Mia was 7-weeks-old when she came to live with us. She was only a tiny thing but she had a big, alpha attitude. Her breeder had told me she was the alpha female of the litter. She didn't put up with anything from his other dogs. She was not afraid of anything and she strutted around like she owned the place. We all saw it the day we met her. Her tail was up and she was confident and walked proud. Spencer knew even before we did. Unlike the humans, he didn't have to watch her to know. He felt it. His reaction to her when he first met her was to nose her and try and roll her over. We had blocked him since she was not our puppy yet and we were trying to have a conversation with the breeder. We had not gotten a chance to meet her and Spencer was already trying to balance her out. At that moment, during the very first meeting it had not clicked in my head what Spencer was telling us. I had not thought about the meaning behind his actions. Had I really been paying attention to him and Bruno I could have let them tell me. However, my focus was not on Spencer's reaction but on trying to assess Mia on my own. Had I been paying attention to him, I would have known in seconds what it took a half hour to see clearly.
The clear signs of her alpha attitude were how she was strutting around, showing Bruno and Spencer how confident she was. I had picked her up and she growled. It seemed to be directed at the dogs and redirected to the person who interrupted her, which was me. Later, after the breeder had left, she let out a little grumble of a protest a couple of times when she didn't want to do something. For example, one time I had picked her up from the dog bed to put her into her crate and she made a little protest that sounded like a growl mixed with a yap. Another time was when I caught her mid-stream peeing inside the house and picked her up saying, "Hey no." The sound she made was her saying, "Hey, I don't like that and I don't want you to do it!" In the dog world it is normal for the leader to tell the others in the pack what it is they want and do not want and Mia was trying to set up rules for us all.
Spencer would come and smell Mia and wag his tail at her when she was sleeping. Then he would look up at me with his tail still wagging. I could see in his eyes he was happy she was here yet, he still didn't like her attitude. Spencer was on a mission. A mission to set this little puppy straight so she could fit in with the pack.
If Mia came barreling over to him to start to play, he would growl at her; he didn't want her climbing on top of him. He would get up and move, giving her a warning growl. Mia did not have good manners and he didn't like it. While he would not play with Mia when she asked him to play, he did start a lot of his own play sessions on his own terms and at his own times. He would only stay near her when he came to her. If she came to him he would leave, sometimes giving her a little grumble growl as he left. Notice how Spencer's tail is down, but Mia's tail is up. When a dog holds its tail up high it is a sign that the dog is being dominant.
There was meaning behind the way Spencer pushed Mia around in his morning play. He was showing her she was not a leader and he showed it to her in a play session. It was a lesson, an entire conversation between them. Watch the video and notice how Mia holds her tail high. In the beginning Bruno and Spencer really get to know her by smelling her back end. Notice how Spencer is playing with her but also take notice of the meaning behind the play. The way he noses her and pushes her off of the dog bed then allows her to come back. At 1:36 Mia stood proud and as tall as she could as she made eye contact with Spencer. Spencer used his nose to push her back down into a submissive posture. He was saying you can come up, but you can't own any of this. Watch how he rolls her onto her back with her belly up a few times. He was not telling her he was alpha and he was not telling her he owned anything. He was not trying to scare her or send her away. He was giving her a friendly attitude adjustment that said she was welcome to the pack, but she was not welcome to lead the pack. The night before Mia had come into the house as if she was going to run the show. By the next morning Spencer, with help from Bruno, put her into her place. What amazing communication to be able to have witnessed and capture on video. For anyone who can read the language of the dog, you will see exactly what I am talking about in this video. This is the point where Mia's alpha attitude piped down and she gained some respect for her surroundings. Two balanced adult dogs taught Mia in a day what I pictured the humans taking weeks to teach her. Fascinating.
The beginning of this video shows part of Mia's puppy temperament test. Mia was placed on her back, belly-up to see how she would react. She did not like exposing her belly at all. She protested. The next part of the video is two days later. Bruno, the Boxer, and Spencer, the Pitbull Terrier, give Mia, the alpha female puppy, a lesson in respect during a play session. They force her to go belly-up and lower her status a few notches. Neither Bruno nor Spencer is the boss of their pack. The humans are and they both know it. Both adult dogs are balanced and sense that this puppy is not and she proved it by growling at the humans and dogs around her when she didn’t get what she wanted. The balanced adult dogs help the puppy fit into their pack by teaching her some respect.
