Raising a Working Anatolian: Step 1 - Establishing Alpha Dominance
By Erick Conard and Niki DeZeeuw
Jon (Niki's husband) with a son, Harry, and Max
Click here for Part 3 of Max’s Alpha Training
Step 1 - Establishing Alpha Dominance
husband Jon, three small sons (Harry, Jacob, and Andrew), and I live on two
acres on the outskirts of a major city in
After serious research for the best guardian, I ended up
choosing a male Anatolian pup from some beautiful parents who were only a
couple of generations out of
Max arrived when he was eight weeks old. A rather large fuzz ball, he was quite serious. That first day I was pleased when he picked a look out point from which he could see everyone coming and going from our property. On the second day I gave Max a pig ear and began loving on him while he chewed. To my surprise Max growled at me! I put him on a lead and very firmly put him into a down, speaking strongly each time he growled. After two or three times, he stopped growling.
Being new Anatolian owners, we experienced Max’s early puppyhood with delight. We were amazed at his quiet disposition and his instinctive guardian behaviors (such as marking the perimeter of each livestock pen and picking his ‘lookout’ spots). We were blissfully unaware of the subtleties involved in training a guardian pup, having been incorrectly told so many times that “these dogs don’t need to be trained to guard.” We didn’t realize that there was more to establishing alpha position in our home than the belly rolls our breeder told us to do with every member of our family each day. (Note: Erick does not use or support belly rolls to establish alpha dominance. His dominance training results in a pup that demonstrates submission without any physical contact.) We enjoyed our first two months with Max and were totally unaware of the need for proper Anatolian training until he turned four months old.
Near the beginning of the fourth month, Max had a second food aggression incidence. My husband, Jon, yelled for me. When I arrived Max was protecting some chicken leftovers that hadn’t made it into the trash from Jon. I showed Jon what worked for me when Max was younger. Jon tried it and Max submitted to Jon over the scraps. I felt that now Max knew he couldn’t challenge me or Jon. That delusion felt really good.
Several weeks later there was a ruckus in the pigpen – Max had leapt the fence into the pig pen. The pig was not happy to share his food and got aggressive. The situation was noisily escalating so Jon picked up Max by the ruff and brought him several hundred feet to the house with Max snarling the whole way. Max quit snarling but the second he was set down he purposefully strode right back to the pigpen and re-engaged. So Max spent the rest of the afternoon in his crate. Isolation in his crate seemed to make an impression on Max and we had no more pig incidents for nearly a month.
Niki's son, Harry, and Max
When I went back to my breeder for assistance with these problems, she expressed how upset she was that we were “unhappy with Max” and told me to be sure to do belly rolls with every member of our family every single day. I replied that we weren’t unhappy but we didn’t know what to do about Max’s increasing food aggression and needed her help as Max’s breeder. Her only advice was to do more belly rolls.
When we mentioned the pig incident to our friends at Black Mesa Ranch, they suggested the Lucky Hit Ranch website http://www.luckyhit.net as a source for training information. I poured over the website and used several of the training techniques I discovered with some success.
At almost five months, Max began ‘fence-fighting’ with the hog over a scrap of cheese that fell close to the fence. Jon jumped in the fight, giving Max verbal commands to get away, which Max ignored completely. Then Jon tried to push Max away from the fence, using his foot to avoid getting into the middle of the fight. Instantly, Max growled and nipped the air inches from Jon’s leg. This was definitely a warning, as Max could have easily bitten Jon if Max had intended to bite. At this point, Jon and I became seriously concerned. Each individual incident of aggression had raised our level of concern. Max’s behavior alarmed and frightened us.
The atmosphere in our home the next few days was heavy. Max’s aggression was all Jon and I could talk about. We felt something had to be done – we could not live with Max’s behavior and we could not just ‘give’ our problem to another family. There were lots of wonderful things about Max but this one issue overshadowed his good qualities. At five months, Max just wasn’t safe -- and he wasn’t trustworthy. We were at an impasse and we had to come up with something. Given the seriousness of Max’s aggressive behavior, the escalating nature of his problem, and the fact that our breeder’s earlier advice had not been helpful, we decided to email Erick Conard, the owner of the Lucky Hit website, to ask for his help. Erick quickly replied to our email.
