I have two female Border Collies, now about 12 and 8. The older one is the mother of the younger, and the dominance issues we went through when the youngest wanted to assert herself... well, it took about a year for things to fall into place with the help of our vet and a trainer. (The younger dog is the dominant one.)

About 8 months ago, my son (same town) got a male BC pup as a rescue, and I volunteered to dog-sit as both my son and his wife work long hours. Of course he was the underdog, and it wasn't a problem (my girls weren't unduly aggressive.) After a few months, he was able to stay at home alone for longer periods of time, and we switched from the dog being here to my stopping in at my son's home to take him out and play mid-day on days when I was able.

The dog has now far outgrown both my females. He tries to be the dominant dog: he tries to eat their food, take their spot where they're resting, and sometimes much worse (he urinates on their beds and where they eat!) This causes all kinds of growling and snapping, and I correct his behavior, not allowing him to dominate.

The dog-owner in me knows there will be more peace ultimately if my girls just learn that he is now the dominant dog. Then there will be no more bickering; they'll know their place. :(

But my heart isn't in line with my head, and I'm not up for the months of disruption this will inevitably cause.

Should I just allow nature to take its course?

Edited to add: At my house, I treat my dogs as the dominant dogs. At my son's house, I do not push the issue at all, and there doesn't seem to be any fighting. I guess he feels a lot more secure on his own turf.


Great question. I'd like to first state that the dominance theory was initially brought about by David Mech, who studied captive wolves. He and many other trainers who originally believe in this theory, have now stated that this theory is incorrect and did not represent the actual living structure of a wolf pack. They act as a family unit and do not have an alpha or submissive wolves in the pack. It is a mum, dad and a few youngsters and the mum and dad teach the younger ones as we teach our children.

I know that you have had a trainer in the past as well as a vet who said that there was a dominance issue, but this is not current (the last twenty years of animal behaviour) information and simple puts the blame on the dog, gives us an OK to use punishment and allows us to think that dogs are plotting against us. I know the only thing my dog is thinking about at night is that first morning belly rub and yummy breakfast she will be getting, not where to dig the next hole in the backyard (she doesn't dig, just using a bit of humour to get the point across).

It is great that your two girls get along so well. You haven't said if the male is desexed or not. Non-desexed males will mark their terriorty (or what they believe to be their terrioroty) a lot more than desexed males. I would strongly suggest, that unless your son is going to breed from him, to desex him, if they haven't don't it already.

As above, males and females urinate on areas to send messages to other dogs. Think of their pee as a flyer someone has put up on a notice board. The pee tells other dogs all sorts of information. The male is urinating on the girls beds as he can smell his last "message" and wants to keep that message fresh. As long as the bed smells of his pee, he's going to keep peeing there. I would suggest washing all their beds and only letting the females into areas where you don't want the male to go. If a dog finds a surface comfortable, they are going to lay on or in it, regardless if it is there bed. I would give all three dogs a yummy chew such as a Kong toy filled with cream cheese on the areas you want them to lay down on. It should keep them occupied for a while.

In regards to the stealing of food, this is quite an easy one to deal with. Feed all three dogs separately and when one dog walks away from their food bowl, even if there is food in it, take the bowl away. You may have to feed the male outside while the females eat inside. Better to separate all three into different rooms/areas so they only have their food bowl to get to.

Punishment (whether hitting, screaming at a dog or spraying them with water) is proven not to work and will only cause the dog that is receiving it to dislike the person dissing it out and will lead to other, much more serious issues, like the dog snapping, growling or even biting the person "correcting them".

Hope this has helped and look forward to seeing how you go.

  • This is a very helpful answer. Thanks! The male had been neutered. (I do not punish my dogs, ever. I don't believe they really would understand it. I reward good behavior, but never punish.) I have carried out some of your suggestions already, but not all, so there are new things to try. Again, thanks! Jan 11 '16 at 4:39
  • Great to hear. I have been guilty of using punishment in the past due to some people telling me it was the only way the dog would learn. Dog would run from me whenever I entered the room. Thankfully now only use positive reinforcement when training my dog and others. Check out Karen Pryor's books on clicker training. clickertraining.com Jan 11 '16 at 4:49

It sounds like you need to step in for the sake of being the dominate dog in your house.

  • Stick around and watch the dogs eat and make sure they are not stealing from each others bowl/food.

  • Spray the dog when he is marking his territory in your house with a squirt bottle or another method of correction.

  • If your son's dog takes your other dogs spots, correct him.

This is how we have corrected one of our moms dogs when he would visit and it has done wonders. Note: I do know that you are suppose to let the dogs work out who is who in the pack, but you are suppose to be the alpha dog out of the whole pack. Just keep that in mind and everything should work out.

  • I disagree with the spray bottle as you are not teaching him what you want him to do instead. Also, this can lead to a fear of water in some dogs (my uncle's dog was terrified of getting a bath as he used to squirt the dog with a water bottle when the dog didn't do what he wanted Jan 11 '16 at 5:42

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