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A Matter of Misunderstanding
Misunderstandings between dog and human cultures can create dog behavior problems. For example, submissive peeing is a miscommunication between dogs and owners. Dogs who submissively pee do so when a person bends over to pet the dog, looms over, or is harsh with this type of dog. The dog's culture tells him he must urinate to show his boss he's not being disagreeable. This behavior is offered by a dog who is low in pack status, in hopes of appeasing the owner. Unfortunately, too often the owner responds with anger and sometimes punishment, which perpetuates the behavior in the dog. Like many overly submissive behaviors, the solution to this problem comes by understanding how to correctly communicate with the dog, which can break the submission cycle. In the last issue of True Grit, there was an article about a dog named Rocket, who had a submissive peeing issue. The article told how that problem was resolved. In this issue, I'd like to discuss how that misunderstanding between Rocket and Mark, which lead to the submissive peeing, got so out of hand.
The problem with Rocket began when Rocket reached canine adolescence. Many dogs begin this sometimes turbulent stage around five or six months. With some Jack Russells, you may begin to notice a change in behavior from that of a puppy to teenager, as early as three and a half months. Although the worst acting out is often over at a year of age, other developmental behaviors can make some dogs more of a challenge until the dog is mature, which happens around three years of age. During adolescence, a dog goes from being a follower to being more independent in his thinking and actions. Although all adult dogs are independent thinkers, some dogs have such a strong desire to please, the dog acts more like a follower all his or her life, and never seems very independent at all. Some Jack Russells are so independent, that the follower puppy stage almost seems missing.
For some dogs, the adolescent transition from a dependent puppy to an adult can be turbulent. Dogs may show aggression during this time, which seems to disappear when the dog grows into an adult. Some dogs will show dominant behaviors, then immediately show submissive ones. Submissive peeing can crop up when dogs go through this teenage-like stage. Unfortunately, dealing with canine adolescent dogs can be trying.
When Rocket entered his adolescence, he displayed a lot of contradicting behaviors. Rocket showed a lot of aggression towards strange dogs, and he seemed to want to take charge. He also showed very submissive behaviors. This could leave a person wondering what kind of dog Rocket actually was, dominant and aggressive, or submissive and showing fear aggression. At that time in Rocket's life, Rocket probably didn't even know himself.
Mark had been informed by several people that Jack Russells are dominant dogs and that their owners must firmly show the dog who is boss. As discussed in other articles in True Grit that explained the difference between dominant and assertive dogs, very few Jack Russells are dominant. Most behavior issues are due to the dog's highly assertive nature. This was true of Rocket; unfortunately, Rocket's misinformed owner thought he was dealing with problems due to a dominant nature.
Thinking he had a dominant dog, Mark tried bullying techniques to reform his dog's adolescent bad deeds. Instead of training the dog to get the behaviors he wanted, Mark punished unwanted behaviors. Unfortunately, Rocket, like many Jack Russells, was very sensitive. It isn't unusual for a highly sensitive dog to forget what the punishment was all about and instead focus instead on the harsh treatment.
As Rocket's adolescent misbehaviors increased, Mark decided the solution was to more effectively establish himself as the alpha dog. Most people consider being alpha a process that is achieved by using brute force, as opposed to being a dog's leader by using training. Now granted, your willful and highly-assertive Jack Russells will at times decide to take charge even when you train using positive techniques. However, using harsh techniques or bullying the dog is not a good idea when trying to win compliance. Learning how to barter with the dog is the solution.
Mark, armed with poor advice, began to deal with his dog's misbehaviors by using eye stares and alpha rolls. An eye stare is an act used to dominate a dog. To do this, you grab the dogs chin and force the dog to make eye contact. You maintain the stare until the dog looks away. That tells the dog that without a doubt you are the boss. An alpha roll is done by forcing the dog onto his side and making the dog stay there until you decide the dog can get up. Yet another way to show dominance over your dog is “scruffing.” To scruff a dog, you grab the loser skin at the back of the neck, then you lift upward and shake.
Since Rocket's true nature was more submissive, these bullying techniques communicated to Rocket he needed to submit at all times or else. The most submissive behaviors a dog can offer is to roll over on his belly when approached or threatened, and/or to pee if the alpha acts in a hostile manner such as becoming angry with the dog. As mentioned in the previous article, Rocket became so good at submissively peeing, that all Mark had to do was come inside the house and glance at the dog from across the room to get this response.
I worked to help get Rocket started in his reform. What gave me insight to resolve these problems was how Mark's wife treated the dog. She used no harsh treatment to get cooperation from the dog, and in fact, she tossed treats to the dog when cooking the evening meal. Mark's wife also played with the dog. I began my reform of Rocket when I cooked my meals in the evening, because Rocket would consider interacting with me in a positive way in that environment. Any other place in the house, Rocket would pee if I looked his way. I also employed the positive effects that playing can have on a relationship. I'd sit on the floor, grab a toy, and play with Rocket. Most Jack Russell love to play and this kind of interaction is a great way to bond with the dog. With this breed, bonding can make a big difference between compliance and defiance.
Here are a few things I hope you take away from this article. First, dogs go through adolescence, and some dogs, during that time, behave worse than others. One of the best ways to help survive your dog's adolescence is to do as much positive training as possible during puppy-hood, in preparation for this trying transition in a dog's life. During adolescence, continue to keep persistent in your training and keep that training positive, even if the dog wants to take charge. Although some dogs need consequences for misbehaviors, punishment isn't the right consequence. Withholding a reward, keeping the dog under control with tools such as a leash, and bartering become valuable tools when dealing with a very strong will and determined dog who wants to be in charge.
One of the worst ways to attempt to reform a Jack Russell is to try and use harsh techniques or punishment. Although a few people may have success, because these dogs were bred to persist no matter what the punishment when hunting, those techniques typically fail. Making matters worse, harsh training techniques or punishment can destroy bonding between the dog and owner. Sometimes, bonding is the only thing that convinces a strong-willed dog to do your bidding.
As for Mark and Rocket, I am happy to report that they both lived happily ever after. Mark learned how to deal with his dog without using any harsh techniques or punishment, and Rocket became a more compliant dog. Rocket's aggression towards other dogs also disappeared after the dog matured, leaving me to suspect that the aggression was either insecurity driven or what I call transient aggression. Some dogs during adolescence will show aggression, which resolves after the dog matures. So if you have a problematic adolescent or a problem dog at any age, learn to communicate through training that uses positive techniques. Positive training can build confidence in a dog and trust between dog and owner, which can eliminate unwanted submissive behaviors.
Peggy Swager is an award-winning author. This last year, two of the articles
printed in True Grit were finalists for the annual Dog Writers Association of
America awards. In her book Training the Hard to Train Dog, she has a lot
of information on how to deal with strong-willed, high drive, and stubborn Jack
Russells who want to run the show. There is also an entire chapter on house
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