Dominance is a term that's frequently overused in discussions of dog training. The overwhelming majority of behavioral problems are caused by inappropriate training methods, insufficient exercise and other factors, so it's important to consult a dog trainer or veterinarian before determining that your doberman has a dominance problem. However, some dogs -- particularly dobermans and other large dogs -- are prone to status-seeking, dominant behavior. This can make them extremely difficult to control. Fortunately, many traditional training methods work well with dominant dobermans, and there are several steps that you can take to ensure your safety and your dog's until the problem is remedied.
Handling Your Doberman
Before you embark on a training program, it's important to ensure that both you and your dog are safe. Crate your dog when you're not home to prevent destructive and aggressive behavior, and always use a leash when you're playing with or training your dog, as well as when you leave the house. This ensures that you can quickly regain control if your dog misbehaves. Try using a martindale collar. These collars are safer than choke collars and ensure that your dog can't pull out of his collar or pull on its leash.
Some things are more likely to initiate power struggles with your doberman. Feed it only in its crate and avoid feeding your dog or giving it toys around other dogs. Doing otherwise can initiate fights and power struggles. Dobermans are especially interested in food, so avoid giving your dog food when it's behaving in a domineering way. This encourages good behavior.
Animal behaviorist Patricia McConnell argues that the most effective training methods are reward based methods. Ignore your dog when it behaves aggressively or destructively unless you must intervene to protect animals or people. When this occurs, remove your dog from the situation and then quickly return to ignoring it. Click a training clicker and give your dog a treat when it behaves well. Teach your dog simple commands such as "sit" and "stay." These words give you vocal control over your dog and enable you to tell it to do something different when it's behaving poorly. Safe socialization to people and other animals is also an important component of positive reinforcement. With your dog on a leash, expose it to a variety of people, dogs and other animals from a safe distance. Give the dog a treat every time it behaves appropriately around a new person or animal.
Working for Rewards
One of the most effective training methods for dominant dobermans is a program called "Nothing In Life is Free." This program encourages your dog to work for everything it gets and establishes you as the leader of your dog pack. Before giving your dog food, playtime, a walk and other rewards, make it sit or perform another basic trick. Dobermans are highly intelligent, and this program keeps your dog's mind active in addition to reinforcing house rules.
What Doesn't Work
Many people mistakenly believe they must strong-arm dominant dobermans into good behavior, but this strategy is a recipe for failure. Never hit or punish your dog. This can provoke fear-based aggression. It might also encourage your dog to engage in a power struggle and become more dominant. Don't stare at your dog or try to exhibit domineering body language either. Dobermans might misinterpret this behavior as a threat and respond by biting.
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