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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hi All,

We have a 1 year old cattle dog who we got at 8 weeks old. Right from the get go straight into training. Very smart and picks things up quickly.

Bruce, our cattle dog, over the last few weeks has started barking and growling at dogs when walking him on lead. As a pup, or when off lead with other dogs, he was always so great and really wasn’t fussed by other dogs but he seems to be changing and I’m constantly watching him worrying when he’s on or off lead. He doesn’t seem to know when to stop and needs to be the boss. I now don’t let him play with other dogs for too long as it goes south in the end. He does resource guarding with sticks or things he finds and I quickly get them off him, because if he finds things at the park with other dogs it can turn nasty. Humans though, totally fine, you can pet him or take food off him no issues.

He does dog training all the time and knows his commends etc. isn’t allowed on the lounge / bed and has his spot when inside.

My problem however, which is why I’m in the forum, is now (has happened 3 times) when my mum comes over to visit, I feel Bruce seems threaten by her. I love my mum and give her my full attention with her and I feel Bruce can see that/ wants it stop / he’s not the leader / I see mum as a leader...

The other day, mum lent over to me and Bruce jumped at her and growled, it was very scary. Happened again that afternoon when Bruce was on the floor sleeping to the right of me with mum and I on the lounge, my sister came over and sat next to Mum, was showing her something and out of nowhere Bruce tried to jump over me to mum, started barking, growling etc. when I dropped mum home that day Bruce was in the back seat, strapped in with mum outside the car and said bye to Bruce (very sweet lady couldn’t hurt a fly, never raised her voice around him etc) and he sat there looking at her low growling.

I really want to know if anyone else has had a similer issue / any advice / tips for me? It’s only her and Bruce has known mum since he was a pup. I’m worried he will bite / attack if I wasn’t able to stop.

Part of me feels Bruce is guarding me, like he needs to look after me. My boyfriend and I live together and Bruce doesn’t seem to act that way about my partner. Bruce is always following me. I did a family walk with Bruce and my sister was walking him on the lead and I was walking behind and Bruce just keep turning around all the time trying to get near me or maybe that’s because I was walking with mum too.. I may need to test that theory 🤷‍♀️

I am stern with him and he knows when in trouble but am I not being stern enough? I’m the one who does most of the walking / training / playing including the one who feeds him. Perhaps I should get me partner to feed him and we do it 50/50.

Other examples is a little 6 month old puppy came over to me and jumped on me and Bruce was there attacking the dog. When I say attacking never any blood and as a puppy we didn’t get bitten by him or drew blood, he has a very soft play bite.

Any help / advice / training tips
would be amazing or your story’s with your ACD. When / if they calm down?

Super Moderator
6,506 Posts
It's hard to say, but one thing it isn't is him trying to be the boss. That theory has been thoroughly disproven and widely discredited, even by the person who developed it. It was based on flawed conclusions drawn from poorly observed evidence. The wolf pack was not a real pack, it was a group of individuals thrown together and the situation (captivity rather than wild) skewed the data as their behaviour was not natural. And dogs are not wolves anyway, any more than we are chimpanzees - in both cases there was a shared ancestor but the species evolved in different directions. That's why we have humans AND apes, wolves AND dogs.

This article explains it quite well. Debunking the "Alpha Dog" Theory - Whole Dog Journal

Nobody disagrees with boundaries and good manners, but these can be established through training, building a mutually respectful relationship and without forcing submission from your dog.

If you think about leadership in your own life, the leaders (teachers , co-workers) that you respect earn that respect and inspire followership, they don't command or force it through wielding power 'just because they can'.

Having got that out the way, I suspect the behaviour with other dogs may be rooted in insecurity, as aggression almost always is. That may well be based in his need to guard his resources, whether that is a stick, or possibly yourself as you suspect.

The barking and growling at other dogs actually not uncommon but very few dogs really want to get into a fight. All of their instincts tell them not to - in the wild, the risk of injury is simply too great. In fact, aggressive behaviour is almost always rooted in fear.

