Can You Control Who The Alpha Dog Is When You Own Two Dogs

A dog owner named Beth writes:

Dear Mr. Katz,

I have two cocker spaniels that are one year apart. The red and white female (Cassie)is almost two and spayed. The buff male (Peanut) is just one 1 years old and neutered. Peanut was rescued from a cocker shelter in October of 1999. He is incredibly devoted, a very good listener and quick learner. He is the ideal dog as he is very eager to please. Cassie on the other hand is the most independent and stubborn dog I have ever encountered (you’ve probably seen worse). She used to only listen to commands when she wanted but I have put a stop to that. I have had numerous problems with her dominant tendencies but have come a long way. She now views me as the alpha and only displays aggression when she is in pain – specifically when I brush her. She has been diagnosed with allergies, is on allergy shots and has bad skin. This is not my problem though as I think I can work through this one with the use of the training collar.

ADAM INTERJECTS: It’s very difficult to correct pain-response aggression. It’s more of a reaction than anything else. Use the muzzle and restrain the dog when you need to give her shots. Other times (just so that she doesn’t build a negative association to the muzzle) put it on, take it off, and then give her a cookie. Do this at random times.

BETH CONTINUES: Cassie displays a lot of dominance aggression toward Peanut. She growls when he tries to pick up a bone near her and when they play (or fight) she will “hump” him. I always feed her first, give her treats first, pet her first but Peanut just doesn’t seem to get it. He will walk through the door before Cassie but after me. He is always one head length ahead of her when we walk outside. Further, I think he is trying to challenge her because the playing time more recently has turned into fighting. It’s more barking than anything — to date there has been no blood. However, Cassie usually is on top of him, pinning him to the ground, and he lets out this barking/yelping noise when she releases, he goes right after her again until I break it up.

She also displays the same aggression toward the cat. If the cat comes into her “area” when she is comfortable in front of the fire or if the cat even walks by one of her bones she goes crazy. She’ll chase the cat away with growling and quickly running after her.

ADAM INTERJECTS AGAIN: You can correct this behavior. She will learn not to chase the cat in the house.

BETH CONTINUES: So here’s the big question. What do I do? Do I continue to treat Cassie as the next in the pack? Do I let them fight it out? Do I continue to scold her for chasing the cat? HELP!

Any advice you can offer will be much appreciated. Your book is great by the way….

Regards,

Beth

Dear Beth:

Thanks for the question.

There is ONE big point you’re not conceptualizing: You can only affect your relationship with each dog. You can be dominant to both dogs. Or you can be dominant to only one dog. Or you can be viewed as the Omega dog (the most submissive one) by both dogs.

However, you cannot control how your dogs view each other. This is a topic I’ve written about in past issues of my e-zine. I’m going to reprint it for your benefit:

A subscriber wrote: “Thanks, Adam. I think I found the answer. ‘We determine who will be the alpha dog.’ Correct? “

My reply:

“No, no no! You cannot do this! It’s impossible!!!

The dogs’ temperaments are inherent. Only you can determine if you’re dominant to the other dogs, by being MORE DOMINANT. But you cannot work it out for them.

You can control the dogs’ behaviors and not allow any scuffles if you:

– are the alpha dog in the pack.

and

– you have voice control.

But as soon as you leave the dogs together– unsupervised– and go out for dinner… all bets are off. The dominant one will still be the dominant one.

Think of taking a group of four kids.

Kid#1 will grow up to be a Navy Seal, and then an Admiral.

Kid#2 will grow up to be a fierce criminal defense attorney.

Kid#3 will grow up to be a middle management executive for a large firm.

Kid#4: will grow up to be a peace activist and a socialist.

Now, when you leave the house every day for work, you may say, “Kid#4… you’re in charge.” And as long as you’re around, Kid#4 may get the privileges of being the “so-called” top dog.

But as soon as you leave…

It’s going to be a given that kid#3 and kid#4 are going to be the bottom dogs, and kid #1 and kid#2 will scrap-it-out to see who is REALLY the “top dog.” Their genetics (and to some extent, upbringing– depending upon their age) determines this. But it is the toughest kid who will become the group leader.

Even though kid #2 may be fairly tough in his own right, he will test kid#1… but will ultimately lose… as kid#1 is too tough.

Now, if kid#1 gets sick and has to stay in bed, then kid#2 becomes the new kid#1.

In other words, the “Alpha dog.”

Until you get home. Then you’re the alpha dog, and he becomes the beta dog.

Get it?

Beth, as far as you’ve described your dogs’ interactions… it doesn’t sound to me like you’ve got a problem. It sounds just like play, or perhaps some dominance scuffles. However, without seeing the dogs in person it’s impossible to tell for sure.

That’s all for now, folks!

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