The behavior of the animal is as important to the owner as its physical well being. Undesirable behavior of a pet can cause an owner such discomfort and unhappiness that it may lead to the demise of the animal. Euthanasia is often done reluctantly because, despite the periodic undesirable behavior, most of the time the pet is a good companion. If owners are aware of a means of correcting a behavior disorder they are usually willing to spend the time necessary to change the animal’s behavior.
The basic principles of prevention and treatment of behavior problems is simple. The use of the pet’s instincts and their desire to be loved by people along with classic behavior modification techniques allow us to create a healthy human companion animal relationship.
Most behavior problems are caused by a lack of communication and understanding. The human rarely understands the basic needs and instincts of the pet. The pet rarely fully understands what would make their owner happy. When a common line of communication is established between the owner and the dog, they both become happier. We will develop a problem oriented approach to solving behavior problems with an emphasis first on preventing behavior problems, then addressing the management of behavior problems already manifested by the pet.
Dogs operate in a pack structure. Every pack must have a leader. If a dog understands that you are the undisputed pack leader, he can be content to be a follower. If there is any doubt in the dog’s mind that there is a strong leader in charge, he will feel the need to assume the position himself. For most dogs it doesn’t matter who is the leader, as long as someone is and they are doing a good job. Dogs will worship and happily give deference to the leader or alpha. Letting your dog know who is in charge will NOT make him dislike you! It will give him a secure feeling that someone is in charge and all is right with the world.
As mentioned earlier in this paper, during the first three weeks of life the puppy is dependent on the bitch. All interactions are between the puppy and the bitch and are related to warmth, feeding and elimination of waste products.
Weeks three through six of a puppy’s life are very important in teaching him how to communicate with his litter-mates and how to speak the language of “Dog”. This involves, how to greet a stranger, how to act in a crowd, how to interact with their canine, feline or human companions. The puppy should not be taken from the rest of the litter until after 8 weeks of age to allow this important language development to occur.
Human contact is important in the socialization period and should be in concert with the activities of the litter and bitch. It is thought that female puppies learn care instincts during the period between 4 to 6 weeks and the response to the puppies vocalization of distress by the bitch or human may affect the way they care for their future litters.
During this period puppies begin chewing and biting one another in playful fighting activities, sometimes growling at one another in mock battle play or when in competition for food or play objects. This competitive behavior plays an important role in establishment of a social hierarchy or dominance order. One can recognize which puppies will be the dominant and/or aggressive ones, and which ones will be timid and/or submissive.
It is very important that human socialization occur with the puppy at 8 to 10 weeks of life. It is important to have human contact during this behavior development stage to allow the puppy to learn how to communicate with humans.
After weaning, the puppy learns how to interact with other animals outside his litter. Dogs have an instinct to form a pack and in the absence of other dogs, the family members who adopt the puppy will form the pack.
The juvenile period occurs from twelve weeks to sexual maturity. This period varies in duration depending on the breed in question. The external environment determines the socialization during this period. The young dog must learn to survive by himself. During the juvenile period, the dog will try to establish dominance. The dog in a human family environment will test each member of the family to establish a dominance hierarchy. The responsibility of the mother dog to correct the puppy and teach the puppy how to interact with life outside the litter is now the responsibility of the new owner.
The mother or other dogs in the juvenile’s environment communicate displeasure with him by grabbing him by the scruff of the neck, shaking the puppy, then forcing the puppy to the ground. With the puppy on his back, the dominant dog would place his or her paw on the puppy’s chest. The dominant dog will place his or her mouth on the puppy’s throat as if to rip out the jugular, while growling very viciously and deeply to let the puppy know that he or she is serious. Being on his back with his throat and underbelly vulnerable is very disarming to a puppy and will cause permanent change in the puppy’s attitude toward his mother or any other animal that can place him in this position. This maneuver is called the alpha rollover. It is also used by the top male dog in the pack (the alpha male) to assert his dominance over all dogs in the pack. This procedure can be used by the pet owner to teach the puppy who is boss in his new pack. We recommend this natural method of asserting dominance over a puppy be done by every family member so the puppy will be taught that there is no one member of the family that is subservient to him. This will help prevent the development of dominance related aggression.
We, as animal care professionals know that this maneuver, if properly done, will prevent many of the aggression related problems seen later in life. We know that if we teach the owner and pet ways of communicating with each other early on in their relationship, that this will result in a long healthy companionship. On the other hand, the poorly socialized dog will be bitter and fearful of encounters with humans.
If you have a dominant dog, you need to take steps to establish yourself as the alpha dog. A true alpha roll is an aggressive measure, and if a dog is prone to aggression, he will feel the need to defend himself. If this is the case, then you could be seriously hurt! Dogs and wolves do not do this routinely, only in very specific instances that usually involve aggression of some kind. Routinely alpha rolling your dog only invites mistrust and confusion at best and at worst, aggression. Slowly rolling a dog on his back and holding him there is NOT an alpha roll. It can be considered a training exercise, similar to a long down.
Rather than resent this, he will, in time, be happier with a firm chain of command. A dog who is secure with his place in the world is a happy dog! Most of these things will not be necessary with a submissive dog as he will do them naturally. If you are not having problems with dominance with your dog, then they can simply be used occasionally.
A successful human-canine bond is based on trust and respect. Acts of aggression by you will only damage that trust. Allowing the dog to assert control will ensure that no respect exists. The key to establishing a wonderful relationship is to be firm, fair and consistent. You should also remember that a correction should never be given in anger. If you are angry with your dog, that is the time to put him in his crate and give yourself time to cool off and decide on the best way to proceed.