When people bring home their new puppy or new dog, very often it is treated like a member of the family. We allow it to jump up on us, play tug of war games, give it special tidbits, let it sleep inside, basically giving in to its every whim in order to make it feel at home and because it’s a novelty. However, most people don’t realize that it only takes 14 days for a do to find its position in the human pack. If it is afforded special treatment and is allowed certain privileges, it may exhibit some traits that are undesirable. Not because it is being disobedient, only because it believes it is allowed to.
During the first 4-7 weeks of a dog’s life is when it learns how to be a dog. It learns the basic rules of the dog pack and how to establish itself in the pack. After that is when it is ready to be socialized with humans. From 7 weeks to 18 weeks of the dog’s live is the ideal time for it to learn its place in the human pack. Each week after nine weeks, they miss out on how to be dogs within a domestic environment. Now what we must do is understand what it has learnt and how it has learnt it during the first weeks of its life.
What we must do is look upon a dog as a creature with inherent instincts that way we can understand why it does the things it does. Most often, we humans ‘Anthropomorphize’. That is we attribute our human values and understanding to the dog that has absolutely no idea of our values or ideals, or what we require from it. We confuse the dog by trying to teach it our values – IT ONLY UNDERSTANDS CANINE VALUES. If we can understand how the dog learns, and what it learns, we can use this process to create behavior that fits into the family environment.
Every dog pack has an alpha leader and answers to a pecking order. This is established so that every individual knows its role and place. This creates harmony and order. The alpha pack leader is afforded all the privileges of the pack. If a lower ranked member tried taking a privilege reserved for the alpha leader, a correction would ensure to maintain order. We must now look at the privileges of the leader and how it relates to the domestic situation.
The alpha leader is allowed to occupy and sleep where it likes. No one violates its bed space. How many times have we basically allowed the dog free reign of the house and yard, often roaming the house and yard and going where is pleases? We as owners may inadvertently not invade its sleeping area however.
Dogs are predators and basically eat whenever they can, however, no matter what food is available, the alpha leader eats first. We may have given the dog the wrong impression by feeding the dog before eating ourselves.
During games of tug-of-war, we allow the dog to win the trophy. They strut around the place looking pleased with themselves; however, they have just displayed a show of strength in winning the game.
During games of rough and tumble, as soon as the dog shows aggression, we may stop. We have submitted to its sign of dominance. We must not teach or encourage our dogs to growl, pull or preserve any objects that bring the reward of winning.
The alpha leader always leads the pack and is always greeted by the other members of the pack. How may times has our dog rushed up the stairs in front of us, turned and waited for us to come the top? We look up smiling admiring, and then we usually glance at the step in front of it. Imagine what the dog must think of this a canine displays of defence are exhibited by low head carriage.
Alpha leaders precede all other members through openings and doorways. Higher members of a pack are always afforded the forward rite of passage. Therefore, doorways around the house are key areas. Often our dogs may rush past us when opening doors or going through passageways. When we approach it or motion for it to move, we usually receive a moan or a glance and it remains in its place. We then leave the dog where it lies so we don’t disturb it.
How many times has our dog approached us nudging our arm for attention or wanting to hop on our lap?We usually attribute this to our dog showing us affection.However, the dog has decided who is going to stroke it and when.If we had called it over for a pat and it either ignored us, or rolled over and laid back down, the dog has shown that he is not ready for interaction, a decision those higher members of the pack usually make.
Without realizing the dog’s point of view:
It sleeps where ever it likes; nobody sleeps in its bed.
It gets picking of available food and we have whatever’s left.
It can win all fighting and strength games
On a daily basis, we show deference to its superior rank.
We allow it to precede us through narrow opening and we do not disturb it when we move around.
Respond to its demands for attention, accept its refusal.
What we may have inadvertently done is given the dog an elevate position within our human pack without even realizing.
Alpha Leaders of the pack’s responsibilities are
Lead the pack.Our dog’s may pull on the lead as they believe that is their role
Keep the pack together.When off lead on walks, our dog may run back and forth and around us, in turn, herding us and keeping us together.
Protect the pack.Our dog may display aggressive behavior to other dogs that invade our territory and warn off intruders to the yard or people that walk by.
Initiate the hunt. When dog’s run off, they may be in hunt mode looking for food and using their nose.
Defend the den.Again why our dog’s may display overly aggressive behavior to dogs or human visitors.
Sometimes when our dog displays undesirable characteristics, it may very well be that we have sent messages to our dog that we have elevated them within our human pack and it is simply accepting the responsibilities that higher pack members have.However, we can reverse the roles by simply changing a few rules.
Sleeping Areas – Ensure id does not sleep in our chairs or beds, but we can occupy its place.Do not allow it to growl or defend its sleeping area.
Food – Prepare the dog’s food in its presence.Sit down to eat a sandwich or meal before we allot it to eat its meal.Make the dog earn its meal.Make it sit, lie down, speak etc.You are controlling the availability of food and when it can and can’t eat.
Attention- Ensure games are controlled by us – retrieving games, games of tug-of-war etc.Do not enter into strength games unless you know you will always win them.If the dog is always demanding attention, a pat or a game when it wants, but will not come over for a pat or play a game upon your invitation this role must be reversed.Ensure you initiate all attention when you want and ignore or at least make the dog earn its demands for attention.
Inside the House – Ensure we occupy top step, so the dog comes to us upon calling it.Deny or limit the dog access to upstairs areas.If it is allowed access to inside areas, make it earn this privilege.Make it perform a basic behavior like sit or wait, then invite it inside.Restrict the movement around the house so it cannot go where it wants.Try to deny access to rooms.On a rug or mat in the lounge area is good.
Doorways and Gates – Slam the Door in its face when it tries to rush past or through the first crack of light that appears.It will quickly learn to take a pace back and wait for you.Make the dog move out of your way when you move about
Make the dog earn its privileges – This can be from a simple walk, to getting receiving a bone.Make the dog believe what it about to happen is a privilege and not a right.Make it perform a behavior like a sit, a bark, a wait, then give it its reward.
All of the above points are designed to make the dog realize that you are the master and you control its environment, not it.
If your dog is displaying behavior that you are finding unacceptable, simply changing a few rules in how you interact with it can do wonders in modifying its behavior. Once the dog understands its place within the pack, it becomes a much more happier pet and one we are more happier to have around.
Glen was a Police Dog Handler with the Queensland Police Service for 14 years. During that time, he handled 4 police dogs and was also the Australian New Zealand Police Dog Champion Team. He has trained his dogs in tracking, manwork, drug detection, location of people and property and cadaver or human remains detection.