Here is a really big, really important question: Is my puppy dominant? Or Is my rescue dominant? Or is my adult dog dominant? And I have the answer!
The fact is that your puppy is not dominant. Because dogs do not suffer from “dominant personality disorder” the way that people do. (I’m sure you’ve met the type of human with this disorder I just made-up and I assure you that you have never met a dog with this set of issues).
In fact, the idea that dogs naturally form “packs” and have a dominant/submissive or alpha/omega type hierarchy is completely untrue!
Ok so when I first read that I rolled my eyes. I mean, come on… at that point I’d been training dogs for about 5 years. I’d been rehabilitating shelter dogs and I was trained by some really well-respected trainers. Surely they wouldn’t have lied to me all those years. And my parents told me all about dogs and how they need to be dominated or they will never learn anything. Of course my father is a bona fide narcissist and my mother suffers from battered woman syndrome so why would I listen to them anyway, right? And the family dog was a mess, always fighting with every dog he met, pulling on the leash like a draft-horse and occasionally growling or nipping at me. And he sure was afraid of my father, always peeing whenever he bent over to give him a pat or two. Of course, I still loved the heck out of that dog. So it goes to show you that a poorly-trained dog is not a “bad” dog. He was a good dog. He just had misguided owners that thought they needed to dominate him into fearful subordination. (Unfortunately they parented this way as well).
Ok, so I got this idea that maybe dogs really aren’t pack animals after all. Maybe a lot of us are misguided. So I read a lot more about it. And if you personally know me then you know I never do anything part-way. When I do something, I do it with all my heart. And my dogs are my heart and my passion. You better believe I mean it with my whole soul when I tell you that the “pack animal” theory is wrong and a terrible mistake based on one single really shitty researcher’s one single really shitty observation on wolves in captivity being forced to live with stranger wolves in captivity.
Anyway if you know me (even just through this website) you know I read everything I could get my hands on. I read a whole boat load about it so that you would not have to. Believe me, I read study after study (real studies done with proper science), I went to lectures at universities and I spoke to world renowned animal behaviorists that I fan-girl over. I went the whole nine-yards over several years about this. I’ve learned quite a great deal. I am fairly certain that I’ve learned enough about dogs and their behavior to fill up a couple of books. (I daresay I am quite the expert on American Cockapoos). Add that to many, many more years of experience training all breeds of dog and I’ve come to this solid conclusion: dogs do not try to dominate people or other dogs.
You’re going to have to trust me on this one unless you want to do some heavy reading. Which if you have the time I encourage because it is fascinating and you’ll come to the same conclusion. But if you haven’t got the time or passion then listen to me on this one. I promise I would not lead you astray.
Furthermore, I literally have nothing to gain by telling you that dogs aren’t pack animals. So why would I be so vehement about saying it unless it really makes a big difference in how we understand (and train) our dogs? Exactly. I wouldn’t tell you something unless I really, truly believed it. Not to say I’m never wrong. I sure am wrong sometimes. And when I discover that I am wrong I learn more and I fix my shit… err… my stuff. (Sorry, that’s the veteran in me. Sometimes I still talk like a sailor.) I fix my mistakes with an open mind. I do not shut my mind off to “new” and I refuse to be stuck in the “this is just the way things are done” kind of dead-ended mindset.
In fact, one can actually observe around the world that feral domesticated dogs and wild dogs do not live in packs the way most of us have been misled into believing. They live in family groups with social structures extremely similar to human family units.
Dogs are not like lions. A strong male dog does not challenge an older male to try and gain breeding rights over an instinctually bound-together group of partially unrelated females. It simply does not happen. Do dogs fight? Sure. Humans fight too. Do some dogs like each other and spend more time together than with other dogs? Sure. And humans have favorite friends too.
Anyway, as I said before it is not making me any richer or more powerful by telling you that I was totally training dogs incorrectly for the first 5 years of my training career. I don’t admit that casually, either. I have pride too. But I want you to gain from my experience. I have so much of that and I’d like to share it with you so you don’t have to make these kinds of embarrassing and painful mistakes. And after some hand to forehead maneuvers I began training dogs with this family-structure thing in mind and training suddenly became so much easier and so much clearer. When you think everything is about “dominancy” you fail to see what is actually going on (and then your solution isn’t nearly as effective and could actually make things a whole lot worse).
So believe me. Your puppy does not have a “dominant” temperament. Your puppy is not trying to “dominate” you.