These are two areas which often confuse people. They think that because their dog has acted aggressively towards someone or something their dog is dominant. Conversely, they may think because their dog is dominant it will be aggressive. These are actually two completely different issues.
Letís look at dominance first. Dominance has to do with a dogís ranking within its pack. The leaders are the most dominant; thatís how they became the leaders. Some pups are born confident and will push their siblings out of the way to get to the best food or toys. This is dominance. Dogs that are the fastest and strongest will get the best food. They will take the toys away from the other dogs. These dogs will make sure they are the first when going in or out. Confident dogs are likely to be dominant.
Rover pushes past you as you try and get out the door. Heís showing dominance. He runs to the door and jumps on whoever comes in, including you. This is a display of dominance. He pulls you from place to place while out on a walk. This is also dominance.
In our homes there has to be a leader. Rover will take the job if we let him. Why? He has no choice. Dogs know there has to be a leader to keep the pack safe. If weíre not the leaders, Rover will do his best to take the job even if he doesnít want it. Most dogs are not confident, born leaders. They would just as soon let someone else make the rules. However a dog that is a naturally dominant dog will be a challenge to own and train. They need leaders who are even more dominant and very consistent. Being dominant however does not mean being physical. Getting physical with dogs can lead to problems including aggression.
Aggression has to do with a dogís reaction to people, animals or things. Most often aggression is the result of fear, not dominance. If Rover gets over-whelmed at the dog park by either a single dog or a pack heís likely to become aggressive towards dogs and bark or growl fiercely when he sees another dog. Heís thinking that he needs to be on guard because that dog is likely to attack. Dogs remember both good and bad things that happen.
If we use our hands in ways that are not loving, he may become aggressive towards people. Pushing, grabbing, dragging or hitting can teach Rover that our hands are not to be trusted and he may react to someone reaching out toward him. Heís afraid of what our hands are going to do so he tries to protect himself.
Children can hurt dogs by picking them up or pulling their fur. Rover may think that all little people are going to hurt him so he becomes aggressive in order to protect himself. Heís afraid of being hurt so he does what he can to warn the object of his fear away.
Unless Roverís been trained to be aggressive heís most likely to be aggressive in response to fear. Most dogs would rather run away from what ever they are afraid of, but if they canít get away, they will fight.
Aggression can be a reaction to the stress of being in charge without having the confidence to be the leader. He may perceive every new person, animal or thing as a threat. Rover doesnít have the ability to understand our world so he may get ďon guardĒ against everything. Confident dogs may be more likely to take offense when directly challenged but they are less likely to be aggressive toward all dogs or people.
Aggression can be treated. Dogs can be guided through their fears but only if we are their leaders. Dominance issues can also be treated. We can become the pack leaders. This is the first step we guide our clients through when helping with behavioral issues. If our dogs donít view us as their leaders they are less likely to listen when we ask them to do something. When we become their leaders they become more responsive and respectful.
Once we establish mutual trust and respect, the education process becomes much easier.
When Rover learns to accept our leadership and guidance he will relax.
When he relaxes so do we.
We know the outcome.
Happy Dogs = Happy Families.