is a part 3
What you are about to read are my hands-on
experiences with 35 years of working with dogs. Being of an obsessive
compulsive nature, I have researched through thousands of sources from
books, journals, magazines, periodicals to natural videos, National
Geographic series, and other documentaries. Along the way of those 3
decades-plus, I have attended numerous workshops and seminars by dog
trainers, handlers, field & hunt trialers, judges and anyone else purporting
any experience with dogs. I have participated in countless animal science
courses and studies, so any similarities to anyone else's training methods
or theories is purely possible/coincidental. My philosophy when working with
dogs is very simplistic, give them dignity and try different things until
Part 3 The Pack Experience: The Dominant Type Dogs
The Dominant Drive type personality in a pack of dogs is paramount for the survival of the entire group, for they possess those traits for leadership and decision making that keep the pack working in the most efficient manner to ensure success for the pack. There are very few of these alpha dogs born to a pack of wild dogs and in the vast majority of litters raised by dog breeders, we encounter very few of these types. However from time to time, there appears a puppy in a litter that displays all the characteristics of a true dominant/leader type personality.
This is a very unfortunate set of circumstances for man in his quest for domestication of dogs. Dominant types were created to lead and man values a dog that follows his lead, the two sets of expectations do not mix well, much as oil and vinegar do not mix at all. So, for all intent and purposes, a dominant type dog does not respond well to the majority of human environments where an easy-going canine companion is desired.
Since I don’t do aggression training, protection training or attack training, I see very few of the Dominant type of dogs and my experiences with them has been minimal when compared to the thousands of dogs that I have worked that belonged to the social types and to the active types. Since I interview my prospective clients by phone, most dogs with aggression and dominance issues are filtered out and sent to trainers that specialize with these types
Another fact that brings me mostly dogs from the social types and from the active types is that I have been a Labrador breeder for more than three and a half decades. Thus, Labrador Retriever owners will seek me out specifically for help with their dogs. In fact, 90% of my training clientele are Labrador Retrievers, which by and large are comprised of the social and active types to begin with. These facts account for the low number of dominant types that I have worked with in all these years.
In fact, in all my experiences only 3 real Dominant type Labrador retriever cases come to mind readily and relating my experiences with a couple of them should create a good mental idea of the nature of these dogs.
Ginger was a very dear dog to me, for I was her breeder and she came from my number one show line. Her given name at birth was Footey and later became Ginger when she was placed at 6 months of age with her eventual owners Sharon and Arville Hall. Ginger was rather diminutive in size, measuring about 19 inches tall or 2 1/2 inches below the written standard for the breed.
In dog circles Ginger stood tall, way beyond her physical stature. When the Halls went out of town and she boarded with me, it was a sight to see what occurred at feeding time for the dogs housed in individual pens lined up side by side on my porch.
All the dog’s bowls were placed into their pens, as was Gingers. Without Ginger here, each dog would wolf down his or her portion in seconds without a glance at anyone else’s pen. Things would change drastically when Ginger visited, as none of the 10 or 12 dogs would even look at their bowl until Ginger had finished her food. Knowing that she ruled, she would take her sweet time in consuming her food, leaving the rest of the “pack” to wait until somehow she gave the “okay”. I never saw her growl or stare at any of the dogs and the group of dogs would be different each time that she stayed with us, so it didn't matter which dogs were present. It made no difference the age or sex of dogs affected by her, it was totally understood by each and every dog that she somehow was a true alpha dog.
She was always placed at the very end of the porch, the last pen to house a dog. There was a reason for this, for if by chance she was placed anywhere’s near the front of the porch, most dogs would have a serious problem crossing in front of her crate. Even the big male dogs would avert looking at her and would move past her crate post haste.
Probably the greatest display of her nature-given powers was when she visited the training classes. This was truly a sight to see and those that were witness to these events still talk about the hair-raising experience.
There would always be 10 to 20 dogs at each one of her visits to the class. Right before she arrived at the large parking lot, most of the dogs present would be doing the normal socializing and engaging that dogs do when they congregate with their owners. The atmosphere was social, jovial and instigative, until Ginger stepped out from her owner’s van a distance away.
All dog activity seemed to stop and most of the dogs would take a position much closer to their owner’s side. As Sharon walked past with Ginger on leash, every single dog would look the other way, not one dog would make eye contact with Ginger. As soon as Sharon would be seated and Ginger would take a relaxed position, the group of dogs would once again continue with their social dog activities.
Not once did I observe her stare, growl, bark or raise her hackles during any of these visits. It was like a silent body language being sent by her and received by each dog in that environment.
This was a true Dominant type of dog, a true alpha bitch if there was any! Training Ginger took some perseverance as she was set in her ways, but she was a very intelligent dog and would eventually go along with what ever was being worked with if presented to her with dignity and with respect. She had the ability to assimilate responsibilities and carry them out as if though she was in charge.
Another dog that was a Dominant type that comes to mind was a dog that I rescued at 9 months of age because neither his owners, nor the trainers that they hired could “do anything” with him. Benji lived out his entire life with me and passed at 13 years of age. He never was placed with anyone else because I knew that he would present a major problem where ever he was relocated to.