Erick’s First Advice by Email
Your dog is heading down a very
dangerous road and it is your responsibility to stop his progress down that
road. You cannot afford to play around with this problem and must take
immediate measures to stop this behavior now!
I would take a tasty juicy bone to him, a bone that is too large for him put in his mouth ... one that he can chew on but that hangs out far enough for me to grab. I would place a collar on him, one he cannot escape from, and put him in a stall. I would get someone to stand on the other side of the stall, in a protected place, holding the leash to pull him off if necessary. Then I would walk in the stall (with me at the door, the dog in the stall, and the other person on the other side of the stall -- we three in a line in that order). Then, nice as pie, I would offer the dog the bone. I would let him get used to eating it for a minute or two. Then, with a dropping, serious voice, I would say, "DROP IT." I would immediately reach out and grab the bone.
I NEVER hit an Anatolian – that is my policy. However, my one exception is a young pup that threatens to bite me! I do not fool around with this problem and firmly and completely nip it in the bud. Otherwise a good dog may be ruined. If the dog I was training was a young pup and IN ANY WAY threatened me (growled, snapped, etc.) I would reach out without hesitation and slap the dog's nose with force while saying "STOP IT!" Submission here, as always, is immediately rewarded with loving praise and petting. The fact that your older pup is behaving this way with your family indicates to me that you all have failed to develop the proper alpha position with this pup. That MUST be corrected immediately for your safety and for your pup’s good future.
All Anatolians will fill the alpha
vacuum if the owner fails to place himself in the proper alpha
position!!!!!!!!!!! This is NOT the fault of the dog!
Instead of backing down, if he becomes aggressive, as the person pulls him back yell with force, with anger and disgust in your voice. You must continue verbal intimidation until he has given you the bone and submits... when he does you will immediately pet and praise him lavishly!!! (But NOT until his posture clearly indicates he has submitted to you!! Any earlier time will be dangerous to you!)
A dog that is older and not inclined to recognize that you are alpha may require physical intimidation as well as verbal. BUT DO NOT STRIKE YOUR DOG UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCE. STRIKING AN OLDER DOG WILL INCREASE YOUR PROBLEMS AS A WORKING ANATOLIAN MUST MEET AGGRESSION WITH GREATER AGGRESSION!!! YOU CANNOT AFFORD TO LOSE THIS FIGHT. You may have to pick up a stick and strike the walls of the stall, or a metal barrel you set up there, and/or the stall floor as well as yelling at the dog. If he refused to signal his respect for your alpha position with submissive body posture, bring the stick closer and closer to the pup, making the pup feel the physical threat increase. (BUT DO NOT STRIKE THE PUP!) Hopefully you will not have to do any of these behaviors, verbal or physical, and he will just release the bone and submit! However, if not, you must escalate your physical aggression without ever actually striking him until he submits!
This is a dominance
technique I use instead of the alpha roll. I’m not physically powerful so I’m amazed to
believe that anyone imagines they can physically control an Anatolian!
Especially an Anatolian who already believes it is alpha
to its owner and is putting its less than alpha owner in place. I believe that, as my dogs
age, the alpha roll would begin teaching them that they are actually stronger
than I am! With my technique, my dogs
may perform an alpha roll for me without me physically touching them. However, I only demand a clear visual sign of
submission, such as lowering the head to the ground while maintaining a
Niki continues …
Puppy or not, seeing your loving family companion snapping, snarling, and growling at you is quite a shock. Knowing that puppy is destined to weigh in the neighborhood of 150 pounds causes those incidents to carry some grave speculations of future behavior. Our three children are three, seven, and nine years old. The safety of our family is our primary concern. Before we started talking with Erick we felt completely hopeless with a grim decision ahead of us. Jon and I both grew up in families where it was understood that if a dog shows aggression it needed to be put down. We called Erick and both spoke with him over the phone so that he could explain the alpha dominance training exercise in greater detail. Knowing what was on the line, we began to follow Erick’s detailed instructions, while we continued to be doubtful.
