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The importance of consistency: be a leader, not an alpha male.

(Problem) We have a German wire. haired pointer who just turned 15 months old; we picked him up when he was eight weeks old. My wife and I had different ideas on how he should be raised. I think a person needs to be firm but fair with a young dog and let the dog know its place and what the boundaries are in the household, whereas my wife wants to treat him more like a young child.

We went through a long period of time where he would test her (until he was about seven months old). The way he would test her was by pushing up against her looking for attention (which he would get), going through doors and upstairs ahead of her and basically "telling" her what to do (pet me, feed me, etc.), all things he wouldn't do to me. I think he thought he was second in command.

The only problem we had with aggression was when he had a chew bone that I took away and did not give back. We didn't have problems with aggression around food or places in the house like rags, spots on the floor where he likes to lie. Also, he has never been allowed on furniture or to sleep in our bedroom. He has slept in a kennel in the spare bedroom since we brought him home.

My wife took him to a six-week puppy class starting when he was 12 weeks old. I went along but wanted her to handle him and I was there for support. He showed no aggressiveness toward other dogs and to this day does very well with all dogs he is around.

We also have done some very basic training, come (both voice and whistle), sit, whoa and kennel, but for the most part he has spent a lot of time outside in different situations--the woods, fields, car rides, etc. I plan on starting more formal obedience training next week with work on the training table.

When he was seven months old my wife finally had enough and was willing to try some different things with him. At that point I changed how we did things with him. He was never allowed to go up or down stairs, through doors or gates before us. He always had to eat after us and the only way we would give him attention would be if he earned it by following commands like come and sit or retrieving the retrieving dummy.

Things got much better with a relapse here or there that might last a day and then back to normal. Then about a month ago we started slipping on the feeding part of the routine because we had a lot of things going on and if we would get home late we would feed him first. I also found out alter the fact that he had started pushing ahead of my wile at the door and stairs again.

About a week ago he started growling at me when I touched him while he was eating. When he did I would take a hold of the skin on the back of his neck and put him in a sitting position and say "no" in a firm voice. I might have to hold him for 10 to 15 seconds until he would calm down and I would allow him to go back to eating.

A couple days ago my wife was feeding him in the morning and she put her hand in his bowl and he bit her, breaking the skin in two places on her palm and leaving a few red marks on the back of her hand. He let go fight away. He also started to give a small growl then get up and leave if he was lying down and my wife or I would push against him. This normally happened at night when he was tired. One other thing I noticed is he just started lifting his leg to urinate.

Since the bite we have gone back to what we had been doing in the past, plus I have been doing a few other things differently. I started calling him off his food and having him sit and then letting him go back to eating but stopped that after a few days. I wasn't sure if it was the right way to proceed. I now feed him in his indoor kennel at regular times, 7:30 a.m. and 8:00 p.m., which is working well.

I also do not allow him to claim a spot. As an example, if I want to stand on the rug by the sink and he is on it, he has to get up and move. So far he seems to be doing better although I have not bothered him when he is eating. Are we moving in the tight direction and are there other things we should be doing and watching for?

(Solution) It is true that some German wirehair lines tend to have dogs that are aggressive. However, don't confuse aggressive with dominance. Mostly the aggression has to do with protecting their stuff, a territorial type thing, their space. Rarely is it used for social climbing though lots of people mistakenly think it is.

You apparently have the idea that you have to be the dominant person, or in the popular jargon, the alpha male. This originated from the old literature on wolves. However, the social behavior of dogs is very different from Wolves.

Wolves in Yellowstone Park, where prey availability is far higher than in a normal wild situation, form larger packs defending large territories as a group, or a pack, with a social organization. However, the normal wolf social group is much like a human family in that there is a male and female--parents, who are in charge over their young, and perhaps an old animal or two--grandparents. Young wolves are allowed to stay with the group until about three years of age, when both males and females wander off in search of a mate to set up another family.

