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Separation anxiety? or dominance?

3070 Views 8 Replies 4 Participants Last post by  twandawg85
I have an 8 month old shelter rescue mutt. (we think he is mostly pitbull and german shorthaired pointer. and something else that is BIG. At 8 months he is 60 + lbs and has huge paws and tons of loose skin.) His name is Jack.

We are sure he has some dominance issues. One of the first things he did when we got him home was try to mount me. Then he tried to mount my wife, then his pillow, then the first dog he met(this is getting better). He was surrendered to the shelter. They said because of food aggression, but neither the shelter nor myself has seen ANY food aggression (At this point I can tell him "leave it" while he is eating and he will stop eating and look at me waiting for "Okay") Highly food motivated, we can use his regular dry food as treats, and he did not understand he could not play with humans with his teeth, but no aggression. Im sure they misinterpreted rough play and his attempts to get the food as aggression. And his large size and puppy energy makes that rough play dangerous. Anyway thats beside the point

He doesnt seem to want to leave my side. we are crate training him, and he does ok with it if we stay in the house. (he might whine for a minute or two). But if we leave, he barks loudly. He still calms down after just a couple minutes. If he is not in his crate and anyone touches the door to leave he is on high alert. Even if its someone new. when they (or I) go outside he runs from door to window trying to see where they went. I recently found out that if we are with a group outside and one person goes inside he acts similar, on high alert, trying to follow the person that left, barking at them if he cant get to them. I know how to deal with things when I am with him. He doesnt use his mouth on people for play anymore(unless he gets super exited, but even that is getting better).

I dont know how to deal with it when I do something like go out to get the mail. I go to the door, and he is on high alert. While I am outside he jumps on the back of the couch and puts his front paws on the counter to get to windows. We had to train him not to get on the back of the couch, but he never gets on the counter unless someone is outside.

I just dont know what to do, cuz I cant correct him or misdirect him or anything, because I am outside! I also dont know if it is anxiety because people are leaving and he is worried they wont come back, or if it is more dominance because people are leaving and he didnt say it was ok.

Sorry this was so long. We have lots of issues with Jack.
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Hmmm...a lot of stuff here. I have actually experienced some of it in the past when my dog was a little younger, around the same age. While my dog is a more dominant dog, he did have some anxiety issues, such as barking violently if I walked out the door and he could see me out the window.

I often found that it seemed to be he wasn't 'prepared' for me to leave so suddenly (like randomly stepping out to get the mail). I figured it had a lot to do with control....he wanted to control the situation, but was not old enough to know that he didn't NEED to control the situation. A dog gets super stressed when they think they need to control everyone in the house due to dominance. My dog would react better if I put a treat on the ground and walked out the door quietly without acknowledging him. Then he didn't bark. Sometimes I would give a command, like stay, and would walk out the door.

How do you utilize the crate? Are you in a single family home where you can get away with letting him bark it out in the crate? If he barks in the crate (probably due to anxiety) you definitely need to let him bark it out so he learns that barking won't get him what he wants. When he quiets down, let him out. My pup used to try to bark at me to get what he wanted. He slowly learned that it wouldn't work, that if he behaved he got rewarded.

As for jumping on the counter when you go outside...can you have someone inside watch the dog for the moment, like your wife? If the dog responds to you leaving and jumps on the counter/couch/ whatnot, have her correct the dog. I personally used a little water spray bottle since my dog hated that thing with a passion. He stopped a lot of bad behavior just by seeing the ominous little water squirt bottle in my hand.

Be firm with your dog. Don't let him sit on the couch or the bed. Don't let him jump up on people or put his paws on people. He is still young, but most likely is trying to understand if he needs to be the Alpha who takes care of the family (like choosing who gets to walk out the door and if they are safe when they leave the house). Once he has figured out that he can be a dominant dog, but that his humans are Alpha, he should begin to loosen his grasp. He is young, there should be a light at the end of the tunnel. My pup was a little rough when he was 8 1.5 years he is MUCH improved.

Also...not sure if I missed it in the post. Is your dog fixed? My dog mounted my boyfriend one time and that was it. Never again. That was before he got fixed though. He used to do some goofy things with his blankets, but that was generally his own entertainment I think.
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Def gets to bark it out, but that has not been a real problem, and is going away. When we put him in the crate and left he would bark for a few minutes then stop. He has never gotten rewarded (let out of crate, or given whatever he was barking for) for barking. Now he almost never whines when we put him in the crate. He does if its something unusual, like yesterday my parents came over to help repaint the bedroom. He was in the crate while other people were here and alot of in and out moving furniture and painting gear. He whined then, but that whining is unusual now.

