Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Dominant Dog who Never Settles?

At our daily dog park adventure we see all types of dogs. It's like Dr. Seuss: Big dogs, little dogs, scary dogs, frightened dogs, furry dogs, shot haired dogs, fat dogs, skinny dogs, calm dogs, lazy dogs, and hyper crazy mode dogs. And this is where my story starts.

Theres this dog and this lady I see sometimes when we make it out to the dog park in the afternoon. She's a nice lady, but her dog is very, hyper. There is a better word for this, maby overstimulated, yes overstimulated at the dog park. The dog can not sit still the entire time and bothers every dog he sees including Jasper, who was calmly laying on the ground clearly telling the dog hey, I do not want to be bothered, please stop (with Jasper's lip licking, and rolling over on his back.) Ok do not get me wrong, Jasper DOES run and play but after about 30 minutes of good play, he lays down and just watches his friends romp around. In fact, I like that he can settle like that. It shows me that a high energy dog can relax and be just like any other dog, it just seems like high energy dogs get placed into the hands of people who do not understand these dogs needs.

So anyways, I was talking to the lady. She told me how he is part Rhodesian Ridgeback and that Ridgebacks need to be shown who is boss because they tend to be very dominating and control the situation at all times. She explained how the dog controls the house and basically tells her what to do. In other words, he is getting reinforcement for doing naughty or unwanted behaviors without any reason not to. He isn't getting punished, and he doesn't need to be punished either. He just needs to understand that anything he does comes from her and anything he wants, he needs to ask permission first.

Running with dogs at the dog park can be a very big distraction that can turn into a highly valuable renforcement easily. Think about the owners who are being pulled by their dogs straight from the car to the dog park gate. Their owner unhooks their leash and lets them free. Take a moment before reading on and understand what the dog just gained out of this.

The dog learned that pulling on leash all the way to the gate gets him his highly reinforcing reward: running and playing with dogs at the dog park. And this is where us humans can sort of get in the feeling of being "dominated" because our dogs aren't listening to us. If the dog doesn't listen at the dog park, perhaps the dog is just too aroused in this situation to where he can listen. They are not blowing you off, they just can not focus and it may take time for your dog to indeed focus at a dog park!

Look below at this graph. This graph is used a lot in psychology books I have noticed, but this does in fact comply with dogs as well. More about it here. A dog who is highly aroused, just like a human who is highly aroused and anxious, may not perform the best at training in an area of arousal. This would be like us taking a major test at school. We may lose all thought of what we had studied for and completely shut down.

My dog, he loves to swim, but he knows I am the one who lets him swim, so when I tell my dog, "do you want to gooooo swim?" he knows to line up at the dog park gate, set his eyes on me, and when I open the gate, he doesn't bolt, but waits until I give a release. He knows that bolting to go swim will not get what he wants. When teaching him this, he was on a leash, so when and if he did bolt, he wouldn't get in trouble because he still wasn't able to reach the lake. He has learned to settle much more now when I tell him it is time to go swim and is able to listen to what I ask him to do. And this is it. We must set our dogs up for success. If we see something our dogs do that is undesireable, then we need to plan out something next time to help our dogs not yet again seek that undesireable problem and turn it into something desirable. If your dog likes to run with other dogs, have that be a big reward if you can! Let him work for something less desirable in order for him to get something much more desireable!

I love learning more about the Premack's principle!


  1. We also have to consider that dogs doesn't understand the English language and what we say to them probably is just a blank sound for them. That being said, we should take that into consideration in correcting their shortcomings whenever we're training them and as far as "dominance" goes, it isn't really dominance since you're correct that they just act out of arousal. Thanks for that valuable key point, most trainers fail to see that and immediately consider the act as being dominant or so.

    Had a nice time reading actually, looking forward to more of these as I'm also new to dog training.

  2. Sheldon, you are correct! When I try to teach my dog, I myself try to make it the least confusing I can for him without the use of needless words. It is so wonderful how you can teach a dog a lot without the use of words as well.