Bruno and Spencer work together to get the pup belly-up.
Bruno decides Spencer has it under control and walks off to do other things as Spencer continues to teach Mia a lesson in respect.
Spencer never growled but he must have been very serious because Mia stayed belly-up on her own, a position she refused to be in the first day we met her.
Spencer danced around her as if he was playing, but it was more than play. He was teaching her.
Spencer was keeping her on the ground, but he was not pinning her there. There was no physical force aside from his pokes. He was holding her there with his mental force, kind of like Star Wars. :) Mia could feel he meant business. Dogs can feel energy. It's what we humans call emotions. This is why it is important that the humans feel confident and actually feel some meaning behind what they say when correcting a dog. Being a leader is being strong mentally, not physically.
This is what we call the stare down.
Look at that eye contact.
Spencer means business. Look at his face, but also notice his tail is not up. He is not being dominant. He is not being alpha. He is level from head to toe. He is showing her balance. If Spencer’s head was high and his tail was up, that would be a sign that he was looking for a fight. Spencer was not challenging Mia; he was knocking her down a few notches. That was the only way the pup was going to fit in with our balanced pack.
Mia seems to have really taken a liking to Bruno. He is very tolerant of her, yet he too will put her back into her place by nosing at her. When Mia got too rough he nosed her around a little while he remained lying down, then laid his heavy head on top of her, pinning her to the bed for a second. "Calm down kid, you’ve got to learn some manners." At the end of the video, watch how Spencer walks over wagging his tail. He's happy to see Bruno helping him teach Mia to be respectful. Spencer has been working on Mia since she walked in the door.
Bruno worked on Mia as well at separate times. Bruno was a little gentler about it, however. He acted more like a grandpa.
Mia likes to try and chew on Bruno's collar.
Bruno gently puts up with it.
Mia about to bite on Bruno again
"Hey you little squirt, what do you think you’re doing?"
Bruno starts to lower himself to get her to go down.
He noses her down, belly-up...
...and keeps her there for a while.
Bruno lies down keeping Mia belly-up.
Bruno uses the weight of his body to pin her for a few seconds.
Mia has been with us for three days now and I have noticed she holds her tail lower. I will know when she reaches a complete balance when Spencer fully accepts her into the pack. This rehabilitation would have taken a lot longer had it not been for Spencer and Bruno. They have made me very proud. I knew we had to change Mia's attitude in order for her to fit in with our pack, but I had not expected Spencer and Bruno to play such a huge roll in it. They have speeded up the process immensely.
Bruno continues to act like a grandpa with Mia. He gently puts her in her place often.
Spencer continues to play only when he starts it. We are making progress. Mia ran over to Spencer while he was sleeping and Spencer did not get up. He lifted his head and just looked at her as she tried to start a play session. In the past Spencer would have left with a grumble. Now, while Spencer didn't play, he didn't leave either. This means that Mia's energy has improved and Spencer accepts her a little more.
Mia walks around with her tail lower than she did the day she first arrived. I have not heard her growl at anyone since Spencer, Bruno, and the humans really cracked down on her attitude. We humans are strict about following our own rules and stopping Mia from pestering the other dogs when it looks like they would like to be left alone. The pack leader should help the lower members if another member is getting out of hand. The lower members should not be expected to take care of everything on their own. They need to see the leader acting like a leader and keeping order so they don't have to. When keeping a balanced pack you have to be aware of all the dog conversations that may be going on around you the same way a parent listens in the background, casually correcting a child if necessary. The older sibling should not have to play parent too. When you keep this kind of order you create an environment where the other dogs naturally help in a balanced way as they have less stress knowing someone else is looking after them. They feel safe enough to not stress over what needs to be done because someone higher up has their back.
