Erick Conard's Lucky Hit Ranch


A First Time Owner’s Experience
Raising a Working Anatolian:
Step 2 - Solidify Your Alpha Position
By Erick Conard and Niki DeZeeuw
Niki's son, Harry, and Max
Niki's son, Harry, and Max

Click here for Part 3 of Max’s Alpha Training
Click here to see Part 1 of Max’s Alpha Training

Step 2 - Solidify Your Alpha Position

With Erick’s help, we had begun to correct Max’s lack of alpha respect toward us. Erick’s “Juicy Bone Technique" (see Step 1: Establishing Alpha Dominance) had positively affected Max's overall behavior and demeanor, even enhancing his guardian behaviors. Since things had been going well with Max for a few months and the training sessions were uneventful we decided to spice things up a bit by varying the amount of time Max possessed the bone and to allow younger family members to approach Max (accompanied by my husband, Jon) and give the ‘drop it’ command.

We felt Max’s food aggression issue was a thing of the past.We continued with his training, but not nearly as often – focusing our training efforts on days when Max was ‘deaf’ or not respectful in other areas. We provided a dominance training session for ten or fifteen minutes at night and the next day he was good as gold again.

(Some of the training questions we asked Erick during this period, and Erick’s answers, appear below entitled
“Training Questions For Erick During This Period.”)

Max altered our easy mood one morning while my boys and were feeding our horses, chickens, Nubians and Nigerian goats, and rabbits. Our rabbits live in a ‘commune’ style enclosure with a buck and two does in a twelve foot square chain link fenced area with the chain link buried into the ground. The rabbits dug a burrow in the middle of the pen and had been producing bunches of baby bunnies. I was helping my oldest two boys feed when my youngest son ran to me from the house, frantically yelling, “Max has a rabbit!”

I ran back to the house. Because I was running and also because Max was worried about the tone of Harry’s voice, Max ran up to me. I saw immediately that the bunny, some fifteen feet beyond us, was dead. I said, “Oh Max, how could you?” in a sad and disappointed voice. My tone was not angry at all, but sorrowful, and low. Max appeared unsure as he trotted back to the rabbit. He lay down with the rabbit between his paws. He never put his mouth on the rabbit and I didn’t ask him to drop it. I continued to approach Max, saying “No! No! Oh Max, shame on you!” sounding sad, not angry. When I knelt down in front of him he hesitated for a few seconds and then bared his teeth. Snarling, he lunged and began barking, sounding absolutely savage!

My fear response was so primitive I jumped back, screamed, and actually peed my pants! Just a drop but it happened! I don’t remember any thoughts of fear in my mind. I was only a foot away from his face when he lunged for me. As soon as my brain kicked back in, within a split second, I yelled angrily, “No! No! Bad dog!” repeatedly. He lunged at me a second time!
(Erick's note: These were only warning lunges! If Max had wanted Niki, he’d have had her! Thank goodness he had sufficient Anatolian bite inhibition and Niki had established some level of alpha control before this incident!) 


Remembering Erick’s advice to find something, anything, to pound on and be intimidating, I moved away and pounded on the chicken tractor (poor things) and continued yelling angrily, acting VERY displeased with his behavior – but he already knew the truth … I was afraid! He kept snarling and growling, lunging forward, and trotting in wide semicircles towards me to push me back – but never coming closer than five or ten feet. I began making my way back to the house – yelling and keeping up my displeasure.

I have always been a tomboy, physically strong for my size and gender, and I don't scare easily. Safely back in my house I was furious - absolutely enraged by Max's behavior! I called my boys into the house. On their way in they watched Max swallow that rabbit whole in a single gulp. Then I called my husband, Jon, and gave him an earful. Jon immediately started for home to help deal with Max. I also left a message for Erick.

I was shaking and dealing with the after effects of an adrenaline rush from the fight or flight response. Max came up to the sliding door after eating the rabbit - and I let him have it … from behind the safety of the glass! You couldn't print the things I told that dog! I felt like such a fool for trusting Max. We spent so many hours doing the training - so much time invested into making this work - wretched dog! How could we ever trust him around our children now that he had done this?

