Pecking disorder

2012-02-16 00:00

DOGS are driven to dominate from a few weeks of age and will be controlled by their instincts until old age reduces this need. Whether it be a human or any other animal, the canine mind cannot reason to itself that this process must stop when, for instance, encountering a human baby, a 90-year-old person, Bill Gates or a monkey. They will attempt to dominate, irrespective of the physical, mental or material status of a species­.

Jenny Underwood with her three sons Robert, Tim and Patrick are residents of Hilton and recently I met them to deal with canine aggression issues.

Jenny, a qualified remedial teacher who runs BrainTrain, a busy school in Hilton for children who do not enjoy the conventional schooling system for one reason or another, contacted me about two of their pets. Sam is a nine-year-old Rottweiler x Doberman and Ben is a one-year-old Great Dane x puppy. Frequent spats were occurring between the two which fortunately had not escalated to all out fighting. Even though Ben had not been neutered, testosterone was not a contributing factor to the conflict, due to his age. Therefore the main cause of the antagonistic behaviour was an imbalance in the pack hierarchy wherein Ben had inadvertently been elevated in status above the other dogs. The total canine complement consisted of four dogs with Ben the puppy being the youngest by a number of years.

On the day of the consultation, while walking from my vehicle to the house, Sam was already growling. I addressed this immediately to prevent any possible fighting and then proceeded with the session. I explained to the family that when dogs have the necessary social­ skills and are left alone without human influence, they establish a pecking order which is maintained constantly as directed by the collective instinctive intelligences.

Dogs are designed to read messages from each other sent out via different body components in the form of body language, sounds and smell. Resultantly, appropriate dominant and submissive behaviour allows for harmony in the pack. Because humans do not have the same instincts or body parts as that of dogs we utilise different approaches when establishing pack hierarchies, also using body language and sounds, but not smell. The two species may have some common ground, but are designed differently when it comes to interpreting each other’s messages.

By modifying their behaviour the family­ quickly saw the dogs calming down. The abnormal aggression stopped within 24 hours and issues such as jumping on couches ceased during my house visit.

An enormous factor which needs to be considered is that humans­ have an emotional quotient­ or intelligence, which, unfortunately, can be a big stumbling block when interacting with our dogs. The sight of a tail-wagging dog or puppy stirs up feelings in us which influences the resultant body language that we produce. When aggression is a regular occurrence in the domestic situation it can mostly be attributed to well- meaning owners, visitors and other­ people whom the dogs may encounter.

We have to keep in mind and respect that our dogs are programmed differently and will therefore act accordingly.

With regards to Ben’s mental maturity taking place at about 18 months, I urged that he be neutered as soon as possible with the assurance that it would not alter his temperament in any way whatsoever.


• Steve van Staden is a canine behaviour specialist and can be reached via his website www.



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