He is fixed. And from my (limited) understanding since he was fixed before sexual maturity the mounting is only a dominance move. The first time he tried to mount me, He wanted my spot on the couch.

I am wondering if he thinks he has to control everything because he is afraid of everything. He is nervous about everything. I forgot to mention in my first post that the people who surrendered him to the shelter also said "he doesnt like it when you beat him anymore." So we know he didnt have the best family for the beginning of his life. And we def saw what they meant by "he doesnt like it" the first few times he had to correct him. He was completely in defense mode. Im sure he expected us to beat him. Once he figured out we were not going to beat him he stopped reacting defensively every time we said "no."

Like you said I think a lot of it is going to just be a waiting game. He is still a puppy and trying to control everything. He has pretty much fully submitted to me, there are a few things where I am not sure if he is challenging me or just being a large loud puppy. He hasnt completely submitted to my wife yet. While we have both treated him the same he will still try and take her seat every once in a while, and bark at her sometimes when she has food. The only difference in how we have treated him is sometimes when he would get really out of hand where he could become dangerous to himself or someone else, I just stuck my arm around his chest and picked him up and moved him to the middle of the room and laid him on his side. I'm 6'6" 300# so I can do that easily, my wife cannot (nor do I want her to try). Once his feet left the ground he stopped. Im sure this plays a big part in how much he respects me vs my wife. I am also with him more since I am working from home. I am a big part of his stability. Now his energy level only gets to that point when we are outside playing with a ball or going for a bike ride. He runs along side the bike.... Its awesome... Im sure he could run for MILES. Like flat out RUN for MILES.

Anyway, now the biggest problem is his fear. His initial reaction to just about anything new is fear. I water a transplanted tree, afraid of the running hose. I pulled out my guitar, hid on the other side of the room when I started playing. I chopped some wood, ran around frantically with his tail between his legs (Although I am kinda ok with him being afraid of the ax, but I dont want him running around terrified). The wind moves the door, he hides in the hallway. The neighbors tiny dogs bark, tail between his legs(if it was a large dog he would react in a more dominant way, but he seems to be afraid of these dogs). He has gotten over it but he was literally terrified of mailboxes, pulling away from it, biting his leash, wouldnt go within 10 ft of it. Now when we walk by one he just gets a little closer to me. He is also getting better with the hose, now he will drink out of it. I am hoping to get him wanting to play in the hose. Now he runs away if he gets wet. Havent had him where he could swim yet so I dont know if its just the running hose/rain or being in water in general.

Some of these I think come from the fact that he is not allowed to be dominant all the time, so since he cant be dominant he is afraid. Or he is trying to be dominant because he is afraid, and now the fear is showing more. Or maybe its something else that I am not seeing. Idk Its almost 2 am and I should be sleeping.

Any insights are welcome.
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I'll comment on the fear issue -- it sounds like he wasn't well socialized as a young pup. Usually the 'window' for a dog to be the most receptive to new things and experiences is from the first 4-6 months of life. I think your pup just hasn't been exposed to some things early on (maybe the previous owner never gave him a walk, so he never saw such large items as mailboxes...he may have never played with small yappy dogs, encountered strange noises, etc)

But no worries, it sounds like your dog is naturally becoming more used to such things as mailboxes. I would suggest bringing treats with you when taking him for a walk...when he is close to something that you know he fears, give him a treat. This will slowly develop a positive association with the object or noise...
I am just ignoring the mailboxes and he does better every time we walk by them. After the first time, which was unexpected and pretty violent(Jack not me) and confusing, because I didnt realize what he was fighting and trying to run away from. When I figured out what was going on I just started letting him flail and pull back trying to stop, and I just kept walking calmly like nothing was happening. It only took 3 or 4 mailboxes before he quite barking and biting the leash. Then he would press his body against my leg as we walked by. Then he would get really close without pressing. Now he pretty much ignores them.

I am using treats with the hose though. I dont know if they didnt wash him or if they were violent about it, but he did not like his first bath. We have only really given him one bath (He really needed it when we first brought him home), since then we have just been working with the hose and trying to get him to play a little in the water. I fed him hot dogs through the running water and now we are up to playing with his rope in a kiddie pool with a little splashing. I pet him with with handfuls of water. It seems all he really needs is a rinse every few days. I would try a bath in the tub, but our bathroom is under construction and I'm doing it myself in my free time. And Jack is pretty much taking up all my free time right now. Although it would be nice to have a shower in my own house again.

While I am not happy he is so fearful, I am glad his instinct is to avoid whatever he is afraid of. It would be an entire different ball game if he attacked what he was afraid of.

