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Case studies for leadership problems

All dogs have a built in blue print or tick list of what makes a leader. In the wild if both the male and female leaders died, the pack would be without any leadership. Instinct takes over on how the next in line must become the rightful leaders. Without the experience of living in a pack, they know what they should do but have not the learned skills of how to accomplish this. This makes for some very confusing behaviour that we at first find very illogical.

Above is a reprint of my last paragraph of last weeks article and understanding this is how we can understand why dogs act the way they do. Dogs are born with an instinct tick list of what to do in certain circumstances. They also have learned instincts that vary the first list. When there is no leader the dogs know that the strongest must take over and how to achieve this. The second learned list then tells the dog how to be leader from learning by example. It therefore follows that if a dog has never seen how leaders actually act because they have never seen a real pack they have no way to vary the instinct list on how to carry out their duties. Though they have the body language of a leader, many of their actions do not seem to make sense. As body language is important to dogs, we can interpret this and use this to transmit to dogs to gain certain responses. In the real pack there are far more body language stances than we can imitate or fully understand but it is this way that the leader communicates and controls the other members of the pack

Humans use body language to transmit and receive information between one another. Sometimes we do not know we are actually doing this but we have body stances that on some occasions give us away to how we really feel but did not wish to reveal. Aware of this we can also use body language to trick the recipient into believing what we are saying is correct by showing the correct body signs even though you know it is not correct. If you maintain eye-to-eye contact with your bank manager you might make him look away submissively and possibly give you a loan. If you feel uncomfortable, then just focus your eyes to behind the bank manager’s head so you do not see him but for a blur. You can then feel more comfortable and chalk one up to your self when the bank manager has to look away. (Warning he may know the same trick) Do be careful though you can make someone feel very uncomfortable if you use this on a friend and the same reaction applies if used on a dog.

Case 1 Bitch as the leader.

I know how to act like a dominant male dog (my wife agrees with dog bit but not the dominant male bit) and I expect dogs to apply their standard responses. This was my protection in the first case where we had a medium sized bitch who believed that neither the owner (female) nor the male dog fitted her blue print of having the appropriate leadership qualities and that it was she that had to take over this roll. Listening to the owner on the telephone as she described the bitch’s actions and responses indicated to me confusion by the bitch. It was very possible that she was reluctant to take on this roll but there was no other choice. The owner is accustomed to training and to owning previously docile dogs but the bitch was nothing she had come across before. The owner also had the most beautiful great huggy bear of a male dog that was so docile I wanted to take him away with me. The bitch had to shove him into barking at people the same as she in order to carry out her roll. The bitch was acting watchful of people who did enter the house and even to following them around the house and garden and on one occasion trying to nip. Now having two dogs charging up and down the boundary fence looking as if they were baying for blood for each passer by was becoming intolerable for the owner. It was also becoming uncomfortable to invite people into the home because of the possibility of the bitch resorting to biting. The bitch would also disappear as she pleased if she could get out the garden but as she was the leader, she thinks this is her prerogative. In her mind, it was the owner and the dog that were wrong in wandering off in the wrong direction. This will change, as she has to come to recognise the owner as the rightful leader.

When I arrived, the owner was outside her garden to meet me and we walked up to the gate. The owner was most concerned for my safety but I assured her I would be fine (gulp). She had the lead but I said that this too was unnecessary and proceeded into the garden ignoring both dogs completely. I then proceeded to walk towards the house. After some vigorous barking and my ignoring her, the bitch took the lead and escorted us all up to the house. We entered the Naya, where we sat down and I still ignored both dogs. Whilst discussing the reasons as to whey her bitch was acting this way she made four attempts to attract my attention by pawing my leg and licking my hand but each time she would eventually give up and walk away to lie down. The bitch was trying to follow her built in rules of how to act as a leader of her pack. She showed contempt for the dog as a useless male and in her play with him she kept going for his throat so he would show submission to her. This he would not do as he had no idea how or why he should do this. He was capable of sitting on the bitch and pinning her down but this is not a standard move so it did not apply to the bitch as a sign of dominance. As I moved around the house touching the furniture to leave my scent the bitch followed me but still wanted me to recognise her as the lead bitch in return for her showing me her full respect. I could never do this as I can only show respect to the owner. Were I to recognise the bitch it would only add reinforcement of her position as the leader.