Although we initially contacted Erick for help with Max’s food aggression, we soon discovered that what we really were experiencing with Max was an alpha dominance issue. For example, at five months Max only listened ‘up close.’ However, if he was further than ten feet away, he became ‘deaf.’ He also engaged in some irritating habits, including chasing the cats, and nothing we did caused him to stop. Erick reassured us that establishing ‘loving dominance’ is the first step to gaining greater control.
Niki’s Juicy Bone Exercise with Max …
Jon and I set up a safe, enclosed environment in the feed room with an empty fifty gallon oil drum and a crowbar as our noise maker. I held the end of Max’s leash while Jon handed him the bone and took it away. For Max it was the third time asking him to give up the bone that was the fabled straw. He gave it up twice, easily, but the third time he growled low, and lunged up, snarling and barking. Very scary!!! Jon immediately began yelling and beating on the oil drum with the crowbar for five to ten seconds until Max backed up, laid down, and rolled into a corner with a look on his face that said, ‘Uh oh, NOW I’ve done it!”
The next evening we tried again. The first two times Max gave up the bone easily. The third time he gave a short yip in frustration. The fourth and fifth times Max gave it up. The sixth time Max gave a high pitched bark of frustration twice. So Jon beat on the oil drum and made a ruckus – and Max cowered and peed. The tenth time of give/take with the bone, Max started to lift a lip to snarl, changed his mind and submitted by backing away from the bone and lowering his head.
The third night Max didn’t even want the bone. The expression on his face was clearly saying, ‘you know, I don’t really need this bone – why don’t you keep it?!’ Once we convinced him to take it, we went through all ten give and take exercises without a hint of growl.
After several more uneventful and positive sessions it was time for me to try giving Max the bone. My first time Max was very good and didn’t show any signs of aggression. One time he kept a paw on the bone and he didn’t drop his muzzle, or drop the bone completely, as he does with Jon. It wasn’t until the third time I worked with Max that he showed that kind of submission to me. We left him for three minute intervals, to allow him to really get into chewing on that bone! The first time he gave it back, the second time he dropped it as soon as I made eye contact with him – before I gave him the verbal command to ‘drop it’! The third time I came back into the room Max not only dropped the bone, but actually turned his head sideways, nose down, and tucked completely – showing total submission before the verbal command.
We began doing the bone exercise with our children starting with our oldest, ten year old Andrew, a big boy and already small adult size. We began with Andrew standing next to my husband Jon while Jon gave and took away the bone. We did this several times before we allowed Andrew to give/take the bone while Jon stood right next to him. Then we had Andrew do this with us watching from the next room. Max didn’t show the same amount of submission, he didn’t turn his face away or take his paws off of the bone, but he gave it up and showed no aggression whatsoever.
The ultimate bone test came unexpectedly a few days later as Jon and I watched in horror from our front porch. The interaction was over almost as quickly as it began. Unthinkingly, Andrew walked up to Max in the yard and told him to drop his bone – which we had given to Max after our sessions are completed. This was no enclosed environment, no leash, and Andrew had only had one training session with Max. Upon Andrew giving the command and kneeling down in front of him, Max turned his head completely to the side, tucked his nose all the way into his chest, and allowed Andrew to take the bone. Jon and I were relieved, and thrilled! The alpha dominance training was working.
The most amazing aspect of the bone training was the ‘trickle down’ effect. Doing the exercise has affected every area of Max’s behavior and demeanor towards us. Even Max’s guarding behaviors were enhanced and he began to truly shine. Every area of concern, even annoying but minor things, seemingly resolved themselves effortlessly due to Max’s newfound respect and trust towards us and with Erick’s continued guidance. All the advice Erick gave proved overwhelmingly correct, despite our continued doubts.
Erick’s additional comments …
I consider the lack of alpha respect from an Anatolian toward its owner a serious flaw in the dog’s development. As a dog ages and discovers he can successfully challenge his human’s alpha position, the dog will continue to challenge humans more and more often! A dog is NEVER at fault for assuming alpha dominance. I always place the blame where it belongs… directly on the dog’s owner!
Click here for Part 2 of Max’s Alpha Training
Click here for Part 3 of Max’s Alpha Training
As with most Anatolians, it didn’t end here!