He is 1000 time better than when we brought him home.
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The usefulness of the construct of dominance and actual mechanisms how dog social structure works is one of my biggest interests as a trainer.

Short story: I don't think this dog's issues lie with dominance or status seeking behavior/aspirations. Humping is a very common behavior exhibited by poorly socialized dogs who don't have alternative behaviors to offer- it's very often displayed when excited or over stimulated and sometimes dogs will do it in very strange situations. Also, some dogs do it in a masturbatory way as well. It can be an antagonistic display but I honestly can't remember seeing it in a way I would have considered to be meant as an antagonistic display; most often I see humping as an excitement behavior, and some dogs just like to hump more than others. It sounds like he hasn't been well socialized, has learned that people being mad at him is actually a threat to him (ie, they beat him), and he understandably lives a very anxious life because of this. IMO, this is a dog prime to turn to aggression to alleviate his fear/anxiety, but it sounds like you're doing a wonderful job of making the world a less scary place.

Personally, given he has a history with being beaten and judging by the statement of his former owners that "he doesn't like to be beaten anymore", it sounds like he may have possibly turned to aggressive behavior/threats/displays in the face of physical manipulation in the past. I would definitely NOT advise you continue to alpha roll him, no matter how calmly you do it, because I would be weary of escalation.

In terms of the long answer of why I don't think dominance is his problem....

The typical "wolf pack" model of dominance theory (ie, their is an alpha, then a slightly lower ranking beta, then a lower ranking omega, etc in a linear hierarchy all the way to the bottom) was based off of studies done on artificial wolf packs in captivity comprised of unrelated animals in the '40's. From those packs the scientists postulated that the wolves were constantly vying for the top position in the pack and that they used force to gain and keep it. It is now known that this is not typical behavior of wolf packs, and in the wild their is very often little to no aggressive behavior- most of the hierarchy is reinforced by the appeasement displays of the lower ranking (usually younger) members of the pack; their was one study of a wild wolf pack that went something like 13 years without seeing any aggressive displays by higher ranking members, I think. We now have pretty good evidence that wild wolves don't even operate by a linear hierarchy. Usually packs are comprised of a mated pair and their offspring. Additionally, dogs are not wolves and domestication does seem to have changed the way dogs relate to one another.

In feral dog packs, there is rarely a linear hierarchy. There are often dyad relationships between two individuals, but rarely can you construct a meaningful, linear hierarchy of a feral pack. There also does not seem to be much status seeking behavior going on, and the thing that is most effected by dominance in wolves- reproduction- is not something affected by rank at all in dogs. In wolf packs, there is a mating pair that repress the reproduction of the others. In rare cases where more than one litter is born into the same pack, the mother of one litter will usually kill the pups in the other. Dogs have random mating patterns and it is not common for mothers to try to kill other litters born around the same time as theirs.

Research seems to indicate pretty clearly that even if their is some aspect of dominance heirarchies in dogs, they tend to be fairly malleable and often are different across circumstances. If you're interested in reading studies about dominance, I highly recommend "Domaince in domestic dogs- useful construct or bad habit" by Bradshaw, Blackwell, and Casey. They propose associative learning as being the main mechanism behind social interaction and behavioral issues. Quote:
"imagine, for example, a neutered male Afgan hound (AH) and a neutered male Jack Russel Terrier (JRT). Although the 2 dogs have not met before, each will use information leaned previously in similar encounters in deriving their behavioral response to the situation. The AH, for example, may have previously encountered a small, white male dog that responded to it with aggression. The JRT may have learned to be anxious about all large dogs that show a tense body posture, because it has learned that this posture predicts aggressive behavior. Because of previous learning experiences in other situations, therefore, the risk of aggression occurring in this encounter is relatively high..."

I really like this article as an explanation of dominance in dogs:
ClickerSolutions Training Articles -- The History and Misconceptions of Dominance Theory
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Awesome information. The more I work with him the more I see that fear is motivating most of his unwanted behavior. At first it seemed like aggression or dominance, but its mostly fear.

I am positive now that what I was calling dominance was Jack trying to control everything because he was afraid of what would happen if he didnt.

He is much calmer now, even when scared. When we first brought him home if there was a noise that scared him like a loud car driving by, or the farm equipment in the field behind the house, or a neighbor shooting something(Im in a farming community so thats not uncommon.) He would go on high alert and run around and bark, now he still goes on alert, but he just kinda wanders around. Still has ears back and tail between his legs, but not flipping out about it anymore.