I gave a list of leadership actions for the owner to follow over the next two weeks to establish her as the rightful leader. This included eating something in front of the dogs just before she fed them. The owner should call both dogs for their meal, pretend to eat some of their meal first and then give them the food with the command to eat. This would inforce the owner as the leader and sole provider of the food for the pack. In addition, she should ignore the dogs’ request for attention until they were calm and only when the owner was ready, call the bitch over for attention. When they went for walks, the owner should walk them separately and stop the bitch taking the lead position even if it was just going up to the gate. The owner should take the bitch for sociability classes in order to stop this constant barking at other dogs and people. You cannot do without these classes. Telling everyone who enters the house and gardens to follow this technique and ignore both dogs completely until they were ready to show the dogs attention. Both dogs got attention when they asked for it but with the bitch, this was part of the problem. She as leader was also dictating when she gave the owner attention. This needs reversing quickly.

A problem is only a problem if it is a problem. (Yes, my wife looked at me in the same way when I said that) Neither humans nor dogs are perfect and we all have some problems and some problems we are prepared to tolerate. (My wife is shaking her head) As with the dog it was very hard for me not to give the dog a love when he came up to see me asking for attention. For the dog, it was not a problem but for the bitch, it was.

Having inadvertently taken the owners sunglasses I returned the next day, entered the gate, and walked right up to the house before the barking started. I assured the owner to just let them out and ignored them both again. After half an hour, the bitch stood on my lap and tried to lick my face in a final attempt to obtain my recognition so I simple stood up and then sat down again. There were signs as I was leaving that all the barking was indeed a sham as when I failed to leave because I stood talking at the gate the bitch went off again to lie down. Friends who are friendly with the bitch did call some days later and the bitch tried to nip the man in order to gain attention. The owner was now worried things were getting worse but in fact the bitch is now getting desperate that as leader everyone who enters the home is ignoring her. Now the bitch is still looking at the owner as a subordinate that is not prepared to accept the bitch’s attention so she is showing the owner the same tactic. After such a long time as leader, giving up this position will be hard.

For the second week I have asked the owner to go up to the fence when she they are barking and remove the dog leaving the bitch. The owner must now go back to the fence and encourage the bitch to refrain from barking for some sausage titbits. This again reinforces the owner as the leader and the sole provider of food. This should create a decision in the bitch whether to bark or eat. Remember the dogs question what is in it for me so the choice is bark and get nothing or eat and enjoy. Once she starts to eat, she will change her variable tick list and override her instincts tick list.

Case 2 Dog lunging and barking at any other dog.

Here was a case of a very powerful and well-trained one-year-old large dog with a lady owner. All the normal rules of leadership by the owner were followed but with one exception that the dog was not learning how to find its place in the hierarchy of the infinite pack. Unfortunately being a large puppy at training classes the owner misread the dog’s actions of plying for top position with other dogs in the training club as aggression. The owner being concerned for the other dogs being hurt followed a period of protecting the dog by keeping him away from other dogs. In the early days the instructor did advise to just let the dog off the lead when there would have been some jostling but the older dogs would have soon put this juvenile in its place with body posture without resorting to any fighting. Unfortunately, the dog missed this important learning stage, now lunges, and barks at any dog large or small dog or bitch. The dog was very strong, boisterous and the type of dog I would choose as pick of the litter. It has all the dominance characteristics that I would seek but is not ideal for a pet. A friend brought out her little bitch and the dog began barking and lunging at her but not in a dangerous aggressive mode, though it may look it. I am certain had I let the dog off the lead he would have rushed up only to find she was a bitch and then he would have calmed down. My advice was for the owner because he was such a powerful dog was to stand on the lead to force the dog into a submissive down when she met other dogs. The dog would not like such a stance but would have to look at the owner as the leader. The next thing to do is to purchase the correct muzzle that allows a dog to pant in order to keep cool and to go to training classes to explain the problem. The owners of the older dogs that are willing should let their dogs off their leads and then let this dog off. He would obviously go charging in but like a gun with no bullets. The older dogs will show him the error of his ways without resorting to fighting. It will then be necessary to teach the dog to walk and be with the other dogs until it has calmed sufficiently to remove the muzzle.

Case 3 Dog jumping up at guests.

The owner of a large and powerful dog always jumped up at those who entered the house and this is a problem. Again, I entered the house and ignored the dog. Immediately this big strong dog began jumping up and pulling at me but within a few seconds of my ignoring him, he simply went outside. I explained the technique to follow and for the owners to ask their friends to come into the house wearing old cloths and do the same. This will teach the dog he does not control when attention is given. The dog also had one further problem and this was to bring into the house his soggy ball and deposit at the feet of the owners in order to play with him. The dog was therefore controlling when to play games but also kept leaving the ball in the house. To resolve this is after playing ball with the dog the owners must put the ball away outside where the dog cannot reach and then for the owners to decide when they play ball with the dog. I will cover how to play games with dogs in a separate article.

Next week I will cover guard and personal protection dogs as well as keep you informed of progress with these cases.

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