His mentality had absolute no room for bargaining with power and authority and he was steadfast in his determination to rule his environment. With dogs, it was a simple proposition that he posed to them, either follow my lead or fight me for leadership. If the other dog presented him with a total submissive posture, everything was cool and off they went to do dog things, however if he sensed any form of challenge from the intruder, then it was raised head, hackles, tail and a major confrontation would follow. His sense of leadership was total and any dog not recognizing his intent was in for a fight.
He was not dog aggressive in the pure sense of the word, for females were sniffed and left alone, puppies were no problem what so ever and young males were tolerated, even to the point of having them play fight with him. The problem came when another male came into his territory and did not take a submissive posture to him.
He relied on the sentinels and scout dogs in his pack to alarm for intruders and then he would go into action. He was a tall dog, measuring over 25 inches and when he went into his “display mode”, he would grow another 2 inches in stature, as he stood on his tip toes and his hackles would also add height to his outline. Dogs walking past our 5-acre farm would cross the street and walk on the other side and some dogs would stop and turn around and head the other way, even though he was fenced inside the property and could not get to them.
The resident dogs worshipped him and continuously would shower him with affection by licking his face and mouth until he would have enough and chase them off with a lot of gruff, but he never ever hurt any of the dogs in his pack. He maintained his ruling attitude until he was 10 years old, finally succumbing to a youngster that had grown up as part of his pack. They had one confrontation of growling and posturing where he eventually backed down and his 9-year rule ended that day.
The training for Benji was done with absolute authority on my part with no deviations or allowances at all, any of which were perceived as a sign of weakness by him and opened up an opportunity to usurp my rule. A “heel” command was always given with a firm voice and re-enforced with a snap of the leash if not executed immediately, just as was all other commands. Our relationship was always a “business” relationship, as I was always the supreme ruler of the domain and he was the right-hand man in charge of the other dogs. Each of us knew our role in the relationship and he thrived in the interaction as long as he did not receive mixed signals from me, his supreme commander.
If for any reason, I would alter my demeanor for it to be somehow perceived by him as weak, soft or not in charge, he would immediately step up his posture as if though ready to take the helm of authority from me. It was never changing for him, as this is what he was stamped with at conception, to be a leader of a pack, unfortunately for him, there already was a ruler in this territory and that was I. This did not stop him from attempting to fulfill his mission in life as a true alpha dog to take charge and if for any reason I was to falter as leader, he was willing and ready to take that role.
This is how nature intended it to be and he was just following the script that had been handed to him when he emerged into this world. For the pack to survive there has to be a leader and if the ruling leader is incapable of leadership, then the second in command assumes that role.
He never was disrespectful nor did he ever challenge my authority as long as I presented him with the correct posture that goes with the title. However, I knew that my guard could never be lowered and that our relationship had boundaries that could not be altered unless I was willing to deal with the consequences of my actions. This would be likened with the set of rules in the military where a general would never socialize with a private and their relationship is totally based on the rank that they hold in the very structured military hierarchy.
Extreme caution was used each and every time that we ever left our 5-acre farm and encountered any other Dominant-type males. His first reaction was to make eye contact at a distance and observe everything that the other dog would do. If the other dog displayed any aggression or body language challenge, Benji would go into “confrontation mode”, on his toes and hackles raised and tail flagging, curled up over his back. Off leash, his gate would change into a high stepping, bouncing mode, with chest protruding and nostrils flaring.
On most occasions the other dog would back down and go into a submission mode, which would allow Benji to do his “circular sniffing’ of the other dog. There were several instances were the confrontation led to a dogfight, as the other dog failed to recognize the upper hand held by Benji and the “alpha dog battle” would ensue. There were very few of these encounters, as most were cases of stray dogs entering my 5-acres by burrowing under the fencing or one actually scaled over the 6-foot fence and the extra 20 inches of barbed wire at the top of the fence. All cases ended up with the intruder submitting after a few seconds of growing/biting, with 2 cases actually having a great outcome in that the 2 offenders ended up staying at Chambray Acres as rescues and living out the rest of their lives as part of Benji’s pack.
True Dominant types are very difficult to live with as pets, for there never is a respite from their urge to lead and dominate. Establishing the lead position with them is only the beginning; the arduous task is the continuous enforcement of the role as their leader. It becomes a 24-hour watch with everything that enters their realm of influence. Although, my experiences with Benji were very rewarding and extremely enlightening as a dog trainer, I feel that there are very few people equipped to handle such an intense and time-consuming relationship.
Since it is an innate trait to lead or be lead, most dogs will attempt at leading until they are put into their rightful and genetically-destined place by another dog with higher leadership genes or by their owners who realize their roles as leaders of the pack.
There are those owners that will describe their dog as being an "alpha" type, when in reality that dog is only alpha to itself or maybe to a second dog in the household and in the big picture of dog types, it truly belongs to either the Social Type or the High Activity Type.
Next Installment: The High Activity Drive Dogs.
MORE TO COME IN THE NEXT INSTALLMENT
Back to Reference Library