Erick called back within an hour or so and I answered the phone. Erick asked what our response had been. I explained that Jon verbally reprimanded Max from the moment Jon stepped on our property. Then he put Max on a leash and tied him up in the feed room. That's all Jon had time to do. Max knew we were angry and was very submissive. Erick recommended locking Max up all day, checking in on him and reprimanding him, reminding him throughout the day of why he was there and that he had committed a serious mistake. Each time I checked Max, he was in exactly the same spot - he never moved that whole day. He never even lifted his head from the ground. He didn't go to the bathroom or chew on anything. Erick also wanted us to work with him for several hours that night. Max was very submissive during the whole session with Jon, but I was afraid and Max knew it. I was afraid and wouldn't approach Max to take the bone without Jon beside me.

Erick also suggested that if something like that were to occur in the future that we de-escalate the situation by removing the dog from the immediate situation and then use his "masking tape method." As Erick explained it, de-escalation entails verbally changing the tone of the interaction between you and your dog. You might feel like you've lost the battle but it's your strategy to win the war. For example, in response to growling or snarling, say in a playful, questioning, and chiding voice "Why are you doing that?" or "Cut that out, now - Come on!" The tone is important… not what you are saying. You must use an indulgent tone without anger.

Niki's son, Andrew, and Max
Niki's son, Andrew, and Max

Once you feel the situation is safe, remove the dog from the immediate area by calling the dog to come away with you. Do not touch the dog in the area in which the problem occurred. While speaking sweetly and lovingly, begin petting the dog, especially around the mouth. When the dog is completely calm, quickly wrap the masking tape around the muzzle five or six times, taking care to ensure that each layer is on top of the others. This aids in its removal. (And be CERTAIN the dog can breathe properly!) Now that the dog's teeth are not a factor, you can safely return him to the scene of conflict. Once there, repeat whatever you were doing when the conflict began so that the dog clearly understands that you are in complete control.

I told Erick that all our doubts and fears had returned stronger than ever before. The ground we'd gained seemed lost. Because we saw success, because we knew he'd improved, we weren't on are guard like we'd been and this made us feel far more despondent now! We'd been lulled into a false sense of security and the dog seemed even more untrustworthy than before. Before he'd been untrained. Now he seemed trained and untrustworthy. As parents, what had we been thinking? What if Harrison, who's only four, challenged Max?

Not having witnessed Max's behavior personally and knowing that there were young children in our home, Erick wouldn't say whether we should keep Max or not but committed to rescuing Max if we decided we couldn't keep him.

Once again, Jon and I agonized over what to do about Max! We couldn't believe it. Because we loved Max, we felt relieved that Erick would take him if we felt we couldn't handle him safely with our boys. We knew that Erick had the experience Max needed without the complications created by the unexpected behaviors of small children. Except for this incident, Max had responded to the training and he had shown wonderful guardian behavior so he deserved another chance. We loved him and didn't want to put him down.

We felt like we were right back where we started when we first contacted Erick. The only difference was that we now had a dog that showed submission most of the time. Before we were constantly on guard! Our repeated successes during the training sessions lulled us into a false sense of security. We thought Max's food aggression problems were over. Instead, we now realized we needed to do more training and to come up with bigger and better negative reinforcements.

The next day Max was mouthy with me while I rubbed his belly. I scolded him several times but it didn't work. I had to firmly put my hand around his nose and say, "NO!" This new lack of respect showed me that my fear had damaged my alpha position with Max. He clearly showed me he didn't respect me like he did before.

During chores the following morning Max mouthed me again. Max's mouthing had always appears good natured and playful. He is super gentle, barely making contact with skin and it doesn't ever hurt at all. However, Erick suggested that we not tolerate mouthing. I realized Max's mouthing was another sign of the disrespect Max acquired from the bunny fiasco. Interestingly, Max didn't mouth me open mouthed and playful like he had the day before. It was almost like he brushed his lips too hard against me in an assertive manner. I smacked his nose. He hit the deck and rolled over. He stayed down even as I walked away. The strength of his submissive response compared to the weakness of my correction told me my hunch was right - Max was testing me!

After much soul searching we decided to give Max another chance. After all, he could have easily bitten me if he'd wanted, but he didn't. We began working with Max every single night, but I still didn't feel secure. Following Erick's advice we used live rabbits and scolded Max severely for even looking at a rabbit! We also praised Max enthusiastically the moment he broke his gaze. Erick explained that it's better to stop a negative behavior at the earliest step possible and that the first step in grabbing a rabbit was looking at it!

