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Leerburg Articles Dominance & Aggression Will My Protection Trained Dog Be Safe With My Family?

Will My Protection Trained Dog Be Safe With My Family?

Will My Protection Trained Dog Be Safe With My Family?

by Ed Frawley


I often hear the question "If I buy a working bloodline puppy and train it in schutzhund or protection work, do I have to worry about it biting my children and family?"

My answer to this question is pretty simple." You need to buy a good working bloodline puppy, from a breeder that understands bloodlines, temperament and your needs." In addition you need to do a good job raising your pup. If you do that you will not have a problem. The issue of a dog being aggressive towards its owners or family member is not a protection training issue. It's a temperament issue. To break this topic down even further, it is a dominance issue. This article will deal with dominance problems in dogs.

The issue of "dominance" and being "protective" are two unrelated parts of a dog's temperament. Dominance will show itself even if a dog is never protection trained. Dominance is also not breed specific. It is not a German shepherd problem or a Rottweiler problem; it is an individual problem with a specific animal. My mother had a toy poodle that was the most dominant dog I have ever seen. The worst dog bite I ever had come from that poodle.

Photo of Yago vom Leerburg, (call name Ronan), owned by Charlie Tucker Photo by Meri Barrioz (MGB Photography)

Dominance will show in the puppy's temperament at a young age. (I have a very good 3 1/2 hour DVD on Dominant and Aggressive Dogs.)You will see growling around the food bowl and growling when you try and take his toys away. These are signs of dominance. When a working bloodline puppy bites your pant legs or bites your hands when you are roughhousing with it, this is not a sign of dominance. These are signs of prey drive. Prey drive and dominance are also two different things.

If you need to learn more about prey drive see my article “Understanding the Drives of Protection Training,” or get some of my DVDs.
To learn to control a dominance problem in a dog we need to understand its pack instinct. Dogs are pack animals by nature. They accept and live by pack rules. In nature a pack has a designated pecking order from the pack leader to the lowest member of the pack. When we train protection dogs the handler is ALWAYS the Pack Leader. This is very important. An adult dominant dog is always one step away from challenging the handler for the leader position. He is always a dog that is more difficult to train in obedience because he questions the pack leader's authority and does not easily follow commands.

Dominance in our dogs is unacceptable in any form. It must be stopped as soon as it starts to show in a puppy. This is a simple thing to do when the dog is a puppy and a very difficult thing to do if it goes unchecked and the same dog grows into adulthood. Whenever a puppy displays signs of dominance they are physically grabbed by the scruff of the neck and shaken. You really shake the snot out of him until he screams for his life. While you are shaking him you are giving him a loud dose of "PHOOIE PHOOIE PHOOIE!!!!" Remember, one or two good corrections are better than 1,000 nagging ones.

Shaking by the neck is how a mother dog corrects her young. This is something that the pup can relate to. It does not take long for the pup to understand what his pecking order in the pack is. Once this is established, the dominance issue should be under control. The thing the handler needs to do is constantly test the issue as the dog grows up. Putting your hand by the food bowl or taking the food bowl away for a second does this. As long as the dog does not try and protect it, you praise him.

If a young dog gets to be 8 to 12 months old and starts to show dominance. This is the time to put a leash on the dog and set up a situation where he will start to show aggression to you. When it happens you correct the devil out of him. At this age the dog is still a puppy, a big puppy but his defensive drive has not matured. He is still very immature and does not have anything in its temperament to allow it to fight back. So strong corrections are still pretty safe even for inexperienced handlers to give without to much fear of a dog winning a fight. A problem can develop with weak willed handlers who are too soft and do not give strong enough corrections. Ineffective corrections only cause reoccurring problems.

A dominant dog instinctively will stand over a less dominant pack member. This is something parents with small children need to be aware of. When they have small children crawling around on the floor and they see their dog standing over the top of the child, it's time to react with both barrels of a correction. This may look like a totally innocent form of playing, but it's not. This can also be expanded to not allowing your dog to jump up in bed in the morning and stand over the top of you. It's the dog's way of showing dominance.



While on the topic of dogs and kids I need to bring up the matter of prey drive and kids. To learn more about Prey Drive, read my article on drives. A dog's prey drive is the drive to chase and kill prey. The thing that triggers prey drive is quick movement by small objects. Kids can trigger a dog's prey drive by running away from the dog while they are screaming and squealing and making a lot of noise. This action on the part of the kids can trigger the dogs to chase and bite. This action has nothing to do with dominance in the dog. Small children should be monitored very closely around all dogs. It does not matter what breed.