The alpha stuff has disappeared from the wolf literature. You will have to go back several years to Find the word alpha even mentioned in regard to wolf social organization because researchers realized it simply doesn't exist as was previously thought. However, alpha everything has caught on with the "dog whisperer" disciples and the behavior jargon droppers as though it had some important meaning. In the case of the social organization of dogs and people it is trying-to-impress nonsense. The "show him who's boss" or "whack him upside the head with a two by four to get his attention" techniques are very dated.

Dogs, in a free living situation, don't form permanent social groups or families, but rather, they form opportunistic associations, much more like coyotes, for hunting purposes. Dogs don't have alpha anything: they have leaders, but leadership is not dependent on dominance.

There are times when the leader of a group might also be dominant, but dominance is not a requirement for being a leader. This is especially so when at least one member of the group is a dog and at least one is a person. You need to be a leader, not an alpha male.

Dogs protect their resources (something that comes with domestication, imitating us?] like their resting places, a bone, a toy, food, space around them and so on. That is what your dog is doing. A cooperative dog is more apt to share while a less cooperative dog is more apt to defend what it has.

So, your dog's problem is not dominance, but temperament. It is further exacerbated by your non-permissive training combined with your wife's permissiveness. It has confused the dog and left him to devise his own corrective techniques. He found out growling helps gets everyone to back off and if it doesn't work he has now learned that a bite does it even quicker. You both need to change your approach.

You need to develop rapport with your dog; you need to bond with him. You are not a professional trainer where time is money and your client wants an automaton. You want a dog that is your hunting companion and part of the household. You both must provide leadership and the dog needs to learn to earn his keep, not by doing circus tricks but by cooperating, contributing, belonging.

Don't worry who is first through the door, or first up the stairs. If there is a burglar up there trying to find the mattress with the money under it, you want your dog up there first, and fast. Hunting upland game you also want him out in front. Don't insist on stopping him in the middle of eating or giving you a bone that you won't give back.

Give him a mat or bed which is his own, inviolate, from which he can be called but never displaced because it is his just as your bed is yours and not his. If he is on a spot that is yours like the rug by the sink, send him to his place, not by displacing him but by redirecting him.

The best way to start and maintain the rapport and bonding is when he is hungry. Hold a favorite food in your hand so he knows it is there but can't get it. Do not give any commands or signals, but totally ignore him no matter what until he sits down. Instantly, within less than a second, reward him with the food. Repeat it a few times and he will be sitting quickly for a food reward with no command.

He is working for a living, earning his way. He is not jumping through hoops, just acknowledging that he wants to work with you. You can now chain things to the self-taught sit.

For example, if he wants to go outside, he has to go to the door and sit waiting for you to open it and allow him to go out. If he wants to be petted, he sits beside you and waits.

He does it right and you pet him as a reward. If he gets pushy, paws at you or jumps on you, turn your back on him so he is ignored and gets no attention. The object is to quickly reward only the things you want and never reward the things you don't want.

You want to cultivate his cooperation by building rapport, bonding with him. You cannot do this by confrontation or by inconsistency. And of course, you and your wife must both be on the same page.

When he is hungry he will go to his feeding area and sit. Then you put the food down--quickly at first but then vary the duration he has to wait. Sometimes that is immediate and sometimes there can be a five-minute lag as you prepare it. He will learn to be patient.

Do not interrupt his eating. Set his food down and let him eat without wondering when you are going to stop him. Your wife must set the food down and not reach into the dish as though she is taking it away. Dogs don't like being jerked around any more than people do. Mostly, dogs prefer things to be organized, predictable and consistent.

As it is now, he doesn't know when something is going to happen or why. You could learn to be more together if you entered him in an intermediate and then an advanced obedience classes. Do this before you start your at-home, by-the-book obedience training. Both you and your wife should be handling the dog and doing it the same way with the same intensity. Learn to read your dog and learn to think things through from a dog's perspective. Your dog does not respond as well to negative approaches [most don't) as well as to a positive reinforcement regimen. Therefore choose a positive type obedience trainer.

I am sure that this approach will correct your problems and make your dog somebody you can live with. Please keep me posted on your progress.

For solution to your dog's behavior problems or behavior related training problems, you can contact Ed Bailey at
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Title Annotation:Fixing Behavior Problems
Author:Bailey, Ed
Publication:Gun Dog
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2009
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