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It's been a while since I've posted... mostly because I have just been enjoying my time with Cooper. He's a hilarious muppet and is great in so many ways. The one area where I continue to have issues is with regards to him being dominant, especially with submissive dogs/puppies.

It started with one dog in particular who is probably the most submissive dog I've EVER met. He played with this dog once when he was really little but now that he's a bit older he totally goes nuts when she runs up to him. He pins her (and she's quite a bit bigger) and snarles, mouthes, growls and just asks really nasty. She doesn't do a thing except just lay on her back. He's clearly not hurting her or she'd react (and when I pull him off she always comes back for more) but it's awful to watch and concerns me.

It has now happened with a few other dogs. Always more submissive dogs and usually ones that are still fairly young. It's always with dogs that never react or defend themselves. I've been talking to lots of people about this and seem to get the same comments about the other dogs not being balanced and that perhapes Cooper is misreading body language/cues (usually these dogs have body language that also resembles a slow prey approach). My approach has been to try to remain calm when it's happening so he doesn't sense my nervous energy and then, if it gets to be too much, I'll pull him away and give him a time out by holding him down until he calms down.

Sometimes this works and he'll ignore the dog and other times he'll go right back for more. I've left the park in tears because I find it so upsetting.

He has dogs that he plays really well with and then there are dogs that he just plain ignores but it's this one type of dog that just turns him into a crazy and totally obnoxious bully. Does anyone have any advice? My biggest fear is that it's going to turn from dominance to aggressive behaviour and, at the rate he's growing, I don't want to end up with a huge and aggressive dog!

Please help - It's really making me hate the dog park :(

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Replies to This Discussion

Elizabeth, I wanted to let you know that I can completely relate! Ember is similar in her dominant behavior and play style. I have been taking her to puppy class and we have a really helpful trainer who had helped me reevaluate what I thought was aggression but is actually fine, active puppy play. Ember is slowly learning how to listen to and respect other dogs. If the dog she is tackling makes whining noises and i have to intervene, she gets one more chance. If she still can't get her act together she gets a time out. Usually when she comes back she plays much better. I find she is much better at listening to dogs she doesn't know or who are much older than her. She has a puppy friend that she has known for awhile and she doesn't seem to be as polite with her for some reason. It really stresses me out, but having the support of puppy class and also doggie daycare (at the same place we do class) has made a huge difference.

I hate dog parks for so many reasons and this is one of them.  Some dogs just get overly aroused.  Plus, I find that for some reason too many dogs these days just can't read other dog's body language.  It's like we suddenly have a society full of doggie social misfits.  Maybe its just that back in the day we didn't allow strange dogs to all run around together.  I know that dog parks are a fairly recent phenomenon.

Anyway,  I would put an immediate stop to the behavior.  If you see the behavior starting, go right over and leash Cooper up.  I wouldn't "hold" him down.   I would put him in a down stay and make him cool his heels for 5 minutes.  ie. Redirect him through working for you.   If he can't hold a down stay for 3- 5 minutes with distraction in the park, then maybe you need to hold him out until he is a bit farther along in his training.   After the time out period, let him off leash again.  Does he retrieve?  Playing ball at the dog part will give him something proactive to do and will keep his mind off the other dog.  

If, however, he goes right back after the other dog again, then it might be time to go home.  Don't take it personally.  It is like having a 2 yr old child who is having a tantrum.  Sometimes you just need to remove them from the situation that is getting them wound up. 

Out of curiosity, when was Cooper neutered?  I just read this fascinating study out of the University of Pennsylvania.  It used a sample size of over 10,000 dog surveys.  They found a very strong correlation between aggression and fearfulness and early spay/neutering.  Contrary to popular opinion, intact dogs and bitches actually showed substantially lower rates of aggression and were temperamentally more stable.  I've noticed this myself.  I have an intact bitch.  She doesn't go looking for trouble but she makes it clear to dogs (males) who approach her that she is NOT dating.  She will curl a lip and give a low growl.  The intact dogs get it right away.  They will turn their heads away and leave her alone.  The neutered dogs, though, inevitably, keep coming on with the HI ! HI ! HI ! you smell interesting, what are you.  It is as if they can't read her social cues. This behavior will eventually cause my bitch to have to escalate her warning and if I don't step in, she will nail the offending dog.   

Thank you both for your replies! Jen - your comments really do hit home for me. I think it's so easy to confuse dominance or 'intense' play with aggression. The dogs he does this to never seem to have a problem. Not ONCE have they ever whimpered or even tried to get away from him. It's more the owners that have the issue and make me feel like my dog is a nightmare (and that's something I know I need to get over). The truth is that when dogs tell him off, he listens. Sometimes he'll bark or talk back but then he'll leave the dog alone. The big issue here is that these dogs don't do that at ALL and he just escalates. After puppy class he was playing with a pretty timid dog and started barking and jumping (not to the extent at the park) and the teacher let it continue and kept saying that it was good because slowly the other dog was learning to assert herself towards him so they were both getting a learning from it. Then one of the other owners says 'my I'm so glad that I don't have an aggressive puppy'. The trainer actually came to Cooper's defense and said he was NOT aggressive and that he just has a more 'in your face' play style. The part that made me angry is that her dog actually tried to bite her earlier in class when she picked her up... hmmm who has the aggressive dog???? It's just so much easier for bad bevahoiur to go un-noticed when it's a 4 lbs havanese than when it's a 37 lbs doodle pup! lol.

