PASSIVE DOMINANCE: Aggressive and Socially Dominant Greyhound

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PASSIVE DOMINANCE: Aggressive and Socially Dominant Greyhound

I recently assessed a greyhound that was having aggression issues. A Greyhound you ask??!! Within the first 24 hours of being in the home, the dog had growled and tried to bite the foster when she went to sit on the couch. Within a few days, she had come home to bloodied dogs, a dead bird and an injured bird. Within a few weeks, more fights had broken out, the dog put teeth on her neck, almost killed a guinea pig, and would try to hunt down deer and anything else that seemed like prey. As you can see from the video, this greyhound has a full mouth bite on my tug and enjoys “fighting” with me. If I was tall enough I could have lifted this dog off the ground and he still wouldn’t have let go. He is growling and countering my moves much like a bully breed would. Several times you will see the dog come back into me to reengage after I stepped away because of enjoyment for “combat” with an opponent. This is a perfect example of genetics “coming out” and how easy it is for a dog to do something if theses genetics are acknowledged and harnessed in a constructive manner. This was only my second session working with him and the first time he ever put a tug in his mouth. With more work and training, this dog would be ripping this tug from my hands. I would even go so far as to say that this dog could be fully personal protection trained as long as the entitlement was addressed and an owner fully understood his genetics and the responsibility that comes with owning such a dog. There are a lot of subtle techniques going on in the video such as countering and pressure to make playing tug with the dog a very constructive interaction that I will address in a future article. Giving a dog a constructive outlet which addresses their genetics will actually create a safer and more content dog by clear rules and boundaries for that kind of behavior.


Up until this point, nobody (especially the greyhound rescue) could accept that he didn’t act like a greyhound should act and were completely at a loss on how to address his issues. This is where too many people (including professionals) have been taught to rely on PHENOTYPE and never understand or address GENOTYPE. The universal laws of Operant Conditioning, Premack and Entitlement, apply to all living things. There shouldn’t be a “special” training plan just because he is a greyhound. Address the genetics at play and apply the science of learning theory and you will get successful results.

This dog had been pulled from other fosters for standing his ground against multiple dogs at the same time. They just kept adopting him out assuming he would eventually fit the mold and “become” a retired greyhound. All dogs have the potential to be aggressive if the right genetics are present under the right environmental settings. It does not matter if that breed is known for being laid back and easy going or not. Being a certain breed of dog, does not guarantee that the dog will act as the “manual” states. Dogs are not clones or robots and at the end of the day, genetics will always come out. Genetics cannot be wished or loved away. They have to be understood and addressed properly or there will be side effects. Often those side effects become dangerous in the wrong setting.

When I met this dog, he silently walked right down the stairs, smelled me from head to toe, and when he was done, he walked back up the stairs and stood like an island onto himself surveying the surrounding area. The foster pointed out right away that he stood by himself since he came to stay with her. She said the other dogs of her “pack” wouldn’t accept him and he remained isolated. In the few moments that I knew the dog, I knew that was the direct opposite of what was happening. As we talked further, the dog never changed his demeanor as the other dogs one by one came over and tried licking his face or smelled him. Here was a dog that was so calm, so confident, he didn’t need to seek out the acceptance of other dogs or even humans. In fact, the other dogs were trying to solicit HIS acceptance. This is a very good example of a dog displaying passive dominance paired with high prey and fight drive along with entitlement.

Most people understand and have experience with “active” dominance. These are the type of dogs (or people for that matter) that are always ready to “prove” their status in a given situation. They are usually quick to step up and fight any one who they perceive as a threat to their position. These kinds of dogs have historically been good candidates for working roles such as police and military. In a lot of ways they are less dangerous than a “passive” dominant dog because you know what they are and are easy to spot from 100 miles away. It is part of the reason they are good in those types of working roles because their sheer presence acts as a deterrent. They create a very strong perception of threat and usable force which in turn deters people so the dog doesn’t have to be used.

The “passive” dominant dog is not recognized as easily by the public and in my opinion can be a more dangerous dog. This kind of dog can have just as much, and in many cases, have even more confidence than the “active” dominant dog. That is why it doesn’t have to prove itself every time it is presented with a situation. In the big picture, this kind of dog gets in a lot less altercations than it’s counterpart because it not only has the skill set to follow through, but very strong genetics balancing the personality out.  Even though this kind of dog can fight very well, it will a lot of times go out of it’s way to NOT get into a fight. Don’t confuse this avoidance of aggression with lack of capability or that the dog will back down. Many times this dog can be mistaken for being very submissive because of how laid back they are 99% of the time. Unfortunately, those who see that 1%, often find out too late if they didn’t recognize the signs in time. This kind of dog can never be “out muscled” to do something they don’t want to do (not that I believe any dog needs to be muscled in the first place). The trainers out there who supposedly “muscle” aggressive or strong dogs with harsh corrections or an alpha roll, and don’t end up in intensive care or dead have luckily never run up against this kind of dog.

  • Just as an aside: If you have “successfully” alpha rolled a dog and are around to read this, the dog never needed the alpha roll to begin with to address the issue.

I have worked with and own these kinds of dogs and can say that they are some of the most impressive dogs you will ever meet. But they also come with some of the greatest responsibility to own. Without the proper relationship in place along with the appropriate level of rules, boundaries and training, they often end up in bad situations by no fault of their own. The dog ends up doing exactly what genetics are telling the dog to do. Genetics will always come out! It is our responsibility as professionals the help owners recognize and properly address genetics through education, training, and guidance.