Max quickly tried to not 'notice' the rabbits. Great! Max was submissive to Jon, and even to me, every single time - but I could tell that he knew what we were doing. To be more effective, we had to make things unpredictable. I went over that rabbit fiasco in my head over and over again, analyzing it but getting nowhere. I was so emotionally affected by what happened I couldn't imagine what went wrong, or why. I had to figure this out!

In an earlier conversation, Erick mentioned that canine food aggression is similar to a child temper tantrum when you won't give the kid what they want. But a child doesn't weigh what Max does and doesn't have a mouthful of sharp teeth!

The largest issue looming in our minds was the boys. If Max ever did anything to one of them I couldn't forgive myself for keeping him here. There are so many wonderful qualities about Max, but his one flaw, food aggression, seemed to outweigh all the good.

About a week later our neighbor's horses got out. I had Jake, my eight year old, run over to let them know. Jake ran back and called over the fence that they weren't home, so I left Harrison in the house and went over to help Jake catch the horses and put them away. While I was over there, I heard a very brief snarling and barking, but it didn't register that it was coming from my house. We locked up the horses quickly and easily. While I was walking home, I heard Harrison on the front porch crying and yelling. I got irritated. Why couldn't I leave for five minutes without there being some problem? He was shouting so fast and so loud that he had to repeat what he was saying several times before I could understand him. I finally understood that Max came in the house and growled at him.

I ran to the house calling "Max, come!" over and over again. When I got to the front porch Harry told me he had left the door open. Max had come in and taken a chicken carcass off of the counter top. Before Max could leave, Harry cornered Max in the kitchen and told Max, "No! Bad dog! In response Max growled low and intense at Harry, then snarled and barked when Harry yelled back. Max took the chicken outside walking past Harry, head lowered, without any further aggression. When I got there, the dog looked guilty with a 'wild' look in his eye. Harrison was in hysterics - enraged at the dog because Harrison intuitively realized that Max had won and had dismissed Harry when Max stopped arguing and left. Harry's response had been identical to mine except that Harry stood up to the dog and was only a third of the dog's size!

The only positive thing I saw was that the dog left the house with the chicken without incident after Harry scolded him. Jake came in to see what all the fuss was about. He said he petted Max while Max was finishing up the chicken and Max hadn't done a thing!

Jon arrived home. He taped the dog's mouth closed with masking tape as Erick had suggested after the rabbit incident. Since Max had eaten the chicken, we let him lose with the tape on his mouth. He didn't even try to remove it and lay on the ground in humiliation. While Max contemplated his poor behavior, we discussed what we were going to do. After an hour we removed the tape.

I felt frustrated and defeated that despite all our hours of training and effort, Max still found new ways to be food aggressive. I decided that that even if I couldn't stop his food aggression I could stop him from setting foot into the house uninvited again. Each of the five members of our family was armed with various metal objects from the kitchen to bang together. Dinner was already cooking, so I opened up all the doors and windows so enticing smells would tempt Max to come back in the house. I placed the kids at the kitchen table and all of us looked occupied. Once Max was all the way in we were artfully arranged to surround him. His only escape route was to turn around and leave the way he came in.

I'd cautioned everyone to continue with their activities until Max walked far enough into the house to get the 'full' effect - down a short hall and halfway into the living room. Within minutes of opening the windows, Max's head peaked around the door. He nonchalantly walked into the house through the back door, down the hall, and into the living room, nearly all the way into the kitchen. Jon gave the verbal command to the dog, "Back off," which was our signal to beat and crash those pots together and yell at the top of our lungs.

Max froze for a second, glanced quickly at each of us, cowered, and then "scooby-scooted" out of the house. He even peeled out for a few steps.

We kept clanging until the moment Max left the house. It was great! The kids roared with laughter; they had a blast! Except Harry, who didn't think he got to clang enough! When we all stopped clanging, we ran out and praised him, loved on him, and told him what a good boy he was. He was extremely submissive. Max never came into the house uninvited again - ever.

Throughout the entire weekend we tempted him with whole, raw chickens sitting just a foot or two inside an open doorway. We left doors open for hours, at different times of the day, keeping our handy 'clangers' hidden from sight, but readily available. Most of the time Max either walked away or lay in front of the open door.

