More About Establishing a Positive Relationship with Your Dog
Gentle, consistent discipline is the best way to avoid dominance issues with any dog. Simple things like enforcing any commands that you give (teaching that "sit" means "sit" on the first command, not the fifth) establish leadership.
The "nothing in life is free" principle works well to develop a good relationship between you and your dog. If your dog comes to you asking to be patted, ask her to do something for you first. Have her sit, then pet her. Same for treats or playtime. Giving in to noses shoved into your hand or scratches at the door tells your dog that she's the one who determines the rules.
Tune in to behaviors that your dog recognizes as evidence of pack standing. The top dog eats first, establishes territory (Who walks out the door first when you go out for your walks?), gets first pick of sleeping areas, and generally has the last word.
If you have a child, make sure that the child follows these guidelines. Also, it's a good idea to allow the child to feed the dog.
Always respect that you and your family need to follow certain rules as far as the dog is concerned, too. Never startle a sleeping dog. Even the sweetest, most docile creature can snap or bite if frightened. Don't play rough, tease or play tug-of-war with a dog who has even the slightest tendency to become dominant.
Very few reputable animal behaviorists or trainers use the "drop and roll" technique any longer. Besides the fact that it can be a very dangerous practice, it was found that in the wild, the pack leader does not force his pack members to drop and roll; they do it voluntarily as a submissive gesture.
Once a dog is content in a submissive role, he won't require as strict an adherence to these rules, but it's always a good idea to keep up the "nothing is free" routine just to keep him honest.
Have respect for your dog as a thinking, feeling being, and love him as a member of your family. Your instincts will guide you.
Wyllow is a three year old whippet, one of the most beautiful creatures I've ever seen. She has quite an interesting history for one so young. My first contact with her original humans was about some problems they were having with her. She was a difficult little creature, very strong willed. Most of what they told me was pretty typical stuff. I faxed off a series of articles on dominance, advising them to take her to obedience classes and not to let her buffalo them.
Her guardians were extremely nice people who had never had a dog before. Generally, whippets are a good choice for new guardians, since they aren't a tough breed to raise. They're very loving, gentle dogs whose biggest fault is usually the desire to claim all the furniture in the house as their own personal areas of repose. I wasn't an expert, but I had lived with whippets for over 25 years, and had never known of any serious behavioral problems.
A few months after our initial phone call, Wyllow's humans called me again, and they were pretty upset. Wyllow had gotten much worse, and they couldn't even find an obedience trainer who was willing to work with her. She had gotten very protective, had begun urinating on the beds, biting visitors and even threatening the family when they tried to discipline her. She would only eat cat food and boiled chicken. I could hardly wait to meet her.
She wasn't that excited about meeting me, either. It took twenty minutes for me to get close enough to touch her. She stayed under the kitchen table, barking furiously. Once I was able to get a leash on her, we went outside. She calmed down pretty quickly after a walk, so I was sure that, with a little work, she'd come around. I gave her human some ideas about what was going on with her and how to deal with it. My feeling was that this was a little dog who felt she had been forced into the role of pack leader, and it was not something that she was happy about. The family still felt that she was more than they could handle, so I agreed to look for a new home for her. They would keep her until I could find someone.
Within a few days, Wyllow had gotten into so much trouble that the family begged me to take her. As soon as she jumped into the car with me, she relaxed. She was fine, as if she knew that, whew, she was off the hook. Somebody else was going to take over.
I had just lost my last two little whippets six months before, at Christmas. I really wanted to keep Wyllow, but thought I was just being selfish. An apparently perfect new family appeared, so Wyllow was off to North Carolina.
Not for long. Two months later, ironically enough the day after I had lost my greyhound Wylie to hemangiosarcoma, her new family called to let me know she was on her way back. Same problems. I hadn't picked up on how similar the second family had been to the first, since this family had whippets in the past and seemed very knowledgeable. But they were just too nice! Not that I'm such a strict disciplinarian, but my dogs are pretty clear on the whole alpha thing. I guess Wylls had picked up on that, and she was happy as a clam to be one of the pack and not super alpha girl.
So Wyllow came home. She became "Wyllow" with a "y" in honor of Wylie. She's a feisty little pup, the kind of dog who beats up on the big guys until they decide they've had enough, then she runs and hides behind me. Occasionally we have episodes of orneryness. If she growls when we try to move her over in bed, we make her get off. She has to give up toys or bones if she starts getting too posessive. We try to honor her boundaries, too. She's a little protective of her space, so we have a rule not to sneak up on her. She is really cute, and we do wind up giving her a tiny bit more leeway than we do the other dogs: she gets to sleep with us, and she's not totally forbidden from sleeping on the good couch. We know what to watch for, and try to step in in situations where she might revert to her previous antisocial behavior, like when someone new visits. We let her come around on her own time - when she feels comfortable - and she behaves herself. But no more catfood.
So, the most difficult little whippet in the history of dogdom has become the darling of our family. I might be a little sentimental, but I really think this was where she was supposed to be.
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