A humorous look at how dogs handle property rights:
If I like it, it’s mine.
When it’s in my mouth, it’s mine.
If I can take it away from you, it’s mine.
Did I have it a while ago? It’s mine.
If it’s mine, there will never be a chance it could be yours.
Once it’s chewed up, all parts are mine.
If it looks like it’s mine, it is.
If I see it first, it’s mine.
After you put something aside you played with, it automatically becomes mine.
If it’s broken, it’s yours.
And this is how dogs handle property rights!
How This Actually Works
I hope you enjoyed this but let’s take a quick look at how dogs actually handle conflict over resources. Dogs use dominance and submission behaviors to negotiate conflict without going to war.
Dominance and Submission
Dominance and submission are terms defined by ethology, not dog trainers. To explain these, we have to take a brief look at their origin.
When wolf puppies grow up, they develop fifteen main behaviors (nine dominance behaviors and six submission behaviors) that will help them negotiate with other wolves during conflicts over resources without resorting to a bloody battle. These are essentially escalation (dominant) and de-escalation (submissive) skills to settle disputes. The dominance behaviors develop first, and the submission behaviors develop after, all during the maturation of the wolf puppy. This is a very important fact to remember when we get back to dogs.
The main dominant behaviors are growling, displacing, standing over, inhibited biting, standing erect, body wrestling, aggressive gaping, baring teeth, and staring.
The main submissive behaviors are muzzle licking, looking away, crouching, submissive grinning, passive submission, and active submission.
During a conflict, wolves use these escalation and de-escalation skills to negotiate over resources. It will look scary, but none of that is actual aggression or fighting. It’s the attempt to avoid a fight, not start one.
How This Works in Dogs
This works in the same way with dogs, but dogs don’t go through the entire developmental cycle of a wolf. They stop somewhere in the middle, and how far they mature varies by breed. Developmentally, dogs are wolf puppies. The only dog breed that has all fifteen negotiation skills is the Siberian Husky. In contrast, the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel only has two.
As these skills develop in sequence, dog breeds with nine or fewer skills have essentially no de-escalation skills. This explains the poor social behavior of many dog breeds.
In summary, dominance and submission behaviors are negotiation skills to avoid actual aggression (i.e., fighting). Consequently, the term ‘dominance-aggression’ is flawed, as when aggression begins, dominance and submission have failed to avoid a fight.
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Happy Dog Training is the pet dog training business of Ralf Weber and Sarah Gill. We are certified professional dog trainers in Southern California. We are specialized in advanced obedience training, all forms or behavioral challenges and service dog training. For behavioral training, we are known for our work with aggressive and fearful dogs. Our service dogs, through Total K9 Focus, have a nationwide reputation for their reliability, longevity and performance.
Ralf Weber, MS, TWC CPDT, IACP CDT, CDTA
Certified Professional Dog Trainer Ralf Weber is lead pet dog trainer of Happy Dog Training. Ralf is a long-time dog owner of German Shepherds. During his career, Ralf has worked with over a 1500 dogs of many different breeds. Moreover, Ralf has a thorough understanding of all aspects of canine training. This includes evolutionary psychology, ethology, and, most importantly, learning science. Ralf is specialized in resolving dog behavior challenges—especially fear and aggression. Apart from this, Ralf trains dogs in basic and advanced obedience, service dog tasks, and GRC Dog Sports. Ralf is further certified in a broad range of other canine training areas. Last but not least, Ralf is the author of the behavioral book If Your Dog Could Talk: Understand Your Dog Like Never Before.
Ralf loves helping people have a better relationship with their dogs. He is a certified professional dog trainer in the Training without Conflict™ methodology by Ivan Balabanov (TWC CPDT). Ralf is also a member of the International Association of Canine Professionals and also holds their basic and advanced dog trainer certifications (IACP CDT, CDTA). In addition, Ralf is an AKC-approved evaluator for the AKC Puppy Star, CGC, and Advanced CGC programs and is also certified in canine first aid by the Red Cross.
Sarah Gill, Certified Professional Master Trainer
Sarah Gill, is a professional service dog trainer and handler. Sarah entered the world of professional service dog training after a car accident. As a result, she had to use a wheelchair for almost two years, trying to maneuver in a house not designed for it. No one expected Sarah would walk again. This opened her eyes and became a driving force behind pushing herself to defy the odds. When she regained some stability, Sarah attended a dog training school and learned how to train service dogs. Sarah completed her Master Trainer Certification and gained further experience by training new trainers. However, the school wasn’t accommodating to those with physical difficulties and PTSD. Hence, Sarah moved home to Dallas. In 2019, Sarah teamed up with Ralf and moved to California.
Sarah started this journey because she had a trained dog to mitigate her disabilities. But Sarah needed additional tasking for a new diagnosis. The only option she could find was getting a second dog for the new diagnosis. She knew there had to be a different way to address this. Sarah's passion is changing the ways of the service dog training industry.