When I called Erick and told him about this incident he was very excited. He told me that we'd had a major break through in our understanding of Anatolians and Anatolian training. He said my attitude had changed to an alpha mindset when I refused to accept Max's behavior and thought of a way to gain the upper hand.

With my new outlook, I began to tackle the issue of Max's conditioning to the training with real success. The 'clanging' had gone so well; it opened up whole new ideas for me. The food aggression training worked only during training exercises because we hadn't made the training variable and unexpected enough to gain control throughout the day. This resulted in Max becoming sneaky because he never transferred the training situations into real life situations. Earlier we'd had a victim's mindset and had been intimidated by the dog's behavior because we didn't understand how different Anatolian behavior patterns are from the average dog. It was our trust in Erick that was the only thing that kept Max from being put down. We realized that when the incidents occurred in day to day life we had been in victim mode instead of behaving as if we were alpha and in control. We hadn't been truly alpha except during training.

Max was so intelligent that he had learned to be very submissive during training. However, we couldn't trust him any other time. Somehow we conditioned him to training situations but failed to transfer the training situations to real world situations. We believe that this failure occurred because we had not established the proper level of alpha respect rather than that he didn't understand what we wanted. An Anatolian requires an owner earn its respect or it won't faithfully obey its owner.

Since catching and eating that rabbit (and several others most likely) Max had become 'sneaky' and had goals and desires contrary to ours. Since noise is a very effective deterrent for Max, I began mulling over what else we could use. We were doing the training every night, with a variety of treats - meat, bones, regular people food. I noticed during one of the training exercises that Max wasn't being as strong with his submissive response. His response took a few seconds longer and he didn't turn his nose as far. I jumped forward and verbally chastised him for his delay. I got an immediate apology; it was very dramatic. I realized that Max, using infinitesimally small body movements, was pushing the limits; he was seeing how much he could "get away with." This moment was a major breakthrough for me because I finally realized that each tiny positional change Max made had significance.

With my new found understanding, I brought home deer bones (whole rib cages) and we did dominance training exercises with our clangers in various locations around the house. I can't even imagine what our neighbors thought of all the yelling and racket. At the end of this series of training, my husband Jon, I, and my three children were standing in a 40 foot semicircle around Max. Instead of running away Max came up to each family member by age with his head lowered and sat down. Although Jon was giving him the bones, rather than just going up to Jon, Max came to me, then to Andrew, and then the two younger boys, before finally walking away and lying down. He wouldn't even touch the venison. It felt like Max was going out of his way to show us that he understood everyone in my family was alpha to him.

We'll let you know how things have turned out for Max in Part 3!


TRAINING QUESTIONS FOR ERICK DURING THIS PERIOD

WHAT CAN I DO TO MAKE MAX RESPECT AND OBEY MY CHILDREN?

An Anatolian must respect and love his/her owner before the owner can control their dog's behavior. Therefore, I consider developing alpha respect the foundation interaction for an owner and his/her dog. As a dog ages, if he/she discovers the owner's alpha position can successfully be challenged or ignored, the dog will begin to challenge the owner with greater frequency and intensity! Therefore, I NEVER allow an Anatolian to realize my alpha position can successfully be challenged or ignored!!!

Once your dog respects your alpha position, DO NOT TOLERATE any behavior other than complete respect for your children. If you are VERY CLEAR AND IMMEDIATE on that issue, your dog will VERY QUICKLY pick up the necessity to treat your children with the utmost respect out of respect for your alpha position. Be sure to praise your dog profusely when he responds as you dictate!!!!! Praise is as important as an immediate correction, if not more so! Your dog's success depends on the quality of your training. If done correctly, your dog will become protective of and responsive to you, your husband, your children, and your animals!

MAX CAN BE TOO PLAYFUL WITH YOUNG GOATS AT TIMES, SO WE REMOVE HIM. IS THIS THE CORRECT THING TO DO?

It's a good thing you know not to place your dog with weak goats while he is too playful. You can keep him with "bossy" goats that won't tolerate any play... and you don't tolerate any play from him when he is with the goats! It can take pretty internally tuff goats to deal with a young Anatolian male growing up without another dog with whom he can play, Instead of putting an Anatolian pup with goats to weak to demand the pup's respect, I believe it's better to keep the pup separate a bit longer! Another alternative is to find goats that are "strong" enough to demand and receive the pup's respect.

