How do you resolve competition for alpha dog?

asked 2015-08-06 05:58:56 -0500

I have 6 small breed dogs. They all get along splendidly except for two of the females. The dog I've had longest was a rescue dog. When she had her first litter of puppies, I was able to give them all away. One family did not take care of the puppy I gave them and asked if I would take her back. Of course I did, but I had to build trust with the puppy as she was quite meek and shy after her experience. For two or three years, everything was fine. All of a sudden, the oldest female and and puppy (who is also female), began fighting with one another. This happens usually when they are excited, such as a vehicle stopping at the house or my children coming home from school, although it has happen with no sign or apparent reason. I literally have to pull them apart and isolate them from one another until they calm down. I also notice, no matter where the younger female puppy goes, the oldest dog follows her. The younger dog is typically not the aggressor, as she will hide or get into someone's lap when excitement occurs. They have not hurt one another as of yet, but I'm afraid if I'm not there or am too slow to break them up, they may. Any ideas on how to rectify this?

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I want to thank you all for the responses and positive input. It has given another bag of tricks to use in this situation. The positive reinforcement seems to be working. I reserve a level of praise that I only use in exceptional situations. Using it looks like it is helping. Thank you again!

Andrew S.'s profile image Andrew S.  ( 2015-08-10 09:59:25 -0500 ) edit

Good to hear! Thanks for giving us an update. It's always great to know when someone's made progress.

Laura R.'s profile image Laura R.  ( 2015-08-10 17:08:03 -0500 ) edit

4 Answers

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answered 2015-08-08 01:02:39 -0500

I agree with with everything Laura said. You can also try to incorporate high value treats or toys into your training and work on counter-conditioning with them. Make sure when they're together or near each other they both get rewarded with treats, toys or praise so that they create positive associations with each other instead of negative(you just have to be careful with your older dog, so that she's not being rewarded for inappropriate/bully behavior.) You have to work slowly (like starting them out in their crates next to each other or behind a gate) until you're confident they can be near each other without having a scuffle. And as Laura said, this is NOT a 'fight over dominance.' Anything you've heard or read about dominance theory or dogs 'fighting for dominance' or being an 'alpha' is way off-base.

One of my rescues can be a bit of a bully herself, so I've dealt with similar issues. I know it can be tough, but I always try to remind myself to stay calm and to be patient. I've found it's also helpful for me to keep her in a routine because I noticed that she mainly lashed out if she was overly stressed. As she got used to her environment and routine, she's calmed down a ton and I no longer have any issues.

I hope this helps, Good luck!

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One of my dogs is like this, too. My border mix can be a pill with dogs she doesn't know well. She gets overexcited and hyperfocused on new dogs and doesn't respect their boundaries or comfort level. Thankfully her behavior is pretty much isolated to new dogs and once she knows them she goes back to being her lovely, friendly self, but it definitely requires a lot of management to prevent her from acting like a brat at introductions. Practicing brief greetings and using a verbal cue to help her disengage has helped immensely.

Laura R.'s profile image Laura R.  ( 2015-08-08 01:34:48 -0500 ) edit
answered 2015-08-06 08:15:45 -0500

What you're describing doesn't sound like competition for status. It sounds like your older female is simply bullying the younger dog. Some dogs are more prone to bully than others, usually targeting dogs who are younger or less confident. Like human bullies, they find the behavior rewarding, so the key to stopping it is removing her opportunities and rewarding for better manners when they are together. The bulk of your work will be with the dog who is displaying the inappropriate social behavior, since the other dog is merely responding to her antagonization. Your younger dog can't be blamed for sticking up for herself and may in fact be showing very appropriate behavior.

Since the incidents seem to be limited to certain time (when there is excitement happening around them), I'd recommend separating the dogs by kenneling one or both, or by gates so that it is impossible for negative interaction to occur between them. Consider attaching a lightweight lead to your older dog whenever she is with the younger, so that you can intervene and redirect her as soon as she starts showing signs of targeting, such as following her around or getting in her space. Your younger dog will get more confident when she sees the humans working to keep her safe from harassment, and your older dog will learn that her old tactics won't work anymore. Work with both dogs individually to teach them what you DO want them to do during exciting times, such as go lay down on their bed, or sit and ask for pets, and when they've both been able to practice (and get rewarded for) the good behaviors enough to do them regularly and automatically, you can start allowing them to both be present during increasingly exciting times, provided someone is ready to intervene the instant trouble starts. If trouble does start, step back in their training to a point where both were consistently successful and work back up.

Good luck!

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answered 2015-08-09 05:28:41 -0500

Everyone else hit the nail on the head. One fact I can offer: as a dog gets older, they tend to get more selective about other dogs, and less lenient about puppy antics.

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answered 2015-08-12 11:30:59 -0500

It looks like everyone else has given you solid training advice, so I just want to add a source to the "alpha dog" theory.

David Mech, one of the scientists whose study popularized the idea, actually renounced it: http://www.davemech.org/news.html

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