If You Own Two Dogs, Can You Control Who’s The Alpha Dog

I have two cocker spaniels that are one year apart. The red and white female (Cassie)is almost two and spayed. The buff male (Peanut) is just one 1 years old and neutered. Peanut was rescued from a cocker shelter in October of 1999. He is incredibly devoted, a very good listener and quick learner. He is the ideal dog as he is very eager to please. Cassie on the other hand is the most independent and stubborn dog I have ever encountered (you’ve probably seen worse). She used to only listen to commands when she wanted but I have put a stop to that. I have had numerous problems with her dominant tendencies but have come a long way. She now views me as the alpha and only displays aggression when she is in pain — specifically when I brush her. She has been diagnosed with allergies, is on allergy shots and has bad skin. This is not my problem though as I think I can work through this one with the use of the training collar.

ADAM INTERJECTS: It’s very difficult to correct pain-response aggression. It’s more of a reaction than anything else. Use the muzzle and restrain the dog when you need to give her shots. Other times (just so that she doesn’t build a negative association to the muzzle) put it on, take it off, and then give her a cookie. Do this at random times.

BETH CONTINUES: Cassie displays a lot of dominance aggression toward Peanut. She growls when he tries to pick up a bone near her and when they play (or fight) she will “hump” him. I always feed her first, give her treats first, pet her first but Peanut just doesn’t seem to get it. He will walk through the door before Cassie but after me. He is always one head length ahead of her when we walk outside. Further, I think he is trying to challenge her because the playing time more recently has turned into fighting. It’s more barking than anything — to date there has been no blood. However, Cassie usually is on top of him, pinning him to the ground, and he lets out this barking/yelping noise when she releases, he goes right after her again until I break it up.

She also displays the same aggression toward the cat. If the cat comes into her “area” when she is comfortable in front of the fire or if the cat even walks by one of her bones she goes crazy. She’ll chase the cat away with growling and quickly running after her.

ADAM INTERJECTS AGAIN: You can correct this behavior. She will learn not to chase the cat in the house.

BETH CONTINUES: So here’s the big question. What do I do? Do I continue to treat Cassie as the next in the pack? Do I let them fight it out? Do I continue to scold her for chasing the cat? HELP!

Any advice you can offer will be much appreciated. Your book is great by the way….


Dear Beth:

Thanks for the question.

There is ONE big point you’re not conceptualizing: You can only affect your relationship with each dog. You can be dominant to both dogs. Or you can be dominant to only one dog. Or you can be viewed as the Omega dog (the most submissive one) by both dogs.

However, you cannot control how your dogs view each other. This is a topic I’ve written about in past issues of my e-zine. I’m going to reprint it for your benefit:

A subscriber wrote: “Thanks, Adam. I think I found the answer. ‘We determine who will be the alpha dog.’
Correct? ”

My reply:

“No, no no!

You cannot do this! It’s impossible!!!

The dogs’ temperaments are inherent. Only you can determine if you’re dominant to the other dogs, by being MORE DOMINANT. But you cannot work it out for them.

You can control the dogs’ behaviors and not allow any scuffles if you:

-are the alpha dog in the pack.


-you have voice control.

But as soon as you leave the dogs together– unsupervised– and go out for dinner… all bets are off. The dominant one will still be the dominant one.

Think of taking a group of four kids.

Kid#1 will grow up to be a Navy Seal, and then an Admiral.
Kid#2 will grow up to be a fierce criminal defense attorney.
Kid#3 will grow up to be a middle management executive for a large firm.
Kid#4: will grow up to be a peace activist and a socialist.

Now, when you leave the house every day for work, you may say, “Kid#4… you’re in charge.” And as long as you’re around, Kid#4 may get the privileges of being the “so-called” top dog.

But as soon as you leave…

It’s going to be a given that kid#3 and kid#4 are going to be the bottom dogs, and kid #1 and kid#2 will scrap-it-out to see who is REALLY the “top dog.” Their genetics (and to some extent, upbringing– depending upon their age) determines this. But it is the toughest kid who will become the group leader.

Even though kid #2 may be fairly tough in his own right, he will test kid#1… but will ultimately lose… as kid#1 is too tough.

Now, if kid#1 gets sick and has to stay in bed, then kid#2 becomes the new kid#1.

In other words, the “Alpha dog.”

Until you get home. Then you’re the alpha dog, and he becomes the beta dog.

Get it?

Beth, as far as you’ve described your dogs’ interactions… it doesn’t sound to me like you’ve got a problem. It sounds just like play, or perhaps some dominance scuffles. However, without seeing the dogs in person it’s impossible to tell for sure.

