Pack Hierarchy and our part in it.
I am so often told, and normally by the person that has called me in to help with an undisciplined dog, that this dog is definitely the ‘pack leader’ and as such this is why he is acting in this particular way – jumping on owners, nipping, bossing the other dogs around, refusing to do what is told, ignoring owner etc, etc.
What this dog is doing is acting like a ‘wannabee’ – I want to be the leader and have not yet figured out how to do it so will try and see what works! And guess what? The more the current behaviour works, whether it is getting attention from the owners, getting his own way, the more the dog is likely to do it, and an ever worsening situation develops.
The true leader of the pack is the dog that will even allow a pup to take his prized bone to chew on if he doesn’t feel like chewing it at that particular moment, without a snarl, and simply turn his head away. Why – because he IS the pack leader and if he does want it back he will just quietly go and take it and there will be no fuss from the other dog! This is how the true pack leader portrays himself – calm, confident, looks after his pack; every member in it knows their place and they all have a job to do.
Dogs are incredibly social animals, they ‘need’ to be with us, and when we bring a dog into our homes, we are actually creating the human/canine pack. In the animal world and indeed, in our human world, we have rules and guidelines set down in order to keep harmony. Think about it, we put in place rules for our kids, our families, they are found in schools and in the work place and in society in general, why then do we not have basic House rules for our dogs? Simple, we have never thought of it from this prespective. What do you think would happen if none of this were in place? Complete and total havoc and that is what happens when a dog does not know his or her own place.
Hierarchy is vitally important to dogs, and if the dog does not feel that the top position is being filled correctly, it will just try to take over. Is there such a thing as hierarchy in the dog pack itself? Of course there is but what owners do not always realize is that hierarchy is not always static. In a pack of 3 dogs for example, you may find one dog that is fixated on toys, and he is the ‘top dog’ in that scenario, another one may be higher in pack when it comes to food, and another towards its people. Hierarchy also changes within your pack as dogs become older, enter adolescence and if a new addition is brought in.
What is vitally important is that we owners are the pack leaders. The dog will feel more secure, behaviour concerns will lessen and altogether there will be more harmony.
Think of it, with our hands, voices and actions, we humans control virtually every single part of our dogs lives – we provide the food, decide when, where and how much is given, award love and attention, have the magic hands that throw balls and take them out for walks and we even decide whether or not they will be allowed to reproduce! We have, at our fingertips all the commodities that are required to be a good, caring, committed pack leader, but do not always take advantage of this.
What we humans often do, totally inadvertently, is to undermine the current standing of pack hierarchy in a multidog household. We may pay too much attention to a lower ranking member, go totally overboard when a puppy is adopted, not exhibit the behaviour expected, etc. The hierarchy in a dog pack needs to be respected and reinforced by us, BUT, as pack leader it is your decision as to whom you reward the attention too. By all means, greet the pack leader first, but every few days, greet another member of your pack first – you are in charge and by doing a simple thing like this, you are also saying loud and clear, that you are in charge and determine who is greeted first.
Tomorrow we will look at the basic House Rules and how these can be easily be introduced to help you to turn yourself into a calm, confident member of the combined human/canine pack and make your dogs more secure and happier.
Please feel free to ask questions or make comments - we would love to hear