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Do Dogs Try to Dominate?

Dear WOOF:

When a retired racing greyhound is transitioned into an adoptive home, sometimes we start to see aggression that had not been observed in the foster home after the dog has been in the home a couple of
months. Sometimes, the dog appears fearful. In other cases, the dog has become confident and appears quite comfortable in the home.

In this community of greyhound owners, there is a belief that this is caused by poor leadership in the home. Some refer to it as pack order, since the aggression is often directed at the youngest person
in the home or an adult in the home whose personality could be best described as more submissive.

Sometimes, owners have done something to cause fear in the dog, resulting in a fearful and aggressive dog. In other cases, the new owners have turned their routines around to accommodate the dog and
overindulged the dog with attention and affection.

In either case, the dog starts guarding resources: the couch, the bed, the food dish, or prized items. The dog growls or snaps when someone wipes the paws, asks him to move, or when the vet exams or
approaches to give a shot, which action had previously been accepted.

We recommend ways to demonstrate leadership, rather than dominating the dog. Does this have anything to do with "social order"? Can you explain why the dog targets an individual in the home? What else can
we do?



Retired racing greyhounds are unique in many ways. While some adapt very well to a new life, others have much more difficulty. Genetics and the animal's social history both contribute to adult behavior. Unfortunately, there is no one answer to the question of why problem behaviors like aggression present in retired greyhounds, but let's consider one of the biggest contributing factors - social history.

Most experts agree that the critical periods for socialization begin at about 4 weeks of age and continue to 12 weeks. Technically the social period extends beyond 12 weeks, but the period most effecting
their adult social behavior lies between the 4th and 12th weeks of development.

This is the time that a puppy will be most adaptable to forming lasting social bonds, and through proper exposure, he will learn to approach new situations and people with confidence: including experiences had for the first time like car rides, different types of handling, exposure to all different types of human beings, children, etc. This period also helps the pup learn coping skills. As long as the exposure to the new thing(s) is appropriate, the pup learns to cope and to take new experiences in stride.

During their critical period as pups, what are greyhounds being exposed to? What types of experiences are being provided to expose them to a pet-dog existence? Up to the point they're taken off the
track and put into a home environment situation - literally overnight - most have led a life of social deprivation. They are not at all prepared for the bombardment of new things that happen to them
all at once; being put into vehicles and taken for rides sometimes very long distances, taken to a veterinary office (unfortunately for unpleasant procedures), taken into buildings, up and down flights of
stairs, exposed to foreign sounds like sirens and screaming children, being handled, hugged and kissed by strange people, left completely alone in new and strange places...the list goes on and on and on.
These dogs have had very little, if any exposure to and experiences outside the track environment to begin with, so it is not surprising that problem behaviors develop.

Why these dogs "target" certain members in a home is a very difficult question to answer and depends on many variables, including a lack of social exposure as pups. Does the relationship between certain
family members and the dog have any thing to do with the "social order"? By this do you mean pack order? If this is what you mean, then the answer is "no". Although a popular notion often used in dog
training, the idea of our dogs being pack animals needing to be shown that humans are "alpha or top dog" is a myth. Your dog has no interest in taking over your home, or trying to "dominate" you or your family members. In fact, domesticated dogs are not even "pack" animals. Packing behaviors develop in response to a specific habitat to maximize the species ability to survive; to aid in the ability to hunt and kill large prey, avoid hazards and to reproduce. Wolves are packing animals, domestic dogs are not. Kept and domesticated dogs have no biological need to form packs, and even if they did, they would form them with conspecifics (other dogs) - not human beings.

Providing humane and gentle guidance and leadership is no doubt a very important practice for human beings sharing their home with a dog of any breed or social background, including retired racing greyhounds. In and of itself this can help to build confidence as he or she learns that life with you is in fact a very safe and rewarding thing, not something to be feared.

Retired racing greyhounds really are remarkable animals. Given their backgrounds and lack of social exposure as pups, it is quite impressive that they manage to do as well as they do in their new
homes. For those of you who are having difficulty, as always it is best to employ the help of a qualified behavior specialist that can guide you in helping your racer be the most comfortable and confident dog that he or she can be.

Thanks for writing,

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