By putting on a big display, your dog is trying to frighten off the other dog, his body language is saying 'I'm loud and big and scary, don't come close to me if you know what's good for you'. And almost always the other dog will retreat, or be taken away by his owner, so your dog's behaviour becomes reinforced. It worked, so he knows he can do it again.

This sort of behaviour often happens when your dog is on lead, which means that he has found himself closer to the other dog than he would have chosen if he had been able to.

He will have an invisible radius of space around him where he feels secure. It's called flight distance, anything within that space triggers his fight or flight stress response, which you may have heard of. Find out what that is and keep him far enough away from other dogs that he is aware of them, but relaxed. Reward him for being calm with something fabulous, like frankfurter sausage or a very special toy. The aim of this is to change your dog’s emotional response to the stressful thing (the other dog) by repeatedly pairing it with something good. In time, your dog will learn that scary dogs mean sausages appear and this creates something called a positive conditioned emotional response (+CER).

Gradually, over weeks and months rather than days, you can work on reducing the distance. This may mean you have to be selective where you walk - choose places with good visibility so you can give other dogs a wide berth, or where you can turn and walk away easily. But - be aware that if your dog has had a stressful episode the stress hormone cortisol can stay in the body for some time. Studies in dogs are inconclusive but it may be several days. The distance he was comfortable with on one day might be too close on another day. So the safe distance can change, watch his body language.

Alongside that you could train a 'watch me'. As your dog looks at you, mark and reward the behaviour. Ask for longer periods of watching. Then if a dog approaches, after you have worked on the distance issue, you can get your dog to focus on you and not the other dog. BUT - some dogs find this scary as they cannot see the thing they are anxious about so you need to judge your dog. And importantly, don't ask your dog to watch you if it is the other dog that is reactive. Your dog should never be in a situation where he could be at risk while he is complying with something you have asked him to do.

Trainers describe behaviour like this with reference to the three Ds. Distance, as above but also be aware of Duration - your dog might be tolerant for 10 seconds, but not 15; and Distraction - how distracting the stimulus is, a calm dog might not trigger any reaction at a given distance but a bouncy one might.

If we go back to the resource guarding though, whether that is a stick or food, one thing you said worries me. You said you can take food from him.

First, please don't do that (why would you?).

Imagine from his perspective. Suppose you were in a lovely restaurant eating a favourite meal and someone tried to take it from you. If it happens more than once, sooner or later you would react. Certainly the more you try to take things from him, the harder he will try to keep them. That is how resource guarding is caused. If you must take something from him, stick or food, always have something better to exchange. No fuss, no drama, everyone wins.

The second thing is that in trying to desensitise him to you taking his food, you may inadvertently sensitise him. Sensitisation is when the stimulus is repeated, but to the point of annoyance. Like a colleague who has a habit of clicking a pen - most days you can tolerate it or ignore it, but one day, maybe in an important meeting where everyone is pressured and maybe you have other stresses going on, you haven't slept and you have a headache, and he is click - click - clicking. You have had enough, so you lose it and take the pen from him and snap it. He can't believe what happened, he has always done that and you never reacted before. So there may come a time when Bruce decides enough is enough with the food, and tells you so. There is a good sticky thread about RG here

You said he knows when he has done wrong - dogs don't feel guilt, the part of the brain that feels guilt isn't developed in dogs. What you are likely seeing is appeasement behaviour. Head lowered, eyes wide, ears back maybe? He is reacting to something, possibly your body language. His human is cross, he wants to appease you. Under what circumstances would that typically happen?

But of course, the most worrying thing is his behaviour with your mum. For her safety, please keep them apart using physical barriers like stair gates (you can get tall ones) or train Bruce to wear a muzzle until you get to the bottom of this. Don't just put a muzzle right on him, do it using a method like this -

I don't know why Bruce is anxious around your mother, it might be RG or it could be something else. So I really think you need professional help. Please find someone who uses force free and reward based training; since Bruce sounds quite conflicted and a little anxious anyone using alpha or pack leadership techniques will make him worse.
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