Eye contact is also a means of showing dominance. When you correct your dog and have eye contact with him, always maintain that eye contact until he looks away. It is the submissive animal that instinctively looks away first. So don't get in a pissing contest with your dominant dog and look away from him before he averts his eyes. On the other hand, if a very aggressive dog that you feel may attack you confronts you, do not give the animal direct eye contact. He will interpret that stare as a challenge.

My experience with dominance is most common in adult dogs that have grown up in another home and were never corrected at a young age. If a dog has not had the appropriate corrections early on they learn that they can be the pack leader if they decide to try. This is a big problem. When a new owner backs down from an adult dog that comes into his home, he has then established the dog as a potential pack leader.

If that dog challenges the handler when he tries to make him lay down or tries to give him a bath, he (the dog) is saying that he doesn't want to do this. If the handler is inexperienced, I must say that backing down is the right decision, unless he wants to push the issue and take the risk of being bit. When an adult dog challenges his owner, the handler needs to take corrective measures. He either gets professional help, or he gets rid of the dog or he is going to have to fight the dog. If you choose to fight, you had better make sure that you win, because if you lose, you will have to fight him again and I will guarantee you that he will fight harder the second time because he has already learned that he can beat you.

If you buy an adult dog and it has dominant tendencies, the wisest thing to do is not ask it or command it to do something that it will contest or not want to do. For example, don't make an issue of the food bowl. Put the food down and don't go near it when he is there. Don't try and take a ball out of his mouth, trick him into dropping it for a piece of food or another ball. Don't try and force it to lie down (many times dominant dogs don't like being forced in to down). If you want him to down, have him do it and give him a piece of food. Don't get in the dogs face and challenge him with direct eye to eye contact unless you want to start a fight. I kind of compare this to being around your wife (or husband) when they are in a bad mood. I know what I can do to get along, so I make a point of not doing the things that start arguments.

The size and strength of the dog dictates the solution. The easiest way is to put a leash on the dog and set up circumstances where the dog will growl. Then give very, very strong leash corrections. If the dog were too dangerous, I then would put a muzzle on it and do what's called an ALPHA ROLE. It is imperative to remember that this is always done in muzzle. This is where you take the dog to the ground, roll him on his back, get right down on top of him (pinning him to the ground with your knees) and give him direct eye contact until he looks away. This is something I would not recommend unless you have some experience in this area.

I think it is important to everyone reading this article to know that dominance in adults is not a common problem. It does not happen very often. If it did, dogs would not be as popular as they are. If you are at all concerned, the best solution for most families that have no experience with protection dogs is to start with a puppy. When a dog grows up in the family they learn their place in the pack order (at the bottom) without every having a dominance problem. 99.9% of the pups that go out of our kennel never have this problem, but if common sense is used on the times when it does happen the problem can be easily corrected. I always tell people, "The best judge of good temperament is a dogs ability to get along with kids." My 10-year-old son can go in with any dog in my kennel, for me this is good temperament.

I shake my head when I hear people say " I want a big ALPHA dog for my protection dog or my police dog." When I hear this I know that these people do not understand dogs, temperament or training. The alpha dog is stubborn and difficult to train. They do what they want to do not what you want them to do. They should not be police service dogs or personal protection dogs because they are too difficult to control. My police dog is one of the toughest dogs I have ever owned in my life and he does not have a dominant bone in his body. This is the type of dog people should want for a service dog or a family protection dog.

One last note here on dogs biting people. When dogs have very weak temperaments they can also become fear biters, this is the opposite end of the temperament spectrum from dominance. This is a different issue. The solution to fear biters is euthanasia. A week ago our local Minneapolis television station had apiece on about a dog that had bit 3 kids in the neighborhood. The TV showed the dog, it was sitting in its kennel shaking like a leaf, like it had palsy. They tried to make this dog out as a victim because the animal control people wanted to put it to sleep. This dog was a fear biter and a danger to everyone that was around it that it did not know. The dog needed to be put to sleep. You will never get a fear biter when you buy a pup from sound bloodlines. It can't happen.

If you really want to learn about this type of work, I recommend that you look at the video I did titled "The First Steps of Bite Training." It goes into a great deal of detail on teaching young dogs bite development in a step-by-step program that is designed for everyone to understand. If you did not understand bite development before you watch this video, you will when you are done watching it.

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