Question: Does my dog love me, or does he own me?
I have a question about my aunt's 2-year-old Miniature Pinscher. We bought the dog when she was just a pup, and I have to say she has grown exceptionally fond of me. I believe the reason is that when we brought the dog in, she was terribly scared and nervous, and I was the one who mainly kept her on my lap, patting her and making her feel comfortable. I remember I could feel her shaking like crazy, but after a while she stopped and became very calm. From that moment on, she was totally in love with me; even if she only sees me every 1 or 2 weeks, she's always overjoyed when I get to my aunt's house. Even though she's a lively and adorable pet, she doesn't treat anyone else in the family with the impressive affection she has developed for me. The dog is generally well-behaved, but it's obvious that she doesn't see my aunt as a "leader" and doesn't really follow anything she says. She has never really been trained.
We don't really have a big problem with that, the dog has a big house and yard, and it's OK if she does what she pleases, the only real issue is that she usually barks a lot and is very aggressive to strangers. Is it possible that the dog actually sees me as her "alpha," even if I see the dog once or twice a week? Even if she is a tad bit stubborn (due to lack of training), she gives a big importance to my reactions: if I scold her for something, she seems to get very sad and depressed, she stops being all lively and playful and goes into another room on her own, laying on the floor until I go back and "make peace." I absolutely don't abuse the dog in any way, and scolding her means only a big voice and a pat on her back. On the other hand when I play with her she's just incredibly happy, and truly doesn't look for that kind of love from anyone else in the family. So I am trying to understand if she sees me as some kind of alpha or if I'm just her "playmate." I'd like to try and give her some proper training, but not being with her often makes it a bit difficult.
It actually sounds like the dog sees herself as alpha over both of you, especially you. If the dog is all over you and overjoyed when you walk in, that is not showing you respect, it is claiming you. Remember, dogs give pack leaders space and space is respect. This would make perfect sense, as when you met the dog she was in a weak state of mind, "terribly scared and nervous." You, at that time, gave the dog affection and the dog saw you as weaker than herself and she became your leader at that moment. When a dog is upset she needs a stronger-minded being to bring her out of it, and if you share affection to a dog at that time the dog will read your energy as weakness. Instead of being her leader, you empowered her to take over.
This is where the issues all began, from day one, and this is why she gets aggressive towards strangers. She is empowered over humans. This aggression will lead to biting if you do not let the dog know you and all other humans are boss over her. You are actually sending the dog mixed signals. When you scold the dog and the dog walks away with her head down, that is the dog respecting you as alpha. To a dog, putting her ears slightly back as she slinks her head down, giving you space (walking away) is submission and respect. However when you go back to the dog and "make peace" as you call it, you are, in the dog’s eyes, submitting to HER. That is very confusing to a dog. Only humans make peace as you describe.
Dogs give space and respect. When a dog approaches with her ears perked standing very proud that is alpha behavior. When a dog approaches a human slinked down making herself smaller with her head lowered that is submitting. From what you describe the dog would like you to be alpha because she gives in to you so easily. The dog does not want to be alpha. But if the dog senses weak humans around her, she thinks she NEEDS to be alpha in order to "save her pack." To answer your question, yes, you can be alpha even if you only see her once in a while. I would be consistent, however, and encourage your aunt to be a pack leader as well as you communicating to the dog who is boss. It is very stressful for a dog to think she NEEDS to take care of all of the humans around her, or to be unsure where her place is. This is no way for a dog to live.