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Akita Behaviour & Temperament - Page 6

The Pack At Home


When dogs move in with humans, they interact with other animals and with humans in much the same way as with a group of other dogs. Their sense of where they belong in a hierarchy is finely tuned. They have no trouble assessing their proper position in the group and quickly move to occupy it.

Problems arise when the position of the dog is at odds with the other members of the group. For instance, suppose the dog lives with a couple. The husband is very strong but the wife is a shy, non-assertive person. When the wife is home alone, the dog is very protective of her. He remains positioned between her and any visitors and maintains a watchful posture. One day, a coworker, who is a more dominant person, comes over. He is leery of the dog, and the wife decides to put the dog in another room. When she takes his collar and starts leading him out, the dog growls at her. She lets go, makes apologies to the friend, and they both leave the house.

Several weeks later, a similar circumstance arises. The wife is thoroughly aggravated with the dog and decides to make her point. She takes his collar and begins leading him out of the room. When he growls at her, she yells at him. He jumps up and bites her in the face.

An alternative scenario given the same relationships is that the wife opens the door and admits the friend. The dog stands between them and displays some hostile body language that makes the friend wary. He asks her to leave if she can't put the dog up. She moves around the dog, standing next to the visitor. As they are walking out the door, the dog attacks the stranger.

Is this a vicious dog, turning on its owner or engaging in an unprovoked attack? While it may appear so, in the first case, the dog is carrying out what it perceives as its responsibilities as an assistant pack leader. When the husband is gone, that mantle falls upon the dog, and nothing the people have done makes the dog think otherwise. He does not approve of the wife's decision to take him out of the room, since he will then be unable to protect her from what he considers a threat, so he tells her he does not approve of her actions by growling. Her acceptance of his authority confirms his judgement. When she leaves with the stranger, however, his authority is defied and he is worried about her safety.

The next time she tries to take him out, several factors come into play. He knows she can circumvent him because she did it last time and he is worried about her. She is his responsibility. He growls at her, but she does not let go. This is a challenge to his authority. His subsequent bite is discipline delivered by a higher status individual to a lower-status one who is transgressing. These bites are almost always delivered to the face because that is how a disciplinary bite is delivered between dogs.

With another couple, the husband is a mild personality and the wife is more assertive, Both are showing the dog; however, when the husband shows him, the dog often growls at the judge. He never does this with the wife.

Again, the dog is acting as a protector of a lower-status member of his pack. His inclination to do so is reinforced by the husband's body language. He leans down next to the dog and frequently puts his head level with the dog's in a gesture of what he thinks is affection, but what the dog perceives as submission. Because he knows the dog is likely to grow~ the man has become very anxious in the ring. The poor dog senses this anxiety and incorrectly interprets the approach of the stranger as the cause, thus reinforcing his decision to warn this person away.

Curing these problems can be relatively simple. In the latter case, the husband developed a more assertive posture with the dog after reading a book about dominance behavior. He quit bending over, never kissed the dog again, and corrected him firmly when the dog growled. In short, he moved up the social ladder to a position above the dog, so the dog was no longer obliged to protect him.

In the former case, the dog and the wife went through several obedience classes where she firmly established control over the dog. They developed a routine for meeting and dealing with visitors and strangers. Instead of regarding the dog as her husband's major inconvenience, she has developed a deep rapport with him. They love and respect each other.

In a more serious case, an Akita behaved peculiarly around one of the middle children in the family, a nine-year old boy. While the child sat on the floor watching tv, the dog brought his chew-toy over and dropped it near the child. Then, he circled the child and watched sharply. When the child reached for the toy, the dog growled and snatched it up. Correctly alarmed, the mother returned the dog to the breeder.

Clearly, like the middle management of the corporation, the dog considered itself only slightly above this particular child in the family hierarchy and perceived the child as a threat to his position in the group. His opinions were probably confirmed by some of the actions of the child, such as sitting on the floor. His actions with the toy were a way for him to enforce his higher status. Had the dog not been removed, the situation would surely have escalated, and the child might have been severely bitten.



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