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FAQ - Dominance
How to prevent it

Puppies are dominant, submissive, or fall somewhere comfortably in between.  There is a theory that Nature requires a range of temperaments.  If a wolf pack came upon a carcass, the leaders and the middle temperaments would dive right in.  The submissive one would not eat the poisoned carcass and live to reproduce another day.  

Most puppies are not overwhelmingly dominant, not overwhelmingly submissive.  They know to suck up to their elders, to lick muzzles, show bellies, flip ears back and offer the shoulder.  They can fuss over toys, challenge each other and maybe their owners, but usually it's a one-of thing.  Let's see if this works... No, no, I didn't mean it, sorry!!!!

But then there are the puppies who don't back down immediately.  Let me clarify that dominance is NOT aggression.  Aggression is NOT dominance.  They can look like each other, but the roots are completely totally different.  Dominance is about hierarchy.  Aggression is based in fear. 

The puppy who does not back down the first time is at a crossroads.  They can become: 

A puppy who rules the household and considers herself equal to humans, and equals in the dog world are allowed to bare teeth, growl, snap, and BITE their equals.  Or, 

A puppy who has good habits which lead to good behaviors and whose first response is based on HABIT and not Nature.

There really is a choice.  The owner gets to make it.  You can't change temperament, but you can change behavior. 

No puppy should be the boss of humans, any human.  But a dominant puppy can be a fearful thing if you're not prepared for it.  You can know that you will have to train and socialize this dominant puppy so she is not aggressive as an adult.  You know this, but you don't expect what happens.  You have a sweet puppy, afterall at 2 months, they submit to everything that is 5' taller and 100lbs heavier than they are.  And then one day sweet little puppy isn't.  Sasha's folks write:

"I expected a wild and zany puppy. I also expected a dominant personality adult dog, with potential for aggression toward other dogs and even people if not trained and socialized properly. I thought I'd done all my homework and knew what to expect. But man, she was a nasty little thing when she was little - growling, snarling, and trying to bite us. And she wasn't the least bit interested in our cuddles or attention it seemed." 

The root of this is the puppy not knowing her place in the world, not accepting humans as boss, having a suspicion that SHE could be boss if she just had a chance.  The solution is regular, specific habits

How can I prevent my dominant-tendency puppy from becoming a tyrant adult? Any puppy can become dominant, even ones who don't start out that way.  They can be TAUGHT to be dominant by overindulgence and giving ground.  They can also learn appropriatly submissive habits.  Not cowering, but giving ground.  Not fear, but respect.  You have to be a LEADER in order for them to want to follow you instead of wanting to lead YOU.  You can't explain intellectually to them that you pay the mortgage and they should respect that.  They only know by DOING.  So DO leadership, act like a leader, be consistently a leader, and they will start to believe you.

But leadership is not about being a bully.  You expect and require obedience, you don't beat them into submission.  And you want to work at it every day.

First, run, don't walk, to an obedience class.  Who cares if the dog sits or not?  YOU care if the dog is learning to follow YOUR direction.  Followers are not leaders.  You want the puppy in as many situations as possible where they are emulating the following behavior instead of the leader behavior.  While you are going to class -- GO TO CLASS -- there are things you should be doing at home.

Put the puppy on her back in your lap.  Every day.  

This is a submissive behavior.  This should be started at birth, for all temperaments, because it's a good habit to be in.  You can cut toenails, examine bellies, peer into ears, and groom dogs who are comfortable on their backs in your lap.  If the puppy is gently placed on their back in your lap EVERY DAY for the first year of their life, they will have learned to ACT submissive in this one specific area.  Dogs are not liars.  If they are in a submissive position every day, they FEEL submissive, they ARE submissive.  Make sure all training is fun if at all possible.  If it's a battle of wills, they are not learning, they are struggling.  Struggling is to be expected, but keep at it until they stop.  YOU should decide to stop, not them.  Don't give in.  Which means, don't start something you don't have time to finish.

Teach WAIT for doors.  Every day.