We do not let Mia bark to get picked up. We do not allow her to put her paws on us. Paws are to be kept on the ground. We do not allow her to try and take a bone from another dog or bark at them while they have the bone. She is told "no." She was taught to sit and now does it before she gets a treat. She is learning the come and stay commands. She is learning to heel on a leash and go for pack walks. If she barks at us we tell her no. A lot of people think when a dog barks at you it's just talking and it's cute. It is talking, but you need to understand the meaning. It is often telling you what it wants in a sassy kind of way and that is encouraging it to act like a leader. For example, when she wanted to be picked up she barked and I told her no. When preparing her food she will bark at us as if to say, "Hurry up! I want that food. Give me that food!" We point in her direction and say, "Hey! NO!" and she stops. A dog should never be allowed to sass others around. We have not been carrying Mia around as much and she has not hung out on our laps as much as she used to. We have been treating her like a big dog. Any rules that Bruno and Spencer have she also has. There are no exceptions simply because of her size or age. Bruno and Spencer do not see her getting special privileges. Her sassiness is disappearing and she now enjoys a good belly-up rub, something she did not tolerate the day she first arrived.
I just witnessed something awesome. Spencer was drinking from the water bowl when Mia came in and headed to the bowl too. Spencer paused for a split second and then continued drinking alongside Mia. Mia had walked up in a casual, submissive way with her tail relaxed and down. Spencer sensed her energy was calm and submissive and he shared the water bowl with her. I had enough time to walk into the other room, get my camera and walk back to take the picture. They both got a good long drink together. Excellent progress. Had Mia walked up with alpha attitude Spencer never would have continued drinking.
I was playing with Mia with a toy. I was just shaking it gently and she was pouncing on it. She was rolling all over, being goofy. I touched her back end and jiggled her like she was Jell-O very lightly. She growled at me. Oh my, I just found a spot where she does not like to be touched. I made the connection. She had also growled the day I had touched her rear end to get her into a stack position to measure her for her puppy page. Now I know what gets her going or at least one of the things—touching her back end area. I will have to get her back end checked by a vet to see if she has any pain. Luckily we already have an appointment scheduled for our first checkup. Although, she only seems to mind when she is busy playing or when she is very excited about something. When she is sleeping, relaxed or walking around in a calm state and you touch her back end, move her back legs, apply pressure to her body, play with her feet, etc., she gives no reaction. She does not even flinch, and from watching the video below I don't see any signs of pain. In any case, I need to teach her to stop reacting with aggression.
I have been touching Mia's back end for a day now and have been getting no reaction from her. When she was busy playing I decided to give it a try. This time Mia was playing with a stuffed toy, pulling on it as the other end was stuck under a chair. I put my hands on her back legs near her upper thigh area and lifted her an inch off the ground, supporting her weight carefully. She growled and turned her head slightly toward me. I poked her in the neck and said "NO!" She stopped growling and turned her head, facing front, as I picked her back end up and down about three inches off the ground. Now she let me. Although the vet will still check her, I do not see any signs of pain. I did the same thing I had done the times she did not react. This time was different only because Mia was busy trying to pull a toy out from under a chair and she was focused. I walked over and interrupted her. She was in the zone trying to get that toy. Separating a puppy from its mother too early can cause this type of behavior. A puppy should never be separated from it's mother before it reaches 7-8 weeks of age. The mother dog teaches the puppies in the litter manners, respect, social skills, and proper etiquette, along with many other valuable lessons. When a puppy misses this stage it can create behavior issues. It can also happen when a human gives a puppy mental power without realizing it. Mia was the runt of the litter with a lot of awesome personality, great character. She is also very comical, super affectionate, and not to mention as cute as a button. It is easy to forget or never even think about the fact that she is still an animal with canine instincts.
One example of giving a dog mental power without realizing it is laughing at the dog or simply not correcting the dominating or disrespectful behavior. Another example is if a person played tug-of-war with her and let her win. One can get away with letting a submissive type win in tug-of-war (although that is not recommended either), but if you have an alpha dog it is not wise to play tug-of-war and let your dog win by letting go of the toy before the dog does. When you do that, you give power to your dog. The more times the dog "wins" the more powerful it becomes. The power is mental, its in the dogs head. There are a lot of things humans can do to a dog that gives the dog mental power, not just what is listed here. This is why a lot of behaviorists do not recommend playing the tug-of-war game at all; a high percentage of humans do not know how to properly play it with a dog because they do not know its meaning in the dog's eyes. The game is also not recommended for a dog that already has aggression issues, as the game gets them into a primal fight mode. If you are going to play this game you must remember that you are the one that starts the game and you must also be the one that ends it. Never let the dog win. You must make them release the toy. Never let go first. The nice thing is the mental power gained from the game can be fixed. We will take her mental power away by teaching her it is not acceptable to react like that when someone touches her, no matter what she is busy doing. She must be told "no" every time she growls. Just like the winning in tug-of-war, if Mia growls and we do not tell her no, and/or we back away or turn away from her, we will be making her even more strong-willed. She growls, we give her what she wants and next time she will try that much harder knowing she can get what she wants. We must do the opposite to take her power away. Luckily, Mia lives with humans who understand her instincts and are strong pack leaders. If the humans were not, Mia would know it and we may not be able to change her behavior. I am confident that she will grow up to be a well-balanced, trustworthy dog.