You said that Max never actually catches or hurts the goats… just excited bounding. Even so, my response is "Don't let him! No Matter What!" Use the alpha control you are developing with the "juicy bone" exercise to stop any sign of chase that you see. Chase in well bred Anatolians is a weak behavioral response and with dedicated work on your part it will be easily extinguished. However, if you don't extinguish it early (nip it in the bud), it may persist longer. Remember, Max's environment is your responsibility.

Also, I consider persistent chasing to be a sign that an Anatolian is not being provided with sufficient exercise. Anatolians with sufficient exercise have no interest in playing with their goats! Even my pasture dogs get a once a day walk around the 50 acres! By the time they are two or three they will mature and need less exercise. But now they are VERY active and that energy MUST be worked off some way. It is up to you to create an environment that eliminates his desire to work off that energy by chasing his charges! If you don't provide an outlet for that energy, I would consider the chase your fault!

MAX WANTS TO PLAY CHASE WITH US BY STEALING TOWELS FROM US. IS THIS OK?

This is another sign that he has way too much energy! I think the towel game is a way for him to see he is faster and better than you are! I would not play it with him, since he is winning so easily... or if I did, I would find a way to win quickly and discourage the game. In pet dogs, this kind of game is fine. Remember, Anatolians are NOT PETS! NOT THE WORKING ANATOLIANS, ANYWAY! It sets up the wrong kind of interaction. One example of how I would change the game is by putting the towels where he can't get to them! End of game and YOU WIN.

IS IT OK IF ONE OF MY ADULT GOATS "KNOCKS THE SNOT" OF OUT MAX?

Letting him be with a really tough goats is good, to a point. But you want goats that stop the aggression when your pup submits… and to stop being vicious and mean. You might want to be there a lot at first to be certain that the interaction goes as you want. And keep in mind that as he grows he gets stronger and that he may at first be submissive but eventually become too dominant for the goats he's with! I have to change out goats occasionally to get stronger ones!

HOW CAN I STOP MAX FROM CHASING CATS?

You must be as strong in ALL areas of Max's behavior as you were with the "juicy bone" technique. That technique establishes the basic pattern for how you want him to respond to you. So when he wants to be aggressive to cats and you don't approve, you must NOT LET him be aggressive. You EXTINGUISH that response in him. If you are strong and fair and loving and provide lots of praise for obedience, he will learn and obey. IF you are weak and tentative, he will ignore you and do what he wants with the cats! Then you can consider his unwanted behavior YOUR fault, not his!

I KNOW YOU TOLD ME TO JUST NOT ALLOW HIM TO CHASE - BUT WE AREN'T ALWAYS THERE WHEN IT HAPPENS.

Remember, I accept no excuses. DON'T LET HIM CHASE. PERIOD. If that means you have to keep him away from the goats until you are with him, so be it! It must be this way because you are working on EXTINGUISHING the chasing behavior! Remember, this is a phase that will pass. After it passes, he can be with the goats 24/7, which will be for all the adult years of his life.

SHOULD WE HAVE ONE OF THOSE METAL TRAINING COLLARS THAT HAVE THE SPIKES ON THE INSIDE?

NO, DEFINITELY NOT. I don't put collars on my dogs and still achieve great results in training! I believe Anatolians are so inclined to please us (with the proper environment and training) that a collar is not needed except in special cases.

IS IT OK IF MAX BARKS AND IS ASSERTIVE WITH STRANGERS?

Max's behavior, barking and being assertive and suspicious toward strangers, is breed character for an Anatolian. In fact, I wouldn't have an Anatolian that was too people friendly. We have illegal aliens from Mexico here who have been known to steal goat kids from their pastures… but not my pastures!

MAX GROWLED AT THE VETS WHEN THEY WERE REPAIRING HIS BROKEN LEG. WAS THAT OK?

