Vizslas and Dominance, Part 1
This article is comprised of snip-its from a variety of pet chat areas, bulliten boards, and the Vizsla Listserv concerning dominant Vizsla's. We think that with all the talk about how sweet and wonderful Vizslas are it might be appropriate to broaden the scope of this type of conversation to include other aspects of Vizsla ownership. To ensure privacy we are taking various peoples comments and creating more generalized statments for consideration. If you would like to comment on this article send us a note by clicking here: email to Ingle & Mead. We will try to add other peoples comments as we can to better reflect what people are thinking.
Let's start off by agreeing that, as with ALL dogs, there is a dominance trait in Vizslas. Here is a compilation of some peoples feelings, these folks have a dominant Vizsla.
Some people struggle with coming to terms with dominance. When probed they admit that their struggles had a lot to do with the idea that they thought dominance was a black and white picture: a dog is either completely compliant or it isn't, and if it isn't, then the picture is probably pretty gloomy in terms of how long before the dog will become aggressive and bite for real. Dogs are either lovable and brainless on one end, or agressive and dangerous on the other -- with most dogs falling inbetween. But when the realization occurs that your dog falls into the agressive and dominant end of the spectrum you can feel hopeless. This notion, that the dominant dog is a danger waiting to explode, can be picked up from books and dog people in general (including the Pet Forums on the Net), rather than from Vizsla people who have lived with our breed.
So, are Vizslas dominant? The answer is some are. Most Vizsla owners are fortunate in having purchased our dog from very conscientious breeders who give tips on handling the new puppies, including those whose dominance challenges ownership. However, some make the mistake in thinking that with the just the right technique properly applied once the dominance would go away completely and that they would then have a dog that would NEVER AGAIN stiffen, or show its teeth, or growl. When, of course this doesn't happen, owners are feeling pretty let down with the idea of the "gentle Vizsla" rather than having a look at the reality of a dog's nature.
Owners of dominant dogs may worry a lot that the dominant dog could never be trusted fully not to bite. They are concerned for kids, family members, and other dogs. The fear can become overwhelming.
However, owners can become much more relaxed once they understand that the process of keeping their Vizsla in its place is ongoing and needs consistency on their part -- even if they still have to intervene occasionally to break up an "aurgument" between the dog and others (such as children). This would be pretty scary stuff if owners were not aware of what to do and didn't have confidence that the growls are mostly sound and fury and that the dogs won't bite. Some owners admit that they can't pretend that they don't sometimes wish we had "lucked into" a more submissive Vizsla puppy...but then again they admit to all the admiring looks and comments their receives on our runs in the park -- the admiration of others does have a lot to do with that enthusiastic "swagger" and boisterous joy some Vizslas brings to life.
Some Vizsla owners firmly believe that harsh corrections such as stringing up, shock collars etc. do not help with dominance problems and can in fact exacerbate them. Vizslas, they argue, do not do well with harsh physical corrections and I'm sure there are always exceptions to this but then we need to consider why the problems are occurring. Is it genetic or environmental?
Mouthing and biting is very typical of a young puppy especially a teething one and generally must be dealt with. Generally, distraction is a more suitable correction that follows with a reward for correct and acceptable behavior. For example, puppy gets excited and starts mouthing the kids, the kids pull away and probably yell etc. Puppy thinks this is a great game and continues with more biting. Teaching your child to get up and walk to another room and give the dog a command that it knows such as sit and reward with a treat might be a good way of dealing with this issue. Other forms of diversion work also with no pinning of the puppy, or other physical confrontations. With a very dominant dog the dog should have to follow some command for rewards. When behavior gets crazy and intolerable give a sit or down. Consistency is very, very important.
Some people share that their bitch is very dominant and may have even seen her lift her leg and urinate on the runs. She may frequently mount the other bitches and marks like a male. She may always have to have the last pee. However, she is allowed on the furniture and the bed and frequently sleeps with or close to the owner. (Some owners can't imagine not cuddling up with their vizsla on the sofa or in the recliner at night. But then they must always been very consistent with dominant bitch and never give a command that couldn't be enforced.)
Puppy kindergarten classes and basic obedience classes will help tremendously and anyone with a new puppy should enroll. It will help not only with teaching the dog some basic commands but also in socializing your Vizsla and everyone we know firmly believe that Vizslas are a breed that need to be socialized well early on. (As is the case with all dogs actually.)
Lastly, you get much more accomplished with positive rewards and reinforcement than negative. A wonderful book is Diane Baumen's Beyond Basic Dog Training. She talks alot about why a dog behaves as it does and what the dog is thinking. Rarely do people who understand Vizslas hit or smack their dogs. If things get to out of hand then the dogs should go into the crate as a "time out" until they can settle down.
The point is to try and put yourself in the dog's mind if you can and look at the behavior from the dog's point of view. Why not get the food on the counter -- it looks great. Don't create situations with a young puppy that can cause a problem. Avoid problems before they occur by thinking ahead. After "puppy proffing" the house, learn to be consistent in corrections and rewards -- but most importantly socialize your dog and be VERY clear who is the alpha.
As one person wrote, I am the alpha bitch in this family!