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Dominant or Assertive Part Two

Perhaps one of the best ways to understand the assertive nature of a dog is to look at how that nature is used by the dogs. Herding dogs are typically assertive. Take for example a Border Collie. The dog faces off with a sheep or other animal. The dog employs his assertive and tenacious nature to win his will over that of the sheep. Since this dog was bred to work with people when doing his job, these kind of dogs will take guidance from a dog owner if the dog is trained to do so. The assertive nature of the dog does cause the dog to want to do things his way from time to time, but since the dog was also bred to comply, the dog can be trained to accept the guidance of his owner over his drive to do things his way.

Jack Russell Terriers were bred to be assertive. This allows the dog to go into a den and persist until the dog gets his way and the quarry is forced out of the den. If you think about this job, the dog is literally entering another animal's home and telling that fox he must leave. That is really taking charge, because the Jack Russell doesn't hesitate to go into another animal's home and has no qualms bossing around that home owner. Pain or physical punishment will not deter many Jack Russells from their mission. These dogs will endless work until they get their way. This breed was developed with a drive in the dog to assert themselves and get their task done with little disregard for pain and at times, self-preservation. And'(this is the big "and")'these dogs were not bred to do their work with any coaching from their owners. These dogs were bred to work independently.

So how does this trait play out in your household? That depends on how assertive of a trait your dog has and how independent your dog is. Typically the higher in pack status the dog is, the more tendency towards independence your dog will be, however, this trait can be bred into dogs at all levels of pack status. Independent dogs do not automatically think about checking in with their owners before the dog takes action. Making Jack Russells all the more challenging is the dog is quite intelligent and quite creative. Let's look at an example. Alexis is a female Jack Russell. She will roll onto her back when you approach, because she is a more submissive dog by nature. With most breeds, the more submissive dogs will only want to follow a leader, and will even follow a poor leader rather than take charge themselves. That is more typical of a dog of lower pack status. However, with a Jack Russell, even those of lower pack status can have a highly assertive nature. Here is how that plays out with Alexis.

Alexis' highly assertive nature gives her the ability to go into a culvert and take on a forty-pound raccoon. That raccoon, who easily outweighs her, may growl and may even take a swipe at Alexis, but she won't stop her mission. Alexis will persist no matter what the risk or punishment until she has her way with the raccoon. And trust me, this dog is clever enough that so far two raccoons have lost and Alexis has won, and the dog was clever and quick enough not to get hurt.

Alexis has almost never had the opportunity to vent her excess energy by hunting, instead, she has me to focus all the creativity, high-drive, and strong will that was bred into her for hunting. Yes, she will readily submit when I approach because she is lower in pack status, but her assertive nature messes up normal dog behavior for dogs low in pack status. For example, I can be sitting happily typing away at this article and the dog will come up and put her paws on my leg. I get up and head towards the back door so I can let Alexis out to answer "the call of nature." All the way down the hall, Alexis trots excitedly, every so often glancing back at me. However, just before we get to the exit, the dog makes a sharp turn to the right and instead of halting at the door to the yard, she stops at a cabinet where I keep her food and her treats. Alexis wants a treat. Alexis will not care how many times I tell her "no." When that raccoon took a swipe at her, he was in a way telling her he was not going to do things her way. But, Alexis didn't listen to him either. If I yell at her for bugging me about getting a treat, she will be shattered. That is because many of these dogs are also highly sensitive. Instead of the dog complying when I get harsh, she would begin to cower. If I try to punish her with a swat, she may begin to submissively pee when I approach. Then I would be very unhappy.

So what is the solution? If Alexis were merely a more dominant dog, I'd simply do obedience training. However, Alexis will readily sit on command, come when called (even if distracted), heels great, and has several agility titles. Many other dog owners have absolutely admired how well this dog follows commands. If you did half that much work with a dominant breed of dog, you'd have a dog that behaved quite well and would understand that "no treat' means "don't bug me, okay." A more dominate dog would merely give up and lay at your feet, accepting the idea that since you are the boss, that you have the right to say "no," and that "no" is final.

On the other hand, highly assertive dogs, like Jack Russell, are hard-wired to insist on getting their way. They may see you as the boss, but if you think about it, a fox in his own den is actually the boss in that house. That never stops a Jack Russell Terrier from bossing around the fox.

What this means is that there is no easy, one-time action you can use on a Jack Russell Terrier that will win you compliance like it might with a Rottweiler or a dog who is higher in pack hierarchy. Although most dominant dogs will fall in line with obedience training, getting a Jack Russell to comply will be at times a hit and miss proposition. Even if you take the time to train the dog on all the leadership issues, the dog's assertive nature will constantly urge the dog to try things his or her way instead or yours. Adding to the challenge is that if the dog doesn't have enough exercise or mental challenges, then the dog will only have you to focus his or her assertive and creative energy on, which can cause a rise in unwanted behaviors.

As for what I did with Alexis? I knew she wanted a treat, but I put her outside anyway. That was my way of communicating to her that paws on my leg are for trips outside, not for her to get a treat. I left her outside for a while, even though she barked and complained. I'll deal with the complaining issue next time, if she tries the same idea again. What I want her to learn with my putting outside where she doesn't want to be at the moment, is to stop pestering me for treats. If Alexis were merely a dominant dog, her previous training would have quickly resolved this issue. However since she is highly-assertive, I will need to continue to enforce my will over hers. And unfortunately, since she is also quite creative, I can bet she will come up with another ploy for getting a treat when she wants it. The dominant trait is so much easier to deal with.

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