Carol - you make really good points as well. I actually find that there seem to be very few well balanced dogs at the park. I actually have been avoiding the high-peak times beceause it can just get way too chaotic when there are 20 dogs running around. I also always bring his ball because he loves to play fetch and I do use that as a distraction when he starts to act up. He's fairly good at being re-directed MOST of the time. He actually isn't neutered yet. He's almost 5 months and I was going to have him fixed at 5 months because he's shown signs of being dominant but I may look into the study that you mentioned.

My biggest challenge is that there are just so many opinions on all this stuff. I just want to do the right thing for Cooper but get scared that what I think is right may actually be making the issue worse. The one thing that you said that is really what I need to work on is not taking things personally (it's what my trainer always says too). I do get upset when he acts up at the park, I get embarrassed and I feel sad that my puppy is acting like suck a bully. I know that I'm a big part of the problem so I need to work on that piece.

I completely hear you about other dog owners. That is what makes me get so stressed... I don't want them to think that either she's a bad puppy or I'm a bad owner. I worry about that label 'aggressive' when it just is not the case!! Are you able to get her into daycare or with bigger puppies/dogs? I swear it has made a world of difference for her and for me. 

 

Also what has helped is doing recall at the park and having Ember do some commands (we do Watch Me, Sit, and Say Hi-nose to hand) before going back to play. This reinforces that you are still there and what you want matters, and that you will still let her go back and play. It might help Cooper to settle a little bit too. 

Very interesting, I have the exact opposite problem!

Luna is the extremely submissive dog who doesn't know what it means to be dominant or aggressive.  She rolls over on her back for almost every dog (unless they decide they want to play chase, then she is delighted!).  Some dogs, almost exclusively boxer/bully breeds (no idea why, maybe they have different body language cues) take offense to this and start to growl and bite at her face and won't let her get up.

 

What has worked well for us (phrased from the other perspective for you):

- If the play escalates beyond your comfort zone, immediately pull your dog away and get him to do something for you (sit, down) as a bit of a time out.  Reward him for taking his focus away from the other dog so he knows it's ok to take a break.

- When your dog interacts with another dog, stand right beside two dogs.  That way your dog knows that "alpha" is around, and you can step in if needed.  This will also be reassuring to the owner of the submissive dog. 

 

We have become quite vocal to the owners of dogs who are bullying Luna, basically asking them to "take your dog away please" if they won't let her get up.  We have also found that the "looming" (standing very close to the dogs as they play) seems to help a lot, because the more dominant dog will still "check" with the human standing over him/her periodically, which (I think seems to) reduce the intensity.  This also allows me an opportunity to step in quickly if I need to.

Thanks for this. I appreciate you giving the other perspective as well! I'm going to try to use some of these suggestions. Good for you for being vocal with the other owners when you're not comfortable. Do you also try to keep your dog away too? I often pull Cooper out when he's being too rough but too often, the owners of the submissive dogs just let their dogs keep running at Cooper which is REALLY frustrating for me when I'm trying to calm him down and re-direct his attention. I just thought I'm bring that up, though it sounds like you're really attentive when these dogs are around which is awesome.

I'm so glad that you are trying to improve Cooper's behavior - most of the people I come across whose dogs have problems with Luna pretend like there's nothing wrong with their dog's behavior.

 

We do try to keep her away from dogs that look like they may have "issues" with her - we call her back to us and get her attention with a stick or something.  We don't always see them coming in time, but if we do then we try to prevent a potentially uncomfortable situation!

A lot of the time Luna comes and lies down at our feet (or at the feet of someone nearby) when she's feeling uncomfortable, and it's the dominant dog who actually follows her.  If she feels threatened she doesn't go back to the other dog most of the time, sometimes (no clue why) after a dog pins her, she goes up to them to lick their face, almost like an apology "what did I do wrong?"

Isn't it frustrating when people get defensive or play dumb when their dog is obviously being a jerk? I've learned that if my dog does something at the dog park that irritates someone (jumps on someone, steals a toy, etc--she's never aggressive) the best approach is to redirect the dog and say "Sorry, we're working on that" and leave it there. It's so simple: Intervene and apologize and move on! And if someone's dog is clearly aggressive toward a particular dog, leave the park and come back when that dog isn't there (I mean the owner of the aggressive dog, not the one that's being targeted)!

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