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Are you correcting the wrong dog?

It seems like today everyone owns more than one dog. Whether they acquired both at the same time, added a “companion” for the first dog, or felt bad for a rescue; a vast majority of these people never complete training for their first dog or research the breed characteristics before adding on to their pack. There are thousands of dogs killed in shelters across the United States because of this. The second dog tends to be “out of control” or just “not as smart” as the first dog. I have many clients who hire me to “fix” the wrong dog.

I think my favorite saying is, “Duke was so easy to train, I thought he would teach the new dog everything”, (a bad move on anyone’s part is to allow the dogs to be in charge). Most times after a few questions, I find out that “Duke” wasn’t as well trained as they believe. I usually find out that “Duke” walks the owner, eats when he wants to, rushes out the door first, jumps up or paws at his family & guests, sleeps with them, and lays on them when watching TV. In other words, “Duke” is the leader of the house. The family just lives there and caters to his demands. The second dog that comes in may be showing aggression towards him, marking, trying to push their way in for attention, or even displaying the same behaviors but with 2 dogs; it seems to be too much.

I think the most common problem is mistaking your dog’s proper corrections for aggressive behavior. Case in point, I have a very nice client who owns 2 dogs. She hired me to correct the aggression one of them was showing towards the other. In the initial consult, I asked a series of questions about their normal everyday behavior. The “good” dog we will call Teddy, the “bad” dog I will call Lady. I was told that both dogs sleep in bed with the owner, but Teddy slept on the pillows with her and Lady slept at the end of the bed. Teddy was just more affectionate that way I was told. Teddy also sits on the owners lap while Lady sits on the floor. Sometimes Lady will get on the couch but Teddy will either get up on the back of the couch or get in the owner’s lap. The owner leaves the food down all day (what we call “free feeding”) and they will dive in as soon as it hits the floor. Teddy always finishes first. He then stands by “politely” waiting for Lady to finish, as I am told. Lady generally walks away and will come back and pick all day.

The major complaint from the owner is that Lady will growl at Teddy when he is trying to play or getting near her rawhide or bones. The owner sees this as Lady being mean and corrects this by taking away Lady’s possessions. She does admit that if he can, Teddy will “claim” all items (toys & bones).

While asking these questions, I noticed that Teddy was sitting on the owner’s lap and giving Lady a very hard stare. Every time Lady would move about, Teddy would jump off the owner’s lap and run at her. The owner told me he was very “playful” and really wanted her to play with him. There was no play bow involved, it was a “linebacker” charge at her. When Lady came up to me for attention, Teddy jumped off the owner’s lap again and pushed his way in for the affection. When ignored, he then proceeded to try again to “play” with Lady by barking and biting at her legs and face. Lady then turned and growled at him to no avail. After 2 more polite warnings, Lady then turned and snapped at him to which the owner then said, “That’s what I mean! He wants to play and she is nasty to him.” then proceeded to pick up Teddy and love on him.

This is a classic situation in most households. People tend to believe that the Teddy types are just being sweet. Now lets break down this case.

Teddy is sleeping at the head of the bed while Lady was pushed down to the foot of the bed; he has the better sleeping spot making him the leader.

Teddy would lie in the owner’s lap while Lady was on the floor. The owner assumes it is because she is just not as affectionate. I explained to her that dogs “claim” their owners by laying on them and judging by the hard stare he was making this perfectly clear: “This is mine, do not come any closer!” He was also clearly keeping her where he wanted her. The owner’s view of “playing” was a direct charge at her.

Teddy would eat all his food then “politely” wait for her to finish. What he was really doing was giving a hard stare to intimidate Lady away from her bowl. The owner thinks Lady is just a picky eater but she is eating when he allows her to or when he is not around. Too many people let their dogs get in the other dog’s food, “bowl surfing” I call it.

Lady has developed resource guarding towards him because he is challenging her for her possessions then losing them for correcting behavior the owner should be correcting. Again, Lady is turning around and away from him trying to body-block him, while he is circling her and barking at her. She will then growl to get her point across. When this doesn’t work, she will snap at him then the owner yells at her and takes it away. She clearly gave him enough warning and the owner missed the fact that Teddy is being pushy. As a result, Lady’s guarding becomes more pronounced.

The final example is when Teddy pushed his way in for attention. Again, when I ignored him; he redirected to her by biting her legs and face. Another “play” session or so I was told. Clearly, he was trying to get her away so he could get the attention. She again, gave him plenty of warnings before correcting his behavior then she was scolded for not “playing”.

In the dog world, it is considered rude to get in another dog’s face. We see this many times when an uneducated puppy meets an older dog by jumping at his face continuously. The older dog will correct it quickly by being vocal and snapping. Most dogs are considered dog aggressive because they will bite another dog that gets in their face. They are reprimanded for attacking another dog that is clearly being rude. This behavior is unacceptable in dog language and causes their defense drive to kick in. If an owner cannot protect them, they will protect themselves. I go over this more in my dog/dog aggressive article.

If you have more than one dog, I recommend paying close attention to the whole scenario before you decide one dog is completely wrong. All dogs in your household should clearly know you are the leader and they are all equal in rank.

Tara, Brandie & the “pack”

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