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Dominant or Assertive Part One
One of the most confusing characteristics of the Jack Russell Terrier is the assertiveness of the dog. This is mistakenly tagged as canine dominance, even by experienced dog trainers. This error can create training disasters in a Jack Russell for several reasons, including situations with dogs of lower pack status and with dogs who are very sensitive. When a trainer resorts to bullying dogs they see as dominant, but who are actually highly assertive, dogs of lower pack or dogs who are highly sensitive will not only fail to reform, the bullying can create new behavior problems. By learning the difference between canine dominance and an assertive nature, dog owners can better choose the correct training for their dog. This is a two-part article. Part one covers the dominant dog and part two explains more about the assertive trait.
Dominance is often associated with pack status. The dog at or near the top of the pack will have dominant traits. The dog at the very top of pack hierarchy is called the alpha dog. An alpha dog is a dog who is born to the status of the leader of the pack. This dog has a demeanor and presence other dogs easily sense. However, there are not that many alpha dogs. For example, if you own five dogs, there is a good chance that none of them are an alpha dog. Typically, the dogs will be scattered in pack order. The dogs close to the top of the pack hierarchy will often put an effort into controlling some of the privileges that, by nature, belongs to the alpha dog. The dogs near the middle or the lower end of the pack hierarchy are usually more willing to submit, or will not put a large effort into controlling privileges.
If you do have an alpha dog, you will find that the alpha dog typically has two very strong traits. The first is dominance and the second is assertiveness. Dominance can be thought of as an attitude of authority, whereas assertiveness is the insistence of getting ones way. Alpha dogs are dominant and they typically use their assertiveness to carry out their authority. However, a dog with a dominant nature or an assertive nature is not always an alpha dog. Basically, dominance and assertiveness are tools which are used by an alpha dog. If an alpha dog fails to take a dominant role and assertively keep control of the pack, the pack will fall into disorder. A pack in disorder will suffer because more squabbles will occur among other dog members.
The alpha dog has a presence that other dogs can sense. This kind of power aura sets this dog apart from all other dogs. People can also have this kind of a power aura. Cesar Millan, a.k.a. the dog whisperer, has this kind of aura and dogs immediately sense this man's power.
An alpha dog is born to expect to be in charge. That is why you can get into canine conflict if you own two alpha dogs. Seldom do two "bosses" see eye-to-eye on how to run things and both want to have the last word. Both alpha dogs will think they should be the one in charge. This "in charge" state of mind is hardwired into the dog and can't be changed. However, the alpha dog can learn to accept leadership from his owner. This is accomplished by strategically taking control of the areas which the alpha dog normally controls. Instead of fighting with your dog about who is in charge, or trying to bully the dog into compliance, you can take control by training the dog. Teach the dog he must move out of your way on command, teach him to let you take away food, and teach him to heel along side of you instead of letting him take the lead. Once the dog learns to accept that you control these and other privileges, which are typically controlled by the top dog, even the alpha dog will relinquish power to you. This kind of training puts you in a leadership role.
Although an alpha dog may employ an alpha roll to keep subordinates in line in the pack, typically an alpha roll is not a good way to keep your alpha dog in line. I realized that Cesar Millan uses an alpha roll quite often and with a lot of success, however, unless you have an acute understanding of canine behavior and can pick up on subtle dog cues, you are best never to use this technique. Few people can use it as well as a dog, and misuse can result in a dog owner being bit or a dog being traumatized by too harsh of a reprimand. Most people will find that training is their best way to succeed.
Although alpha dogs are dominant, dominance is also a trait that is found in certain breeds. If you own a Rottweiler, or a bulldog (even those cute little French Bulldogs), or a pit bull, you are dealing with a breed that has dominance as a trait. What that means is that no matter what the dog's pack status, the dog will readily step into a decision making/take charge role which mimic that of an alpha dog. This kind of a take-charge attitude can also be seen in dog breeds who are not as dominant in nature if that individual is high in pack status.
A dominant dog will not want to take guidance from an owner who shows poor leadership. Making the dog all the more challenging, is that if the owner fails to take charge in the leadership areas, no matter what the dominant dog's pack hierarchy is, the dog will step in to take charge of that unmanned leadership role. Once the dog decides to take charge, the dog may use aggression to keep charge. These dogs are not being bad by nature, but seem to almost fret if all the leadership issues are not in control. Rather than worry, the dog will take charge. However, by keeping control of these areas, you can maintain control of your dog and often curb unwanted aggression from the dog.
Now that you've decided that your dog is an alpha dog or in the least dominant, let me stress you out. Jack Russell Terriers are not a breed with a dominant nature. What most people confuse for dominance is the dog's highly assertive nature. The good news is that understanding the assertive trait will help when working to train your dog. The bad news is that the assertive trait is much more difficult to deal with than the dominant trait. The next issue will talk about the assertive trait.
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