Leaders ask for behavior and get it.  Dominant little brats throw temper tantrums: "I want out of this crate right NOW and I am going to scream and paw at the door and shriek until you let me out RIGHT NOW."  If they throw a temper tantrum your BEST defense is to be calm.  You MUST be calm to counteract their loss of control.  If you loose control, no one is learning a damned thing except that they HATE THIS SITUATION.  No good feelings are created, bad ones have a chance to creep in.

So, if the pup merely paws at the crate door, put your hand behind your back and wait for them to stop,  If they don't stop, you can try banging the crate (which will hurt your hand), or you can shriek back (which will hurt your voice) , or you can get a squirt bottle and use it.  If straight water doesn't work, fill the bottle with Apple Cider Vinegar.  It will sting, it will stink, it will take their breath, and they will HATE it.  Good, now we have something they hate as much as we hate a bratty little bully.  

The bottle is used to stop the stupid thought.  They get into this glazed-eyed rant and their brains shut down. They are not thinking, they are reacting.  USE the bottle to interrupt the stupid thought so they have a chance to THINK.  Once they have a chance to think, you have a chance to put something in place of temper.  You have a chance to teach a good habit to replace the bad one.

(Apple Cider Vinegar is BROWN.  You will never mistake it for water.  If you mistake your spray bottle for water, you may spray it in the wrong direction -- like your face.  Don't EVER do that.)

Use a crate, kick the puppy off the bed.  Every day.

Leaders get rights to the bed.  Whoever is paying the mortgage/rent, gets to use the bed at will.  Puppies have their own bed, it's in the crate.  It's THEIR space.  It's in the bedroom, because that's where the PACK sleeps, and the puppy wants to be part of the pack, can become desperate/destructive/fearful if excluded from the bedroom.  But not the bed.  And not the couch while you're at it.  Humans have the right to furniture, not dogs.

Teach WAIT for food.  Every meal.

This is very very important.  Leaders own dogfood.  Leaders decide when to feed.  Followers don't get to demand dinner, don't get to wake up their leader and demand dinner, don't get to knock the bowl out of anyone's hand.  And certainly NEVER get to guard their bowl.  It's not their bowl.  It belongs to their leader and they are only borrowing it.  

Let me emphasize that one.  Dogs do not OWN anything.  They don't own their meals, their beds, their bowls, their feet, or their tails.  All that belongs to their leader.  Who decides what to feed, when to feed, and however often they want to.

So you decide when to feed.  Puppy doesn't get to demand food.  They don't get to grab the bowl or knock it out of your hands.  And they can WAIT for you to set the bowl down and THEN give the release command so they can eat.  

A well-behaved dog doesn't "need" these rules.  But they are never as well behaved as we think they are, because Malamutes are pack animals and they will take every inch you allow them to take.  If you allow ANY puppy to take inches, then you're going to create a dominant puppy, whether you started with one or not.  Puppies WANT rules, they WANT boundaries, they WANT to know what to expect.  It makes them happy to please you, they just want to know that:

Who is the leader?

What are the rules?

Rules and leadership make dogs HAPPY.  When my dogs give me an automatic sit at the door, they are HAPPY because they want to go out and they know that by sitting, they are asking to go out, and I am more than likely going to LET them out.  We have established communication.  Communication works BOTH directions.  One asks a question, the other answers.  The leader can answer NO.  

When they step back from the kennel door, they quiver all over, sometimes yell and dance, because they know I am going to open the kennel door -- BECAUSE they stepped back from it, instead of jumping on it, or pawing at my fingers with their toenails.

A dominant dog needs these rules to save their life.  Because in the dog world, you're allowed to threaten and bite your equals.  In the human world, a dog who bites a human is usually killed.

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Contact Wayeh    *    423-365-6039    *    Spring City, (East) Tennessee
Wayeh Alaskan Malamutes last updated 08/29/2010

Member Oak Ridge Kennel Club since 1996, member TN Working Dog Association since 2008

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because a good Malamute has to be a good dog first.