My Puppy Is Dominant, Fearful, Reactive, Stubborn
I get a variety of clients.
I work with people who have never before owned or spent time with a dog.
I work with people that have had dogs for 50 years.
And, I get everything in between.
It seems in the day of the internet and the ability to look up and diagnose oneself; people are also using this to look up and diagnose their dogs.
And, I am certain, as many doctors find, this can be helpful in a few rare instances but often times it is also a hindrance to the education and knowledge that comes with experience and time.
We certainly saw people in the veterinary hospital like this, who wanted to skip diagnostics tests and jump to an automatic diagnosis.
And, I often find clients of my own who jump to conclusions regarding their dogs.
The Internet is Confusing
I happen to have cold as I write this.
I am pretty sure it is a run of the mill, cold/flu type of normal cold that every human being has suffered from at one point or another. Cough, chills, fever, exhaustion, interrupted sleeping pattern, sore muscles etc. but when I plug in my symptoms to the internet… it actually came up with the “Bird Flu”.
Now I suppose, there is a chance that I could have the “bird flu”.
But I am pretty certain I don’t.
However, if I was a worry wart or hypochondriac, I might jump into my car and run to the doctor certain that the internet has just saved my life and looking for life saving techniques and medicine.
When the truth is, that I probably need to drink lots of fluid, medicate with over the counter cold and fever medication, and get as much rest as my body wants. I think my body simply has to work it out on its own. After all, we all get a cold every now and again.
If I don’t get well after an average amount of time; or I get severely worse I will go and see my doctor and let the run tests. But I won’t be suggesting “bird flu”.
I think dog owners are even more susceptible to this because they can’t talk to and ask their dogs about symptoms and behaviors.
So I Get A Call
As a dog trainer and writer here, I also supplement my income by doing in home training and behavioral assessment and modification.
So I get this call from a terrified puppy owner. Her puppy is 12 weeks old. She has had puppies for generations and feels adept at dog/puppy ownership yet she can’t get her puppy to lie down.
“He must be dominant, or fearful, or reactive” She says, “maybe he is just stubborn”.
As a trainer, hearing symptoms or conditions over the phone, I suppose is almost like a doctor hearing symptoms over the phone. Without seeing a dog, I really can’t diagnose what I think the problem is! Especially since “behaviors” aren’t really “symptoms”.
So I made an appointment to come over as soon as we could, so I could meet her little terror.
I came to the house and was greeted by a very confident puppy, for his age. His body posture and countenance told me that he thought he was pretty special.
And, in fact he was! He was very intelligent and learned very quickly.
We worked on teaching him focus and extending the duration of good behaviors.
And, yes, he scoffed at lying down; even for me “The Great Dog Trainer”.
You see, I don’t have a crystal ball or a magic wand. Sometimes I can get a dog or a puppy to do something that the owner can’t and sometimes, well, I just can’t either… without a lot of trouble.
The last thing I want to do is body slam a puppy to the ground, or choke him and yank him down.
I finagled him around and he didn’t enjoy being touched on his pressure points, and he also wouldn’t fully lie down when lured.
And, you know what?
It wasn’t a problem!
- He wasn’t dominant or trying to control the world.
- He wasn’t fearful.
- He wasn’t aggressive.
Although he didn’t really care for being touched, I wouldn’t call him reactive, just intolerant to touch and doing something he didn’t understand.
And, you know what else?
He wasn’t stubborn!
You see for a dog or a puppy to be stubborn he has to refuse to do something he KNOWS and understands how to do under all circumstances when you ask him.
And, this puppy didn’t fit that mold either.
He simply had never learned HOW to lie down on command.
So how then do I teach his mom to teach him to lie down?
After all, lie down on command or cue is a very critical skill in dog training right?
I taught her to teach him to do all kinds of other things by shaping his behaviors for more on that click here.
Shaping, not luring or forcing behaviors is like a game!
And, games are addicting.
If the owner waits and free shapes behaviors she will soon be able to shape the “down”.
After all, all dogs lie down at some point right?
Puppies and dogs lie down when they are tired and want to nap. Why then can’t we reward the behavior when the dog shows it?
Typically, if you learn to shape behaviors; the dog will begin to show you a gamut of behaviors during training and shaping sessions. One of these almost always is “down”. It is usually how I teach my clients how to shape behaviors during the first session.
But for some reason this puppy didn’t want to, or had a bad experience with “down” (I am guessing she had been trying, unsuccessfully to force him to down for a while), so the owner can wait.
He will eventually lie down, and she can click and jackpot.
If, every time the pup lies down, she clicks and rewards… the puppy will soon be offering the behavior and soon after that it can be put on command or cue!
My Other Recommendation
My other recommendation, to this owner, is that she handle this puppy OFTEN!
He didn’t like being touched when he didn’t want to be touched, and THAT needs to change!
Dogs get sick, they get ear infections, they get dirty and they need to be handled.
Ideally dogs should let us clean ears, feet, bodies, teeth and clip nails.
A puppy that is not tolerant to regular manipulation and touch will be a problem later in life!
So carry your puppy, pick him up, handle his feet and his ears, look in his mouth and touch his teeth.
Teach him that touch isn’t always bad, by clicking and rewarding him for being patient!
Touch should never be a bad thing! It should always be accepted and be a good thing.
Don’t Be too Quick
Don’t be too quick to “diagnose” your dog. Or label him or pigeonhole him!
Don’t be too quick to “force” behaviors.
Let behaviors happen, and shape them and your dog into the dog you want!
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.