Dealing with dog dominance issues

The Problem

Hi Kristin,

As always, I think of you when I have a dog behavior question. I really value your advice.

As a reminder, I have S- (almost 3 years old), Th- (1.5 years +) and B- (1 + years). All male dogs and they have been neutered.

When I place an object of decent size (like a garbage bag not a gardening shovel) in the backyard, inevitably B- and S- will urinate on it. Usually within minutes of it’s arrival. Th- doesn’t usually partake in this activity. In the last two days, I have found urine in the house. On the sides of furniture, on an exercise ball (this was new to the room) and on a new piece of exercise equipment. Because it’s not puddles on the floor (it’s more like sprays on the sides of furniture and a few carpet accidents….I don’t think it is a dog with a urinary tract infection…..I could be wrong. When they have had accidents in the past they are always in the same exact place…not where I found them in the past two days. Now, I haven’t caught any of the dogs in the act. However, when this happened yesterday Th- wasn’t in the room so I know yesterday it wasn’t him. I can’t think of anything that has changed.

Any ideas????


My Response

Oh no, this isn’t good! Marking is a sign of dominance as you know, and if I remember correctly those two, B- and S- have been in a battle for dominance since B- has grown up. This behavior needs to stop. What I would do is this:

Keep all the dogs or at least the two problem ones, within sight for the time being. Close off access to any rooms not in sight or keep them on leash attached to you. This will stop the behavior happening without you knowing it. Also, of course, use a product like Natures Miracle to clean up any marking you see.. Crate them when you are not able to do this or if you need to leave the house. The more often they do this behavior, the more conditioned to the behavior they will become.

Next, you have to address this vying for dominance between the two. There are two things that need to happen – 1) It must be completely clear to the entire pack that they may be squabbling for rank but that you and your entire human household’s positions are NOT under negotiation. I once heard it described as you are number 1, your husband number 2, your kids 3, 4, and 5 (I think you only have three kids) and then the dogs are number 21, 22 and 23. In other words there is no way they think they can usurp any of the human’s positions. Doing this requires a complete overhaul of how you and your family interact with all the dogs and is too complicated to go into here. But it involves issues related to access and control of resources (food and toys), who has “the right of way” at doors, who greets who first, that sort of thing.

And 2) you must decide which of the two dogs are either a stronger natural alpha OR a more benevolent leader. The strongest natural alpha isn’t always the best one to run the dog pack so if they seem “neck in neck” so to speak, pick the nicer of the two. Then you and your family must support the rank of that dog. Feed that dog first. Greet that dog first. Give the treats to that dog first. Brush it, potty it, pet it first. You get the idea. Everyone must do this but only after you are sure that you aren’t inadvertently communicating that the new number 21 isn’t the new number 1! Be very careful of that!.

Do this in EVERY SINGLE INTERACTION with the dogs. This must be a blitz of sorts, a new way of doing things. Do this for a solid month. Then when the dogs are out of the room put a favorite bone or some new toy in the room and let the dogs in. Watch who gets the toy first and how the others relate to that dog. If the one you picked as alpha goes to the new thing and takes it and chews it while the other dogs politely wait their turn you know you’ve got it. Then and only then do they slowly get to go back into the house unsupervised.

It must be noted that this sort of thing is highly difficult to accomplish and if not done right, or if you misjudge how attached the dog you decided is 22 is to his role as 21 – you will have a very very bad fight on your hands. This is not to be taken lightly. And this may be a good time to have someone come in to help you assess what is going on. We all miss things when it is our pack we are dealing with.

Going slowing and really honing your observation skills will be essential in this. Good luck! I am always around to help in person you know!


December 3, 2009 • Tags: , , • Posted in: advice, behavior, dog ownership, training

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