Some people think that puppies bite for dominance-related reasons. They claim that the puppy wants to be the dominant leader of the pack, or the alpha animal.
I’ll tell you the source of this advice and why vets and dog trainers should stop giving advice like this, especially to puppy owners.
This Alpha animal theory is still supported by some veterinarians and dog trainers today. If puppies display what is known as dominant behavior, these people advise one or more of the following things:
- Turning the dog over on its back
- Addressing it in a severe tone of voice
- Grabbing it by the scruff of the dog’s neck
- Overawing the dog by other forms of verbal aggression
If you prefer watching my YouTube video related to this topic of puppy dominance you can do so by watching the video below.
Dominance theory is derived from a study conducted back in 1970
Dominance theory is based on academic studies conducted by L. David Mech way back in the seventies, focusing on a pack of randomly assorted wolves held in captivity.
The results of this study suggested the presence of a strong hierarchy, in which the so-called alphas (leaders) had first pick when it came to resources such as food, shelter, and so on.
The notion of an alpha suggests that wolves compete for leadership with their pack members. The alpha secures a position by displays of verbal or physical aggression toward the other wolves and by winning fights.
The simple assumption that dogs are the descendants of wolves led to the conclusion that this social etiquette applied to dogs as well.
Another assumption was that every dog has alpha dog, or in other words leader ambitions; even in relationships between dogs and humans.
This study became immensely popular in no time, which caused many people to train their dogs accordingly. People would adopt a dominant and, if necessary, aggressive stance toward their dogs in order to be and to remain the alpha, the leader of the pack.
Mech, however, has not been idle in the years since his 1970 publication. He continued his studies into wolf behavior, only now, he focused on wolves in the wild rather than sticking with captive animals. These later studies produced completely different results.
35 years later, somewhere around 2005, L. David Mech distances himself from his earlier conclusions in the publications based on his 1970s research.
He calls the alpha concept one of the most dated theories from all his previous publications.
In the years between 1970 and 2005, Mech had gained a much deeper insight into wolf behavior, after discovering that wolves assume leadership roles in the wild simply because of siring pups and becoming parents.
Moreover, packs in the wild don’t consist of ragtag bunches of individual wolves like the pack he studied before: they are made up of parents and their offspring from consecutive litters born in earlier years.
Anyone will agree that parents automatically assume leadership roles in any family.
The children simply follow their parents’ example.
There is no aggression or competition over the leadership position because it clearly belongs to the parent.
It’s just like back when you were young, with your parents leading your family by default.
For a detailed explanation of wolf leadership by L. David Mech, read this article. For a detailed explanation of alpha status by L. David Mech, read this article.
As it turns out, the dominance and aggression notion is completely outdated.
Puppies don’t bite to dominate the family or to become alpha dogs. To your puppy, your leading role is clear from the very beginning.
After all, you are the one making sure that your puppy has a safe place to live, with all the food and water it needs.
Flipping your puppy onto its back
Many people watch Cesar Millan on television or here on YouTube.
One of his tactics is flipping a dog on its back to make the dog submit to him as an authoritarian person. By doing so, he is trying to be dominant; the alpha dog. He does it by using force. In fact, he is forcing the dog to lie on its back.
All seven dog experts interviewed for my puppy biting book indicate that this is definitely not what you should do. Especially not with puppies.
Furthermore, Cesar Millan most often works with adult dogs or, at the very least, dogs in puberty. You should not practice those techniques on an 8-week-old puppy and especially not by yourself without professional supervision.
By forcing your puppy on its back, you are displaying your superior strength. This raises the tension between you and the puppy.
You are commanding respect instead of earning it.
Your puppy will develop fear toward you, and that is not what you want. It is hardly a basis for mutual friendship. In addition, you are increasing the risk of biting due to the elevated tension.
Although puppies can’t really harm an adult in any serious way, you should remember that puppies will grow into mature dogs someday.
Once an adorable Rottweiler puppy grows up to be a full-sized Rottweiler, it won’t be adorable at all when it starts biting.
All in all, you should work on mutual trust and respect, to make sure your puppy does as you ask out of respect, rather than out of fear.
Severe tone of voice
It is better to focus on what is allowed than to keep teaching your puppy what is not allowed.
Using a severe tone of voice when addressing your puppy will only lead to unnecessary insecurity and tension.
It is quite common for puppies to obey the man of the family. In general, male voices are deeper, and if a man shouts out loud, the whole house will hear. A puppy will be deeply impressed, making it likely not to repeat its undesired behavior when the lord of the mansion is around.
Instead, the puppy will start displaying these behaviors around weaker family members; usually the children.
This is the reason why you should always try to anticipate.
Study the puppy carefully, so that you know when it is going to behave in certain ways.
Suppose you notice that every time you are sitting on the couch, your puppy is likely to drop by to try to get your attention, biting your socks and trouser legs every now and then in the process. If this is the case, be sure to have a dog toy handy next to the couch and hidden from your puppy’s view.
And speaking of dog toys, check out these super chewer toys that are best for puppy biting. These super chewers are extremely durable and super-tough.
So, as soon as you notice that your puppy is getting bored, call it over and play with it for a bit. Use that super chewer toy, for example. That way, you are calling for your puppy’s attention, rather than the other way around. The basic principle here is to prevent the behavior that you don’t want to see by rewarding the behavior that you prefer.
Catching a puppy by the scruff of their neck
This is another tactic derived from L. David Mech’s 1970 study.
People who apply this tactic use their hand to mimic a dog’s mouth.
If a puppy does something that is not allowed, they grab it by the scruff of its neck to let it know that it has gone over the line.
Maybe you’ve done that yourself one time already.
The idea behind this is to show their dominance, making it clear that they are the ones setting the rules.
At the same time, however, they are harming the puppy’s self-confidence, and more importantly, its confidence in your relationship. Your leadership role comes with an exemplary function.
Are you really trying to teach your puppy that application of physical force is the way to achieve your goals?
I didn’t think so!
We all understand that frustration and emotions can get the upper hand occasionally; this is especially true when rearing puppies. It happened to me too when my golden retriever was still a puppy.
But real leaders, however, set themselves apart from wannabe-leaders by remaining calm and focused.
And of course, the reality is you can’t always stay calm and focused but try to do your best at the very least.
If you’re having trouble keeping your emotions in check in certain situations, which is understandable with puppies, ask your partner for assistance so that you can go cool off somewhere. They give the same advice to parents raising babies these days.
Using a water spray bottle
Suppose your puppy regularly bites the legs of your table, and you can’t make it stop doing so. Some people will advise you to use a water spray bottle whenever your puppy displays negative behavior.
You shower your puppy with some water from the spray bottle to startle it, causing it to forge a negative association between biting the leg of the table and the cold shower.
This approach is likely to help you tackle the problem. Your puppy is startled, developing a negative association with biting the leg of the table.
Even so, you are employing an aversive training method, in which punishment is linked to problematic behavior.
To put it differently: you are correcting your puppy’s behavior, instead of encouraging desirable behavior.
The danger here is that your puppy may grow afraid or insecure, and this is definitely not something you want to happen. Your goal is to transform your puppy into a stable and self-confident adult dog.
To achieve this goal, you need to focus on the behavior that you do want to see, rather than on the behavior you don’t want to see. Sounds easier said than done, right? That’s because it is.
Well, there you have it; some thoughts on Dominance and aggression within puppies. Feel free to check out my 4 puppy training books for a complete step-by-step plan on Amazon.
Lastly, make sure to check out my partner Healthy Paws Pet Insurance so you can save up to 90% on your vet bills, and check out the super chewer toys for durable and super-tough toys for puppy biting.