again, I believe it is important for you to see how subtle the cues of dominance can be–especially in a fearful dog. So you can compare your own dog’s behavior and see where you may need to intervene and what methods to use.
I go into Pack Leadership in several previous articles. Also, at Leerburg.com you will find great instruction on the groundwork for growing yourself into a strong, fair and consistent pack leader. The bottom line is that our dogs need to respect us in all situations, at all times. To do that, leadership needs practiced consistently, everywhere. In order to get a handle on Hanani’s behavior issue here, we go back to the basics (groundwork) for her to understand that–no matter what–I am in control of her everything in life, at all times, no matter who is around, where we are, or what changes come. She needs to respect that, no matter what, I am leader.
In other words,
she needs to learn she can depend on me in all situations.
It is proven that dogs are more at ease when they know they can fully rely on their leaders. So, the first thing to evaluate in trying to help your dog overcome fear-reactive issues is yourself. If my dog becomes nervous when any variable changes (new person, place, other dog, etc) it is because she does not fully rely on me…yet.
That’s my bad, but only means there is more work to do.
Work, work and then work it again
Here’s another video (below) of Hanani working with a friend of mine. Michelle is a top-rate dog trainer that has proven experience in dealing with behavior issues. *Do not let an inexperienced person take the lead with your dog. Even through a muzzle a frightened, dominant dog can cause considerable damage. There are very few people I trust with my dogs, especially Hanani. I can count them on less than one hand! (I will go into that–who to trust–more in the next article.)
All dog training should be looked at as an on-going process, but especially with a dominant and fearful dog. These dogs need regular maintenance to keep fresh in the minds the fact that leadership has not changed
–you are still the head of the pack.