Q & A: Correcting poor social behavior


Editor's note: Mike Stewart has nearly 30 years of experience breeding and training sporting dogs and is currently training Drake, the official Labrador retriever of Ducks Unlimited. To learn more about Wildrose Kennels and the training methodology used by Mike, visit www.uklabs.com. If you have a training question, email Mike and he may answer your question in an upcoming column.

I have a 1-year old, male chocolate Lab. My problem is, whenever I take him out hunting and there are other dogs present, it seems that all he wants to do is play around with them or even mount the females.

His whole mindset is on what the other dogs are doing. No matter how hard I am on the dog, nothing seems to change. It seems all he wants to do is mark his territory on every bush out there!

Is this something he will grow out of with age? Or is there something I can do now to help?

Please help! Thank you.

Clint Sorensen

The problems you are experiencing with your lab will not likely go away with age, quite likely they will intensify. The possible source of the problem:

    1. A personality dysfunctional dog whose behavior is genetically influenced — big problem
    2. Poor socialization as a pup — proper social etiquette in the presence of other dogs
    3. Lack of obedience training
    4. Lack of a clear pack hierarchical structure in your dog's life

The most likely culprit — #3 and #4. It sounds as though he lacks a dominate pack leader figure in his life. His social system is array. The behaviors he displays around other animals does not reflect play, especially at his age.

Rather, it appears, given the limited information I have available, to be an immature attempt on the part of your dog to gain the attention of and to dominate other animals… to become the dominate leader.

The behavior further denotes his disregard for you, despite your objections, as the pack leader, i.e. mounting females (or males for that matter… if not yet, he likely will), his disregard for your attempts at control.

I would attempt to rectify these annoying behaviors, obviously well-entrenched given the dog's age, by a stringent obedience course and realigning the structure of the dog's life, both in an effort to establish yourself as pack leader.

1. Initially stop all interactions with other dogs.
2. No more free lifestyle in and around the home… off to a private pen.
3. No one toys with the dog. You do the feeding, watering and exercise.
4. Thoroughly reintroduce a rigid obedience course. Many problems are solved at heel.
5. To establish yourself as pack leader through dominance, control the dog's behavior and lifestyle:

    a. No free roaming.
    b. Control the administration of feed-Pick up feed halfway through the meal; begin eating only on command.
    c. Enter doorways before the dog.
    d. Demand and get patience in all things.
    e. Correct any attempt to mark territory, bark at other dogs, etc.
    f. Once obedience skills are well entrenched, begin sessions in the presence of other dogs, first, at a distance.

Reinforce all commands and basic retriever skills in a group setting, getting compliance and holding your dog's attention.

These are just a few tips. In other words, establish dominance and exert control before reintroducing the dog into a setting involving other dogs. Even then he must be under control at all times. You must remain in a position to correct any inappropriate behavior promptly… keeping our lad on literally a very short lead.

Good luck,
Mike Stewart