Old Trainer

Dogs aren’t as simple to figure out as you might think

DEAR OLD TRAINER: Max, my 10-month old English Sheep Dog, loves to play at the dog park and has a favorite dog he plays with. They roll over and over, take off in a wild run, then come back and start rolling again. A lady said, “Max is a submissive dog.” She said if a dog rolls over on its back that shows it’s submissive. What does that mean?


DEAR ANONYMOUS: It means a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. There is probably more hot air around the dog park about submissive/dominant behavior than all other subjects combined.

Max rolling over on his back while playing has zero to do with submissive behavior and everything to do with the way puppies play.

All dogs display submissive and dominant behavior. A dog may show both a dozen times in a one-hour span.

People like the dog park lady see submission as weakness and dominance as strength, but canine behavior is far more complicated than that. They are projecting human psychology onto dogs, a failing that causes most problems people have in training and understanding their dogs.

All canine acts are based on pack psychology and designed to keep peace within the pack. Dogs assess a situation, decide which act will make their lives the most pleasant and act accordingly.

And most of the time they are faking it. We have all seen our dogs break a rule, act submissive long enough to convince us they are sorry, then take off running and playing the instant we forgive them.

The most dominant dog I ever had, an alpha female who thought she and I ran the world, was submissive to a lazy Greyhound because he was the only dog she couldn’t outrun.

I have never seen a dog that is always dominant or always submissive, and I doubt one exists.

DEAR OLD TRAINER: Loved your column on nutrition. The skin problems of Kit, my Bouvier, have improved already. I have a question about the 2,000 mg of fish oil. Is there a special brand just for dogs? Do you buy it in a bottle and how do you know how much is 2,000 mg?

Louise, Cheyenne, Wyo.

DEAR LOUISE: I use the same 1,000 mg capsules I take myself. I puncture the capsules with a needle and squeeze it on the dog food. When you give it to Kit start with one capsule for several days, then add the second.

Now and then puncturing a capsule gets a little messy and I wind up with fish oil on my hands. If you want to avoid that you can purchase fish oil liquid by the bottle at Amazon and dozens of other suppliers. It even comes with a pump top to make it easy to measure out a teaspoon at a time.

The Readers Check In: Loyal reader Gene, of Atwater writes with a suggestion to keep a dog from chewing his bedding.

His Doberman shredded his bed, but was wily enough to do it only at night or when his humans were away. Gene sprayed the bed with Bitter Apple liquid (also available in cherry, lime and other favors, from all the usual suspects). The dog decided the bed was still fine for sleeping but no longer worth chewing.

A trainer for more than 30 years, Jack Haskins has rescued, trained and placed more than 2,500 dogs. Send questions to theoldtrainer@gmail.com.