Shandael Alaskan Malamutes

Establishing Dominance

You absolutely need to establish yourself in a position of dominance to the dog. This is possible for the adults in the family but not for children. That is why children's interactions with any dog need some supervision.

Most of the time the need for dominance is expressed to owners by trainers as "showing the dog who's boss". This is never operationalized in terms that owners can understand however, and so the owner has no idea what to do to establish dominance. In order to understand dominance you have to understand the natural social order of the canine.

In wolf packs there are relatively few true fights because order is maintained by displays of dominance and submission such as posture, mounting, muzzle clamping, muzzle snapping, and urinating on possessions. Fights are infrequent because pack position is maintained by such displays, and confrontation is thus avoided. Malamutes are not part wolf but they are natural dogs and those of us who maintain multiple Malamutes have to recognize the pack order and be the recognized authority as well as let our own dogs set some rules for each other. For example, only my high ranking dogs are allowed to meet company at the fence, the others must hang back or be attacked. One time I had a fight between dogs that normally get along because I put a low ranking dog on a grooming table in the presence of a high ranking dog. When I had her jump down, the higher ranking bitch felt compelled to wail the tar out of her for having assumed a higher (literally) position.

You too need to establish dominance by display. Naturally you do not want to take your Malamutes head in your mouth and pin him to the ground, nor are you inclined to go around pissing on your stuff. You need human type displays, not canine type.

There are some trainers who urge owners to engage in physical displays of dominance with their dogs. The owner is urged to grab the dog and throw it to the ground on its back. Sometimes the owner us urged to grab the dog by the ruff and growl in its face. This is very dangerous. It is very likely that the dog will perceive this as either an attack and defend itself, or if it has been allowed to achieve a position of dominance, will feel totally within his rights to clean the clock of a low ranking (that is the owner) pack member. Dogs have a sense of fairness and social order, to do anything that violates that is ill-advised. I have a great deal of experience with big tough dogs and have handled, transported and trained dogs straight out of shelters, but I would never physically challenge a dog. I have never ever been bitten by a dog and I want to be able to say that at 80! I avoid physical confrontations with dogs and establish dominance in non-physical ways.

Here is how to establish dominance without getting into a world class wrestling match with an animal that has more strength and bigger teeth. You need to teach the "sit" and "down". Use these two commands whenever you do anything with the dog. He must sit before you give him his food, he must sit before he goes out (and wait for you to go through the door first!) He must sit and wait for permission to enter the car, the house, or whatever. If he gets rowdy and you need to control a game or other behavior you use the sit and down to establish your control over the dog. If he insists on getting on the couch when you have said NO get his leash drag him down with the leash and use the sit and down commands to establish your position of authority. As your confidence grows, lean over the dog on a down, groom, rub tummy etc. Do not let the dog get up on his own, have a release command, OK, or something like that. Over time push a bit more with greater demands, physically restraining him when down, making him move out of your way just because you said so. All of these actions convey dominance to the dog and win you his respect. Avoid head to head confrontations over real issues and assert yourself symbolicly whenever you can. This is what dogs do in the pack. I have seen dogs who hate each other go to great pains to pretend they don't see each other so they won't be compelled to confront.

An obedience class is the best way to bond with a dog. I have had totally untrained unruly males bond with me quickly simply because I was the first person who ever made demands on them. Although some strong alphas exist, most dogs are born followers, they only accept the leader role reluctantly if you refuse to. Look for a trainer with real dog sense who can assess the individual dog and doesn't have one technique only. Malamutes do not do well with physical jerking and pushing training because of their size and pain tolerance, and can be real con artists when treats are used. I have little faith in pet shop or rec-center classes and recommend a trainer with a lot of experience with many breeds of working dogs. Just because someone trained their pet lab-mix does not make them a qualified trainer.

Be a benevolent dictator who is generous with praise when earned. Many people randomly reward their dogs. This conveys to the dog that you are submissive as low ranking pack members fawn over higher ranking members for no reason. If your dog does something you have told him to praise him. A happy voice "good Boy" and a scratch to the ruff or pat on the chest is how to praise a dog. Do not fawn or prolong it. With an intact male that invites an attempted mount.

Never lose sight of the fact that a dog is an animal and will act like an animal. It is your job to understand this animal you have invited into your home. It can't say, "Your behavior is inappropriate and I will have to take action if you continue", instead it can only growl or bite. A growl is a warning, take heed, change the situation and use your sit or down command. (Do not confuse the play talk of Malamutes with a true growl, they woo and roar in play and you have to recognize the difference). Do supervise play with the children and a crate or run can be used to give everyone a break from each other. Do go to training class. Do consider neutering but be aware that neutering does not take the place of training. Neutering does not affect behavior directly but it affects the motivations behind behavior--eg. roaming is reduced because the motivation (attraction to females in season) is eliminated. Urine odor is not strong in a neutered male and he will be less inclined to mount and hump--which you absolutely do not want him doing. Neutering also reduces intrasex aggression as the lack of pheromones does not trigger the aggressive response on the part of males you may meet.

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