No such thing as a free lunch....
dealing with pushy dominant dogs
Shadow and Superman who helped write the book on pushy!
Malamutes, being a pushy, dominant breed can often benefit from what trainers call "No Such Thing as a Free Lunch" training. It's a system you can incorporate into everyday life and is very helpful in getting a problem dog under control. It's a non-confrontational system of rewards that puts YOU, the owner in control of the dog's actions. It's privileges based on the dog's behavior and lets the dog know who is alpha without "alpha rolls" or "pinning" - two increasingly outdated methods of dealing with dominant dogs since aggression begets aggression. "Free Lunch" is a method of rank clarification for a confused dog. It can make a big difference with any Malamute, but particularly pushy dominant ones. It also helps keep control with multiple dogs. How it works is this: nothing the dog does is "free", they must do something to earn it. It's based on pack behavior and how alpha dogs use mind games to get what they want and assert rank issues. Higher ranked dogs get to sleep where they want, eat what they want, go where they want, and the lower ranked dogs just have to cope. This is all very natural to a dog, and comforting at the same time because they know someone is in control. One way is taking away the dog's free movement around the house. We use baby gates, doors and "stays" to keep them from congregating in groups that could quickly get out of control. Malamutes in a group don't listen and tension is increased. To increase control (and lessen a chance of fights) we control where they are, which other dogs they hang out with, and when. They see nothing wrong with this and generally accept it without question. It's helpful if you are having dominance problems with your dog and is also useful at increasing your "alpha" status with any Malamute.
Lock the doggie door if there is one. When you remove the ability to go in and out at will, this can be a big help with many dogs. They become dependent on YOU to control their environment which improves your alpha status. They have to ask YOU. It's not necessary if you aren't having any problems, but with a dog (or group of dogs) with issues, it can be a big help. Once the problem is under control for about six months, then you can reopen the door if you wish.
Keep the dog off the bed and furniture. Malamutes are very aware of who gets to sleep where. Dogs with alpha wannabe problems are often more likely to throw a fit or growl over being removed from the bed and furniture. This includes allowing the dog to sleep on the bed with you at night. If your dog hesitates when you tell him to get off, you have a problem starting so be careful what you allow to begin with.
Take over the dog's space by requiring the dog to move for the owner rather than reverse. Dogs in need of rank clarification get used to controlling the owner's movement by lying in the doorway or major traffic areas. It's a "control thing" they do. Be aware of this and require the dog to move for YOU instead of stepping over him. It's also good to get him used to having children make him move to avoid issues if the day comes you have toddlers in the house. Dogs used to making their owners move are more likely to snap at a toddler that falls on them accidentally. "MOVE" is the most respected command in our house!
Tethering the dog to the owner for a period of time - the bigger the problem, the more time the dog should spend tethered to the owner. You can do this by taking the dog's leash and running it through a belt loop. The dog has to follow the owner everywhere, which is good practice for Malamutes. Moms - this one is for you - tether that puppy when you are zooming around cleaning house while the baby sleeps - easy training and instant respect!
Make the dog wait before allowing him through a door. If you must, tell him to sit until released. (I'm usually satisfied as long as they 'pause' for direction, but with a pushy dog, you might want to make them sit first). This is also a safety rule - dogs should NEVER run out the door without first getting your permission. Again, if you are going out with your dog, it's preferable that you go out the door first.
Occasionally take over the dog's space by deliberately moving the dog when asleep at some point and then occupying that spot for a few minutes. This happens often with the pack - Star will decide she wants a "spot" and it becomes very clear she wants it with just a look. Being Malamutes they will take their time evacuating the preferred place, but she doesn't have to do a thing - just look. They know and the young dog is unceremoniously evicted. One thing our guys do is lay against an interior door. You try to open the door and a dog is barricading the other side. We tell them "MOVE" and push the door open hard anyway - they get the point and get out of the way so we can come through. We should NOT have to shimmy through because the dog is there! It's not just the view or a draft they're enjoying - it's the power over the other dogs of knowing FIRST which human or dog is coming through the door and possibly challenging that movement.
Take control of the dog's use of the yard. If territoriality is a root issue, take control of when the dog gets to go in and out of the yard, how they use the yard and especially how LONG they get to use it. Have the dog on a regular feeding schedule so you'll know generally when he needs to urinate so that if the dog indicates it wants out, you can evaluate whether it's a need to urinate or just a need to chase squirrels and hunt mice in his territory. By how long means you don't just let the dog hang around outside indefinitely. YOU decide how long to let him play outside - for 15 minutes, an hour, or whatever you wish, then make him come in. It's not his choice when to come in. Try not to participate in any delay games either (not always easy with a Malamute!) - often an intermittent reward for coming immediately (cookie, carrot or other treat) is helpful. I give certain dogs a treat when they drop what they're doing and come really fast. If they dawdle, sorry no treat! Also, have rules about what is appropriate activity in the yard. Fence fighting, eating poop, and digging are definite no no's at our house and will not be allowed (they are brought in IMMEDIATELY and know we are not happy). You need to make your own rules about what is allowed. (Sorry, but hunting and killing small animals is part of the Malamute psyche so you can try to disallow it with your obvious displeasure, but odds are it won't work...)
