In your book, you mentioned about Judah’s confrontation with a dominant Boxer in a dog park which is just super amazing on Judah’s part, to be so well balanced. How do I teach Max to be submissive in these situations? Do I ask him to “Down, Stay” right away? Also, how do I deal with the other dog and its owner?
Previously, Max tried to mount every dog that would enter the dog park and he did get bitten twice. He’s ok now that I stop him from this kind of nonsense, but I’m struggling to get him into a submissive position when he’s confronted by other dogs. I think he would just avoid them if he could, but there are some dogs that chase him and try to bite. I don’t take him to the dog park anymore since I don’t trust other dogs or their owners. Instead, I’m able to let Max run free in the field, thanks to your Perfect Dog system!
The first part of my advice is this: Never put your dog into a “Down” position as a way of training him to be submissive toward other dogs.
Even though you think you can trust Max to avoid other dogs, at this stage of his training you should still be working on building Max’s social skills – especially since your dog has had a history of being the dominant dog when meeting others. [As you said, Max would mount other dogs, and this is not always a sexual act. Particularly if the other dog is male, or an assertive female (not on heat), mounting is often a way of exercising dominance over another canine.] The more you properly socialize Max, the quicker he will become like Judah and be able to effectively deal with all kinds of dogs and their quirky personalities.
However, don’t use any commands (other than “Relax!” – I talk more about this command later in this post) when working on socialization. Whenever I work on social skills with a problem dog (or formerly problem dog), I always use the techniques demonstrated in my Perfect Dog DVDs, mostly as per the “Aggression” lessons on DVD #2. You’ll never see me put a dog I’m working with in a “Down/Stay” as a means of avoiding potential conflict between him and other dogs.
You see, if you ask Max to lay down and stay when another dog approaches, your dog will (from what I know of Max and what you have achieved with him so far) obey your commands. This demonstrates the results of excellent training, particularly given that Max would comply even in the face of adversity. However, if you haven’t yet fully removed your dog’s dominant thinking, Max would only be in that position because you’ve instructed him to be there and not because he’s chosen that position of his own accord in order to indicate submission to the approaching dog.
In other words, Max could be lying down and obeying you, but in his mind not be wanting to submit to the other dog. If he sends signals of dominance to the other dog but is showing a body position of lying down, there’s a strong chance he’ll get attacked because he’s sending conflicting signals to the other dog. He’s showing by body position that he’s submitting which then boosts the other dog’s confidence, but Max is also mentally throwing out challenging feelings/attitudes which could instigate an attack (because the other dog will seek true submission before he’ll be satisfied). Max’s possible subtle challenges could be easily missed by you and other human beings, but they’ll be immediately sensed by another canine.
So, having explained all of that, you now need to know what to do instead of telling Max to lay down and/or stay. Rather than giving any commands, you should allow Max to meet all other dogs while he’s in a free standing position and simply correct your dog if he shows any signs of dominance. It doesn’t matter whether your dog initiates the dominance, or is responding to another dog’s dominance toward him, your dog should be corrected in either case so he learns that no aggression will be tolerated. This is when you truly begin to create a peaceful dog that can interact with all others without getting hurt. (Watch my DVDs again and you’ll see that I talk about all of this.)
If Max tries to run away from another dog (as you mentioned he sometimes does), correct him for doing so (in the same manner as I instruct for pulling on the leash) and, at the same time, tell him to “Relax!” in a firm yet medium tone – rather than a drawn out, comforting tone. The word relax is an order from you, not a soothing suggestion. (Again, you’ll see me discuss this command in my DVDs.)
Continue to tell Max to relax (and implement more leash corrections if needed) if he still seems edgy and wanting to flee. The principle is that you’re the leader in the situation and you’re not trying to escape, so neither should Max. Your dog needs to learn to defer to you in all circumstances, no matter how seemingly frightening or unusual they are, and he should follow however you decide to deal with any particular situation at hand. Max needs to learn to trust your judgment or assessment of a situation and he should be at ease, believing you’ll maintain control and protect the both of you should any danger arise.
This is where the second part of my advice comes in. I know you’ll be thinking, “What if the other dog attacks my dog?” or “What if the other dog attacks me?” After all, some dogs have chased after Max in the past and even tried to bite him. This is where you need to use discernment before entering a possibly dangerous situation.
Obviously, if another dog looks menacing and is displaying obvious signs of wanting to go after you and/or your dog, do what you can to steer clear of him. I would even do this if you have any doubts whatsoever (about the other dog, or the owner’s ability to accurately assess/handle the dog), for “better safe than sorry” is a very wise saying to heed.