Up until now all of Spencer's play sessions with Mia have been a lesson in lowering her status. The way he would roll her and nose her back down; he was teaching her. Tonight something awesome happened. Spencer was in his dog bed and Mia came barreling over, barking at him. She jumped into his bed. I heard him growl at her. I didn't like the tone. I stood up and walked over to them. Mia was still in “pester Spencer” mode. She was all geared up and ready to pounce on him and I knew he was not going to be happy with that. Not one bit. I tapped Mia on the nose and told her "No!" Spencer was just looking at me with a focused face like he was really studying what I was doing. I turned to him and just pointed. I picked up the toy that was between them just in case and said calmly but firmly, "You better not be guarding this. It's my toy." Not that he understood my words. The words were for me. They help me dig up the assertive mode that I need to drudge up from deep down in order to be an effective pack leader. Mia sat there. Her body had relaxed. Hmmmm, she was told not to bark at Spencer. She left the dog bed and went to go play with Bruno. Spencer watched me as I walked back to my desk and sat down. A minute passed and Spencer got up and walked over to me. His head was low and his tail was wagging. He walked right up to my side and lowered his head under my leg so that his eyes were covered. He was still wagging his tail. I patted him and went back to what I was doing at my desk. He looked up at me, making eye contact. His head was low, his ears were back and his tail still wagging. Then he walked over to Mia and play-bowed at her. She started playing back and the two of them ended up on the same dog bed as they were minutes before. They were playing for real. Spencer was on his back this time and Mia was jumping all over him. This was not a lesson, it was real play. I had told Spencer that he is not to go that far with teaching respect to Mia. I will handle things like that. I will stop her from barking at you. You stick to your lesson play only. I had corrected the dog who was doing the pestering rather than the dog who was just saying "leave me be." I am sure that made him happy as well.
Mia is taught that just because Bruno has a tasty bully stick does not mean she can have it too. She is taught space respect and good manners as we tell her to leave Bruno alone while he chews his bone.
"Yep kid, that's one of the rules. We can't just go stealing someone else's loot. I learned that the day I moved in here, too. These humans mean business and I would not cross them. Some friendly advice there, kid. Take it from me. I know these kinds of things."
The respect must be enforced both ways. Mia was eating a treat and Bruno came walking over, eyeing it up. I could tell he was thinking about getting it from her. "Hey!" I pointed as a hand signal to leave. Bruno walked to his bed and lay down.
Spencer plays with Mia a few minutes later. For him to go belly-up during his play is saying a lot. He would never do that if Mia was in a mind frame where she was trying to run the show.
Yep, I would say this pack is going to get along just fine.
Mia is now 8 weeks old. We have had her here for 8 days. The attitude Mia had when she first walked into our home is gone. She has learned respect and is picking up very quickly on the rules of the home. Those little growls she would let out when she didn't want to be bothered have not happened in a long time. I took her measurements for the page that shows her at 8 weeks old, which I am working on getting up on the site, and she had no problem with it. She had the normal puppy wiggles, but no signs of annoyance or aggression. Spencer and Bruno play with her, often while on the ground with their own bellies up. I still see them put her into her place with a nose pop or a little pin, which means they are continuing the leadership with her, making sure she remembers her manners. You can now touch her back legs and she just ignores you. Although she still has a bit of a stubborn streak that is going to keep us all on our toes, she is no longer trying to rule the home. She's relaxed and happy following her pack members around. The entire pack will have to continue with the rules, structure, boundaries, discipline, and exercise to keep everyone balanced. This was not a training session. It is an ongoing lifestyle.
Mia has been fully checked by a vet. She is in good health. The vet says there is nothing wrong with her back end and she looks like a very healthy puppy. She agrees Mia's former growling issue was caused by her trying to be the leader and is happy to see Mia doing so well after only a week.