When you take the dog visiting, teach the dog to wait for permission before exploring the new environment. This is a very common thing for pushy dogs - their owners are trained to allow them to explore a new park, house, backyard at will.
When the dog gets the special privilege of "hanging out with you", perhaps in the front unfenced yard while you garden or at a dog-friendly beach or park - ALWAYS tether the dog to yourself or tie his leash to a fencepost. Do NOT rely on obedience training or the fact that he's always been "good" about staying by you. This is a Malamute, and all it will take is one bunny or another female and your dog will take off before you can react, possibly fighting and killing another dog or getting hit by a car. Don't risk it!!! Also, tethering in this circumstance lets your dog know he is not responsible for "protecting" the entire neighborhood from stray dogs and squirrels. His job is to be near you, nothing more.
Take control of your dog's exercise. Exercise should happen under the owner's supervision and with the owner's permission. (OK, you can watch them body slam each other playing in the backyard through the window, but only if you are supervising...). Alpha dogs will often get upset with the younger ones that play rough and hard without their permission - you should too! If the dog is very active and "goes nuts" because he misses a day of usual exercise, it's an indication the owner is using management through exhaustion to cover up problems, or the dog is totally alien to the concept of getting permission.
Downs are great for mealtimes or when you're snacking in front of the TV. First teach the dog down on cue (using treats) so it knows what a down is. Once the dog understands what you want, make the Malamute go into a down position if it wants to
beg and mooch food. This includes when it wants to beg from children!!! Have the kids help you teach the dog down so they can benefit from this too. Ignore and reject barking, pawing or other attention getting behavior. They only get a tidbit if you allow that (and I mean a really tiny one) AFTER they have been quiet and down for a reasonable period of time. Better yet, teach them to wait until you are finished. OK, only the really good trainers that aren't a soft touch can do that (I'm not), but it's a lofty goal we can all strive for!
Use baby gates and doors to allow the dog into certain rooms at certain times. If you are busy and don't want to be pestered put a baby gate at the door to keep the dog out. I'm not saying permanently confine the dog to certain areas of the house - or always lock them out of certain rooms - but to temporarily keep them out of a room because a door is shut is good practice and a good use of your alpha role. (Don't let a pushy dog wear you down by scratching to come in or barking! That is still one of Shadow's problem areas - he HATES being locked out of a room.) Dogs do not need free access all the time to everything, including outdoors.
Accessibility can also be used to your advantage when you have two dogs or two bitches that are not fond of each other but it hasn't escalated to true hate. Some same-sex aggression in Malamutes is unavoidable and some gets out of control pretty quickly - then the only solution is permanently keeping them apart. However, sometimes if it's not severe you can keep control if you limit access to certain areas that cause conflict (like the kitchen) or when you are not actually in the room with the aggressors. This can work for dogs that are very reactive but can get along most of the time. (in other words, they like each other enough until a crumb falls between them - then it's an instant fight). An example is how we handled Star and Nova or when Holly decided she didn't like elderly Penny and was looking for opportunities to "get her". If we went to another part of the house, we would casually put a baby gate or close a door between, limiting which rooms they could leave or enter. That way, they were never unsupervised right next to each other to act out their dislike. I don't know if it would work as well if it were a mutual dislike situation. Don't allow them the freedom of movement to bully. Limiting access can take a difficult situation and make it work satisfactorily.
If the dog is accustomed to "asking" for a walk, treat, special privilege at certain times of the day - make him work for it - don't let him demand it. Shadow barks loud and obnoxiously bouncing around acting like a goofus demanding rather than asking to go for a walk in the evening. We make him sit and be quiet for a short time (no barking) before we will "reward" him with what he asked for. If he keeps barking, we ignore him and wait until he settles down and does his quiet puppy wiggle to ask. THEN he gets his walk.
Restrict where he can play or keep his toys. We don't allow inside toys to go out, and visa versa.
No Free Lunch is a wonderful training method that uses positive reinforcement, is not confrontational and therefore works well with pushy, aggressive dogs or even dogs that are just a little too spoiled and used to getting their own way. In other words, MOST Malamutes!