Bulldog has a House Training Problem

Dear Adam: We have a house training issue:We got an English bulldog in Dec 2003. We received her as a gift from my in-laws. She is 2 ½ yrs old.

Since we got her, she pees and poops in the house. When she goes outside, we praise her, and sometimes it does wonders but she will only go when she feels like it. She pees in her crate almost everyday. It is getting to the point that my husband is ready to get rid of her. She has the best temperament and is a great dog.

We have another dog, a 1 ½ yr old beagle who used to pee in her crate but once we got Mattie (the English Bulldog) I don’t know what to do. We love her and show her attention but we cannot continue to have this problem. Is there anything you can recommend? We are so desperate. My in-laws said this was never a problem with them and they even had water left in her crate when they were gone. We don’t since this is a problem.

She is left out of her crate more now with us than when she lived with them. I thought all the attention would help, but I don’t see that happening. Please help me not to lose my dog. Thanks, Susan

Dear Susan: First, take your bulldog to your veterinarian and first rule out a bladder or urinary tract infection or any other type of illness.

Second, you haven’t mentioned how long you’re leaving your dog in the crate.

If you’re putting her in the crate at 7am and leaving for work, and then not returning home until 6pm, then you don’t have a dog problem. You need to hire a dog walker or pet sitter who can stop by in the middle of the afternoon and let the dog out. Assuming points #1 and #2 are non-issues, I highly recommend you read my article, Housebreaking in a Hurry! Do not neglect any of the five steps!!!

What’s Missing From his House Training Efforts

Dear Adam: We adopted a one year old cocker poo from a shelter about 3 weeks ago. Our main concern with him right now is getting him housebroken. He has had 6-7 accidents on the carpet so far. We keep him in a crate at night and when we are away from home (no more than 4 hours at a time).

We have been trying to take him to the same spot in the yard to “potty” and then praise him when he goes. We feed and water him in the morning and evening, but he shows no regularity. It is noon today and he hasn’t peed or pooped since last night. Sometimes he will go first thing in the morning. I have been crating him when I bring him in from outside and he hasn’t gone potty, but feel sorry for him cooped up all the time.

Should I be doing this? How often should I be taking him out? HOw often should I expect him to go? I don’t know how to expect him to “tell” us that he needs to go out. We have not had a dog in about ten years, so we are really lost.

Thanks so much, Angi.

Dear Angi:

The one thing that you have not mentioned is the most important thing: Using the tab/short leash and training collar to correct your dog when he eliminates in the house.

Even if you do none of the rest, your dog will still understand the house training concept  as long as you create a negative association with eliminating in the house. All the rest is just icing on the cake that will speed up your results, but without correcting your dog, you are left hoping and praying.

Three Dogs That Need House Training

Michael wrote to tell me, “The problem is that we have three pups that need house training. I have successfully housebroken a number of dogs, one at a time, but all the methods I’m aware of require you to show the dog the mistake. Indicate in whatever manner preferred that the mistake is unacceptable & place the dog outside.

Certain methods involve placing newsprint on certain spots on the floor as an interim step. However these methods don’t seem applicable in this case, because unless you happen to catch the dog in the act of urinating/defecating, it is impossible to identify the animal at fault and to reinforce the fact that the behavior is unacceptable.

We have reached the stage where non of the dogs will misbehave if humans are present, but as soon as you walk out of the room oh-oh. Provided that there is more than 1 dog in the room. I was wondering if you had a book available that dealt with this kind of problem and if so, which one would you recommend that I purchase? Thanks, Michael


Thank you for the e-mail. I’m going to direct you to my article on Housebreaking here, for your benefit. –Edited… complete article can now be found at: House Training

House Training a Dog Or Puppy (Who Is Marking) In A Hurry

House Training A Dog or Puppy In A Hurry — Five Things You Must Dog:

Every professional dog trainer knows that there are five keys to successfully housebreaking your dog.  Ignore any of these five keys and you’ll be dooming yourself to many extra months of housebreaking misery.

1.) Correct the dog every time (100%) that he has an accident in the house. Keep him confined to either a crate, or a dog run outside when you can’t supervise him.

2.) Praise the dog anytime he eliminates outside.

3.) Establish a specific spot, and a command you repeat (such as “Get busy!”) while you’re waiting for him to eliminate outside.

4.) Set up a rigorous feeding and watering schedule, and take him out immediately after he does both.

5.) Use an odor neutralizer, such as a product called “Nature’s Miracle” (you can buy this at your local pet store, or through a mail order catalog.) You’ll need to make sure that whatever product you’re using is an enzymatic cleaner, meaning that it actually ‘breaks down’ the urine or fecal mater on a microscopic level, rather than just masking the scent.