When he growled at the vet tech, if they had not touched or hurt him in any way I would have immediately verbally chastise him into submission (and then, after he submitted, be loving and let the vet tech be loving). Young Anatolians should have a "shut down" response when off territory that causes them to be more stoic. This shut down response needs to be enhanced by teaching your pup that off territory he is NOT allowed to show any aggression except to protect himself or you from an attack!!! However, it is NORMAL for an Anatolian to protect himself when he has a broken leg and a stranger is hurting him. Even so, I would still correct him for growling, no matter what his excuse (and then reassure him). Pups raised knowing they are secure and knowing they can trust you will always behave better and more responsively. You need to let your pup know that it isn't appropriate to be aggressive at the vets (or off territory anywhere)! You said the vet tech handled your pup lovingly after he growled, showing him that all was OK, which was a good response AFTER the pup was verbally chastised for growling.

You said he was a "lump" after that, which is normal... especially for pups. When I take my pups to the vet for their shots I spend about 10 or 15 minutes moving some of them from the door to the exam room because they are so shut down they don't want to move. I'm very loving and supportive because they are terrified and want to lie down (this is their first trip off territory). I am endlessly patient and reassuring with them and that helps them think the vet's office is a good place. I've never had one growl there except when adult and in response to a lunging growling dog. My dogs stepped between them and me, stared while standing firmly in place, and growled with authority, ending the other dog's aggression.

I tend to be very much in control around my dogs and if anyone approaches them incorrectly I instantly stop them (the person) and tell them what the correct behavior should be… even my vet. With correct alpha training, a pup will always look to its owner to determine how it should respond when off territory.

DO ANATOLIANS HAVE A TENDENCY TO WANDER? IF SO, WHAT HELPS STOP THAT TENDENCY? WILL NEUTERING HELP?

I've never owned a neutered Anatolian and none of mine wander. I've heard that neutering helps them stop wandering... and that makes sense, especially for males. But if you are going to have success with that, you might want to neuter at 6 months or so. However, I'm not an expert on neutering. I'd rather breed for Anatolians that tend to bond strongly to their charges and are not interested in wandering! Of course, one has to own flock animals (goats or sheep) to check that aspect of their breeding program.

In addition, I don't take my dogs (working dogs) off territory (and never on foot) except to go to the vets. I think frequent off territory trips confuses them and may increase their tendency to wander, since you "sort of" teach them to "wander" by wandering away from the property with them! :)

(Erick's note! Now that I have shown my dogs quite a bit, I find that taking them off territory had not made them tend to wander. I think wandering must be somewhat genetic and you either have a line that tends to wander or you don't. Of course, if you don't have your dogs in the pasture with animals you won't know if it would or would not wander!

HOW FREQUENTLY SHOULD I TRAIN?

For each lesson, train often at first and repeat occasionally over time. Your goal is to instill habitual good behavior in your pup!!! The general pattern you want your pup to understand is - good behavior gets loving... bad behavior gets punishment (ugly verbal response from you) ... if he begs for forgiveness and is submissive, forgive him. You want him to seek the love... and the forgiveness if he is being verbally punished! When he physically postures submission, always give your love generously by petting and talking reassuringly! :)

WHEN WE ARE WORKING WITH THE ANIMALS SHOULD WE PUT MAX IN A CRATE OR TIE HIM UP?

I would let him loose while I worked. That way you will be able to clearly direct his behavior around the animals! That is actually what I do! At first there is some problem... but soon they know what you want and the behavior you like and find acceptable. You will find that as you have established your alpha position with him he will be more responsive to your directions!

When he is loose and misbehaves, think of each misbehavior as an opportunity to clearly show him how you want him to behave! If you don't allow this type of training you will perhaps be creating a dog that is unreliable unless he is on leash! And remember, right now he is a pup and EASY to correct! This window of opportunity for easy training will slowly close as he ages! Use it NOW while you have it!

IF HE'S NOT PUT UP, ISN'T HE GOING TO END UP HURT (KICKED BY A HORSE, ETC.)?

That is possible. I had one dog kicked in the teeth by a horse. She is now careful to keep her distance. However, my dogs hate how the horses run through their goats! (Once a horse killed a goat accidentally while running through and another time a horse broke a goat's leg... so the dogs HATE when the horses seem to be heading through the goat herd too fast!) Remember… horses are not flock animals that Anatolians were bred to protect! Because of their size, horses can be considered a danger by Anatolians protecting smaller flock animals. However, I only have so many pastures and my dogs must learn to co-exist with the horses.



Click here for Part 3 of Max’s Alpha Training
Click here to see Part 1 of Max’s Alpha Training

Part 3 lets us know how it turned out for Max!

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