He is doing AWESOME with water. I have made sure to go outside and play with him almost every time it has rained. He is readily drinking out of the hose. Even had him chasing the hose water yesterday(that was a first). Freshly filled a kiddie pool and threw some cut up hotdog pieces in it. It was like a mind game for him. Some of the pieces floated while others sank, he was very hesitant at first, but by the last piece he was just shoving his face to the bottom of the pool to grab the hotdog. He later figured out that if he pawed at it it would move and he didnt always have to stick his face in so far. Today while we were outside he pawed at the water a bit, no hotdogs, just Jack playing with the water.

Another thing Im not sure about (And this one might deserve its own thread) is Jack does not want to let other dogs smell his butt. I know it comes from poor socialization, but I dont really know what to do about it. He smells them. and has no problem with them smelling his face or body, but wont let the dog get behind him. He circles and tries to make sure he is always facing or beside the other dog. He also just keeps smelling them. He will smell their behind once or twice, but then keeps smelling their face and belly/privates.... He just doesn't stop.
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Good to hear he's improving and that you're starting to see how much fear can look like what people like to call dominance. IMO, most of what people consider dominance is rooted in dogs liking to control their environment. Sometimes this is from a place of fear and/or anxiety (like it seems to be with Jack), in which case it may be because they've learned to be afraid of things not in their control, like your guy, or because they have some genetic predispositions to that state of mind, or is is often born out of the breeds original purpose, like in herding and protection breeds like Cattle Dogs, German, Belgian, and Dutch Shepherds, the various Collies, Dobes, Rotts, etc. Herding breeds have been bred to want to control movement, and protection breeds have been bred to be able to tell when something's wrong with a situation, and this can lead to very controlling temperaments and a dog who feels that their idea of how the world should look/behave is the right idea, and will take steps to change their environment to fit how they think it should look. I don't know that there's a whole lot of research to back this up, but its a gut feeling I've been having lately.

In terms of the obsessive sniffing and never wanting to turn his back to other dogs- that sounds like it is in the same vein as the other behaviors- like he doesn't trust the other dogs and fears what will happen if he relaxes his guard. Again, JMO, but I would consider finding very calm dogs to socialize him with one on one, and limiting the strange dogs he greets, especially off leash, in case the do something scary/something he doesn't like and he expresses that by biting or lunging. Look for very low key, happy-go-lucky kind of pups; dogs that care more about people than other dogs and are likely to ignore him would be good confidence builders.
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Just thought I would update. Jack is getting much better with everything. Still acting scared. Had a setback recently because we had an out of state wedding and had to leave him with my mother in law for a few days. No major setbacks, she was just less consistent and he learned he was allowed to break some rules, and he is still trying to do that now that he is home.

Visited the vet this week. Jack is now 75 lbs. Hes a big boy thats getting bigger. Got some more heartworm and flea/tick meds. (I didnt realize the heartworm meds were prescription and I was looking all over the place for them before I found out I needed to talk to a vet for that)

Got him a backpack for walks. I get his food ready and put it in his pack, then go for a walk while he carries his food. Partially just giving him something to help with focus, partially to get him ready for walking trails with me.

When he is tied up outside he doesnt just stand and look at whatever door I went in anymore. He will play with a toy or lay in the sun (he has shade available, he just likes the sun). Rarely he will stick his front paws in his pool, but its happening more often. And....DIGGING....any recommendations on how to stop this? He has dug one hole that was at least 2 ft down.

He now ignores mailboxes. Is chasing the water running out of the hose. I now have to pay attention to how much water he gets from the hose. He doesnt care as much when he goes to far and gets his face sprayed. He still backs off a little but then goes right back at it. Got one of those sprayers with different settings (shower/jet/full/soak/flat) His favorite setting is shower, he chased it more than any other setting. I want to get a wide spray sprinkler so I can play in that with him.

I am also learning that many of his problems are just puppy problems, and since he had little to no structure in his first home he never grew out of them. Others he just hasnt grown up enough yet. But with him being 75 lbs puppy problems are sometimes BIG.

I also never mentioned this is really my first dog. Technically I had a dog with my parents, but we only got it when my grandma died, and that dog was fat and lazy and... well thats about it. all she really did was eat and follow mom (We all think she thought mom was grandma after she died, It was my mothers mother.) So this is the first dog I have ever really trained at all. I am blown away by the spectrum of "advice" from so many different people with different ideas. I was given "advice" from a guy who spent almost $1000 on a hunting dog and the dog wouldnt train like he wanted so he shot it. I was also given advice from someone who literally would not say "NO" to her dogs. No corrections whatsoever. The dogs ran that house. And while I will never come anywhere close to either of those extremes its hard to navigate through all of the different theories out there.
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