KENNELS American Bulldogs
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Natural or Learned?
As American Bulldog pups begin to mature they challenge rules and pack order causing some owners to question whether their dog has developed some kind of aggression. But the fact is, very few dogs are born with a mean temperament. Problem behavior usually occurs in dogs that are confused about whether they have to respect pack leaders and/or obey rules.
A truly dominant dog has a type of hard-wired need to be in control. This kind of dominance is easy to spot even in a young pup. And if we see that type behavior in the whelping box, we will definitely not place that pup with a family. On the other hand some owners/handlers unwittingly teach their dog bad behavior by being inconsistent with obedience and rules. If enforcement is not consistent, the dog becomes imprinted with the fact that he does not have to respect the rules and therefore neither does he have to respect the owner who made the rules.
The good news is that you can rehabilitate a dog who is merely confused -- you just have to start being consistent.
Dominance and Pack Order
Dogs by nature are social animals. Their instincts make them want to be part of a social group. Each social group is made up of members who understand their rank and order.
There are no equals within a group of dogs. Every social group will have it's own pecking order. Lower ranking members always defer to higher ranking members. If the group doesn't have a clear leader one member will always try to step forward to become the leader even if that dog is not genetically suited to leadership. What's interesting is that many times a dog that finds itself at the top of the social group doesn't feel comfortable in that position. Dogs are most comfortable (in balance) when there is a natural leader to take charge so that all pack members can learn both the order and the rules. In ALL instances, YOU are the pack leader and have responsibility to set the rules and enforce them each and every time correction is required.
Rank is almost always communicated through subtle behaviors that each members of the pack understands and respects. Within a short time dogs with higher rank will establish their own set of rules that all members of the pack are expected to live by. Within this heirarchy/pack there are well understood consequences for breaking rules. Consider how this plays in your dog's mind in relation to you and your children.....who is pack leader? and who sets and enforces the rules?
Dog owners can and must learn to become leaders even if they are not predisposed to leadership. They need to think about establishing their own set of rules that their dog is expected to live by. These rules include things like no biting/nipping, no inappropriate aggression to visitors, no jumping up on people, no jumping on furniture, staying away from small children, etc., etc.
Owners must also learn to be 100% consistent at enforcing the rules. When a dog believes that every single time it breaks a rule there will be some form of consequence, that dog is less likely to break a rule. Once that threshold is reached (where the dog accepts and live within the framework of the leader's rules) that dog becomes a balanced and easy to live with dog.
In order to accomplish this balance, dog owners and their dogs must come to an understanding that every single time the dog breaks a rule there will be some form of consequence. This doesn't necessarily mean the dog gets a strong physical correction. Some dogs, with soft temperaments, may only need a verbal warning while other dogs need a leash correction. Learn to evaluate your particular dog's temperament so you use only the amount of correction necessary. This part of the process constitutes the "art" of dog training.
Most importantly, owners must be consistent: they can't pick and chose when to apply a consequence. If they do this, they end up with a dog that will pick and chose when to obey a rule. Inconsistency always leads to some level of behavioral issues, all the way up to dominance and aggression.