Yodel's Desensitization and Counter-conditioning to strangers is working great. He didn't even bark when I came in the door. I repeat, a Beagle did not bark when I came in the door! We then
taught him Leave It and he did very well with that.
Skye did exceptionally well learning Leave It. We practiced with food and she aced every
test. Because she is reactive to animals and movement on TV we also practiced with that,
and she did well with that too! Not letting her get over threshold is key.
We've already taught Kora how to go to her bed and stay, so today we worked on door greetings. She struggled at first but then we moved her bed a little closer to the door and that helped. By the end of our session she could go to her bed and stay even after the doorbell rang.
“They returned the dog after two weeks because he is an Alpha dog. He barks and lunges at strangers, and growls when we try to put our hand in his bowl.”
I hear variations of this theme all the time, and it’s time we retire the term “alpha” from our dog vocabulary. No other word is as misunderstood and incorrectly used when referring to dogs as is the “a-word”.
It began decades ago when researchers were studying wolves. What they observed were wolves fighting over resources such as food or mates, and they named the top wolf in the pack the “alpha” wolf. However, the researchers were studying captive, unrelated wolves. What we have learned since then is that most wolf packs are family units - father, mother, and offspring - and fighting to get to the top of the pack is rare, if it happens at all. From this acquired knowledge wolf researchers have abandoned the alpha description. But because of the internet and TV personalities the alpha dog myth just won’t die.
You may be asking yourself why labeling a dog an alpha is a problem. Well, if Bob believes his dog is trying to be the “alpha” and is attempting to exert its dominance over the family it sets up a confrontation, and Bob may try to make the dog “submit” to him and the other humans in the household. Research* has shown that confrontational training methods can lead to an increase in an aggressive response from the dog.
A much better idea is to describe what your dog is doing, decide what you want him to do instead, then help him change his behavior. In the example at the top, this dog is not trying to be the alpha. When I met him it was obvious he is barking and lunging because he is anxious when strangers come into the house, and he growls because he thinks his food is going to be taken away from him.
So let’s retire alpha (and pack leader, and dominance, and dog whisperer) from our dog vocabulary. And instead of thinking our dogs are trying to rule our world, consider that maybe our dogs are having trouble coping in our world.
Our goal tonight was to teach Scarlet how to Wait - for her food and for doors to be opened -
and to Stay. After a few repetitions she was able to wait very well. However, she struggled with stay (her people describe her as a "velcro" dog). We were able to successfully get her to stay for 30 seconds of duration, but she just couldn't handle us walking more than a few steps away from her. What helped her get over the hump was a tactic I've only (recently) used once before: a tether. I put a leash around the leg of the sofa and attached it to her so she couldn't be reinforced by walking towards us. After just a few repetitions she had the "light
bulb" moment and she was able to stay, even as we walked out of the room. But the big breakthrough was having her stay as we walked into the laundry room, filled her bowl with food, then brought it back into the kitchen - all while she stayed in a sit - something she could not do before!
Today we taught the boys Drop It and Leave It. I worked primarily with Rex, the more impulsive
of the two, and he did extremely well. Rugar watched and I think he learned a little bit as well. We then practiced with paper towels, socks, and food and they both were able to drop it or leave it when cued. Well done!
Evie was a handful tonight. For the majority of our time she was easily distracted and unfocused, and we struggled to teach her Down, but eventually did. However, we then had to teach her Stay, and she wouldn't sit still for a second - literally! What I did then was stand still, not saying a thing, and just waited. When she would sit on her own I would click and treat. Finally she settled down and we were able to finish teaching her how to Stay for a full 30 seconds! It may not sound like much but it was quite the accomplishment for her.
Jeff Dentler, CPDT-KA, FFCP, CTDI