Trying To Find The Inner Alpha

22 02 2009

rottweiler-shepherd-mixLast September, a reader adopted what they think is a Rottweiler/German Shepherd mix puppy from a rescue at approximately eight weeks of age.  Throughout most of her puppyhood, she had a very timid personality, and she was always extra cautious of people and inanimate objects, but she was always very playful with and intrigued by other dogs.  Now, the family is starting to notice some behavior at 1 ½ years old that is disturbing to them.

This puppy has experienced dog parks and beaches since she was fully vaccinated, and she always enjoyed playing with the other dogs and never showed any signs of aggression.  However, in the last 3 months, they have noticed an exhibition of aggressive behavior towards other dogs.  The first occurrence took place as they were departing a dog park, where she got into a fight on the way out.  Things moved so fast, tt was hard to tell who had provoked the other but the dogs had to be pulled apart.  Since that encounter, she has gotten in little tiffs every time she is in an off-leash environment.  Most recently, she has acted with aggression towards another dog within minutes of entering an off-leash environment the last three visits to the off-leash dog park.

The family’s sister lived next door since the dog was adopted.  The sister had a Rhodesian Ridgeback that played together with the Rottweiler/German Shepherd mix multiple times a week.  Clearly, the Rhodesian Ridgeback was the more dominant dog in their arrangement.  The sister moved approximately 3 months ago, which seems to correlate with the behavior problems.  There has also been a noticeable aggressive actions (more eye contact, more play biting, more demanding) towards the family and their two cats.

Wow!  That was a lot of back story, but I thought it was relevant.  Before we delve into the issue at hand, I would like to thank the family for choosing to rescue a dog, rather than buy one from a pet store or a breeder.  From what I can tell, the underlying issue here is not aggression, but pack order.  Here, we have a dog who is 1 ½ years old that has lived next door to a more dominant dog nearly all of her life.  The Rhodesian Ridgeback was clearly the alpha between the two homes.  Now that the sister has moved, in your dog’s opinion, there is no longer a leader.  In her home, she is exhibiting behavior that tells me that she wants to become the alpha as evidenced by her eye contact, play biting and demanding behavior.  This is something that will get out of hand if it is not handled properly.  This is a situation where someone in the family will need to assert themselves as the alpha in your home to correct your dog’s inappropriate behavior.

First, we should discuss the in home activities.  When your dog makes eye contact with you, you should not look away.  Your dog is issuing a challenge to your authority.  Accept the challenge and stare her down, but make sure you do not get in the dog’s face.  Sometimes I play a little staring game with my mom, where I start to stare at her.  She just stares back and says, “What?  Do I owe you money or something?”  She never looks away.  I am pretty sure that she is the dog staring champion, but I have not found any documentation showing this though.  When she gets tired of staring, she stretches out her arm and snaps her fingers.  It never fails that the dogs turn their heads to look at her fingers.  Then, she declares herself the winner!  Hardly seems far, does it?

Remember, in a dog’s world, he who controls the food, controls everything.  So, I suggest that you not allow your dog to feed freely.  Reset their feeding to certain times a day.  This may also help you to control any weight issues, if they are present.  You should also make it a point to hand feed her several times a week like I discuss in this article.  One other way to show your dog that you are in control and therefore, the leader is to leash her while she is roaming the house.  Just put her leash on and let her drag it around the house.  Every once in awhile, step on the leash and give your dog a command.  A simple SIT will do.  Why would you do this?  Easy!  Because you can, and leaders do what they want, when they want!

In this case, I hope that your cats are not declawed, because a cat with claws can put a dog in their place in seconds, if they need to.  Also, if your dog has a leash on, you can step on the leash at the first sign of aggression and tell her to LEAVE IT.  This also gives the cat a chance to run away or pop the dog in the head with a claw should they choose.

Now, let us talk about the dog park.  Guess who just lost the privilege of being off-leash?  As I have said many times, you cannot correct her behavior if you have no control.  Your dog may just be responding to actions of another dog, but she needs to be under your supervision at all times because of her previous baad behavior.  When your dog shows any signs of aggression, your response must not be yelling or giving any other attention to that behavior.  You just simply need to leave the area, because your dog just lost that privilege as well.  Once things are under control at home, you may allow her to return to the dog park, but not off-leash.  Being off leash is a privilege she must earn again, and it may take some time.  As Spiderman’s uncle said with great power comes great responsiblity, so I suggest that you take a look at my thoughts on off-leash dog parks.

I do not have to tell you that both Rottweilers and German Shepherds have been the subject of some negative press in the past, so do not let your dog become a statistic.  Once you have asserted your authority at home, and she recognizes you as the leader, you should begin to work your way back to the park.  You are going to want to make sure that your dog has a vet checkup to rule out any physical problems, and I also suggest that if you have not gone through a training class with her, do it.  Since your dog is probably very large, seek out a trainer that understands the use of different types of training collars.  A good trainer will never rule out any options.

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