So, having ruled out any obvious potentials for danger, you will always choose to enter social situations that you believe will be safe for you and Max. For example, you’re very smart to stay away from the dog parks where unruly dogs (and ignorant and incapable dog owners) abound.
Even so, despite all of your precautionary measures, you may come across unexpected trouble. Sometimes, an aggressive dog can suddenly appear, perhaps having escaped its yard, or its leash. Other times, you may enter a social situation that is seemingly harmonious, only to quickly discover that the dog is not so friendly after all. (By the way, I never trust an owner’s claim, “Oh, he’s friendly… It’ll be fine.” I always go with my own gut.)
In these unexpected perilous situations, you have to act decisively and quickly. As soon as another dog shows signs of dominance toward you or your dog, you need to either immediately get out, or immediately get stuck in. That is, if it’s safe to do so – without risking having the aggressive dog follow you or Max, choose to leave the situation – and don’t come back – as your first option. This is obviously doable if the aggressive dog is being restrained by its owner, for example. Don’t try to counsel the owner on the principles of effective dog training. Certainly, if you know the person and can contact him/her by some other means, then do so at a later time (with a view to sharing valuable information versus berating the person, of course.) But, if you stick around to try to talk some sense into the other dog owner, you’ll only be potentially aggravating the situation, putting yourself and your own dog at greater risk.
However, if you can’t get away without the aggressive dog advancing dangerously upon you and/or your dog, you need to choose option number two. This option requires that you suddenly transform your own body language, vocals, and entire demeanor to mimic an even bigger, more aggressive, more powerful, more dominant dog. Be prepared to do whatever it takes to cause the other dog to lose confidence and back down, making him believe that if he continues he will surely lose the battle against you.
If you need to quickly tell your own dog to stay at this point (before you lunge at the other dog), then do so. This will indicate to Max that you’re going to do the fighting while he keeps safely out of the way i.e. that you’re quite capable and you don’t need his help. If the other dog isn’t sufficiently humbled by your “big dog behavior” then crank things up a few notches – and keep doing so until the dog finally scurries off (or at least backs off enough to give you and Max sufficient space to get away safely).
Don’t be afraid of acting like this in front of the owner of an aggressive dog (or any other person), either. It’s your life and your dog’s life that are at stake, so political correctness should be of no consideration when a dog owner is unable to control his own dog, or when spectators are yelling at you.
Winning at option number two – which is absolutely critical if you and your dog want to walk away unscathed – all comes down to which dog (you or the dangerous dog) was more intimidating. It’s a battle of wills, and you need to come out on top. But again, as mentioned before, don’t stick around to try to drive home the message. Be smart and get out of the situation as soon as you can. You can always call the authorities later and get them to track down the dangerous dog. Or, if there was an owner present, you can consider what to do about them once you and your dog are no longer at risk.
I remember my wife coming home a number of times over the years, telling me how the big dog techniques I had taught her had most likely saved her life. She’s a runner, and loose dogs are one of the biggest perils a runner faces. She’s only 4 feet 11 inches, by the way, and she’s very slim – so, she’s quite tiny and not very physically strong. Yet, when necessary, she’s not afraid of coming across as though she’s a 200-pound, ferocious Mastiff, ready to rip the head off of anything that should dare challenge her. So, if my wife can do it, anyone can!
I have included a great video (albeit, it’s not great quality as it’s security camera footage – it’s not mine) that clearly demonstrates the effectiveness of my big dog techniques compared to what can easily happen when you come across in a submissive manner to a dominant dog (or a pack of dogs).
You’ll notice that the man being mauled presented himself – from the very beginning – as a subordinate to the loose dogs. Throughout the attack, he seems overly concerned about not hurting the dogs with his efforts to save himself. He continues to suffer abuse because he’s not willing to retaliate on a higher physical level than what the dogs are inflicting upon him.
You’ll also notice that the man coming to his rescue is prepared with a weapon. He seems somewhat afraid to use it, so that’s why the dogs don’t cower straight away. The dogs sense his hesitation and still stand their ground to some degree. However, he’s certainly trying to come across as dominant and “up to the fight,” and this sufficiently intimidates the dogs to allow them both to escape.
Had the second man come in full on – with fierce vocals, dramatic body language, and waving the stick far more violently (connecting with the dogs if need be), he would have quickly disarmed the dogs’ drive to attack and they would likely have run away. (Not that I’m recommending he should have run right up to the dogs and started beating on them severely. That wasn’t needed in this case. You want to exert only whatever force is required to ensure you quickly win the battle of wills.) This kind of approach may not be politically correct, but it’s what dogs have been created to understand and respect, and it’s what’s necessary in order to maximize the chance for survival.
– Don Sullivan, “The DogFather”
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