What should you do when an overly protective older dog goes too far in his role as Alpha dog?
Sometimes the leader of the pack needs to learn a few things himself!
Sometimes a dog will go too far trying to teach a younger dog how to be submissive and respect its place in the dog pack hierarchy.
And… sometimes a dog will go too far trying to look out for a younger dog and protect it (from getting into trouble, from dangerous activities, etc.)
Do We Have An Aggressive Dog?
After it was clear to us that our older dog Destin had established his place in the pack’s dominance hierarchy (and he could clearly be trusted to be alone with the little puppy without hurting him), we faced a new issue: over-protectiveness.
Tenor (the new puppy) clearly respected Destin’s position in the pack (middle dog acting as alpha dog), and he did everything that Destin “taught” him to do. (It’s uncanny the degree to which behaviors are passed on from one dog to another!)
Unfortunately, whenever Destin would run toward him and forcefully nudge hime to play, Tenor would sometimes take that as a sign that he was about to get reprimanded by Destin. Out of fear, the puppy would whimper quietly.
What we learned: The whimper of a little dog can send a bigger dog into a frenzy!
Over-Protectiveness Can Look Like Aggression
Tenor’s whimpers would immediately put Destin on high alert, and he would nudge the little guy to make sure he was alright. This would start an unpleasant chain of events with Tenor whimpering louder, Destin poking harder, us trying to run to the rescue of the little dog, the big dog getting jealous that he’s not the one who can solve the problem, the little dog now crying frantically (loud enough to alert the neighbors — if you didn’t know better, you’d think the big dog had ripped off the little dog’s leg or something, the puppy cries were so horrific!), and Destin getting more and more anxious that something’s going on with this puppy but he doesn’t know what or why.
Quite frequently, the puppy will be vigorously yelping or crying and on close inspection not so much as a scratch will be found. The puppy must figure out its rank with its new dog family. Source
How To Stop Aggressive Behavior
To put an abrupt end to the raucus each time, we simply had to shout “Destin, Easy!… Come get a TREAT.” at which point he would stop whatever he was doing and come over to us and immediately get rewarded with a treat. (It’s amazing the power that Alpo Liv-a-Snaps have on a dog!)
We knew that Destin and Tenor would actually have to learn to work it out for themselves, so from that point on, we just stood back and closely monitored any rough behavior Destin might project onto tiny little defenseless Tenor.
The most common errors are over-reaction or downright hysteria when an older dog attempts to discipline or set up dominance over a youngster. Owners shuold never add to the hostility by screaming, shouting, scolding, hitting, or kicking. It is important to avoid any emotional display if a dog fight should occur. This is not easy to do. But, it is crucial, since it can cause the dogs involved to become frenzied and escalate the attack. Try to remain passive. Usually the dogs will work out the issue of dominance bloodlessly with one dog becoming dominant and the other adopting a submissive role. Source
Usually, a simple “Destin, be EASY…” would remind the big dog to lighten up his grasp a bit or quit nudging the little puppy so hard.
In fact, Destin has known the “Easy” command (which simply means to soften your grip) since day one when he started nipping at treats that were being offered to him from our hand. Today, whenever Destin takes a treat that’s being offered to him, he ever-so-gently nibbles at the treat until it’s completely within his lips. Only then will he bite it and start eating it.
All in all, he’s always been a very gentle dog. Which is why this aggressive-looking behavior he displayed to the new puppy was such a shock.