What makes a dog tick?

Vol 2: Pack Structure

Disclaimer: This series of blog entries is only basic information on how to become a dog whisperer and should not be thought of as a course or qualification. Becoming an occupational dog whisperer takes years of practice and education. Please leave the serious issues of your dog to the professionals.

In order to understand what makes a dog tick, you need to look into and learn about pack structure. This is an extremely important step to becoming a dog whisperer. Why, you ask. Because understanding pack structure will help you relate to, and become the leader of, your dog. Or any dog for that matter. Dogs need a pack structure to survive, with out it, they would not function as social creatures. It is crucial for them especially in the wild for their very survival.

So in order to understand the pack structure of our domesticated dogs, we must take a detailed look at their ancestors, the wolves. Wolves are incredible animals. Their pack structures are not so different from our own. They have leaders, followers, look outs, hunters, care takers, mothers, and even warriors. Everyone in a wolf pack has a job to do, and if these jobs are not fulfilled, it is dangerous for the pack. Wolves that do not do their jobs well, or even at all, are either killed or banished from the pack. An alpha wolf whom gets too old to lead, for example, will be banished, killed, or forced into a lower ranking position by the next in line for leadership.

Cesar Millan says, "There are only two positions in a dog pack, leader or follower." Well, that really depends on how you look at it. You see, it’s really not that simple. There are three known different hierchies with in a pack. Triangular, Linear, and Monarchy. The triangular is as so: Dog A is over dog B, dog B is over dog C, and dog C is over dog A, so in that hierchy there is no clear cut leader. Linear is as so: A is over B and B is over C and C is over nothing. The monarchy is as so: A is over B and C, and B and C are equal. So you’d have to observe the pack for a time to understand which of the three structures the pack operates on.

These hierchies are relevant to our pet dogs as well. The major difference though, is that humans are a part of a domesticated dog’s pack. Whether they know it or not! If there is a triangular hierchy in your home, you may not realize it. You could be over your dog, your dog could be over your spouse, and your spouse could be over you! These hierchies are tough to notice unless you know what to look for. If you have no control over what your spouse does, but your dog does, and you have control over your dog, then expect a triangular hierchy. However, if you have control over both, and they seem equal, then that is a monarchy. And if you have control of your spouse and your dog, but your spouse only has control over your dog, and your dog has control of nothing, then that is a linear hierchy.

It can get really complicated as you can probably see, but your dog understands it, so you need to as well. You want your hierchy to be you and your spouse as equal leaders, then kids (if you have ‘ em) and then your dog(s) at the bottom. That is a linear hierchy that is acceptable in a human society. Don’t think, either, that just because the dog is at the bottom, that he isn’t happy. Most dogs enjoy being followers with no worries (some people are like that too). As the lowest ranking member of the pack, they will also obey much better, and show you and everyone else more respect.

So how do you get there? Easy! Act like a leader! As a leader, you will eat first, sleep and rest in the most comfortable places (furniture), walk in/out the door first, lead the walk, and ignore excited unstable behavior, and reward calm respectable behavior. Leaders are also consistent in both discipline and reward. Every time the dog breaks a rule, he will receive a reprimand. In a wolf pack that could mean a bite, no dinner, banishment, or even death! It is always consistent and the reprimand always equals the crime. The reward for a good submissive wolf is the respect, leadership, and care taking of the leader.

Dogs do not know what the leader’s rules are until they break them as pups. They actually learn what is acceptable and what is not by testing the waters. So when you get a new puppy, it is important to set up the rules and be consistent with them. When the pup breaks a rule unknowingly, then you should reprimand. Pups learn the rules faster than adult dogs, and those rules become ingrained in the pup for life.. with in reason. That’s why it’s important to train dogs when they are in their puppy stage. A puppy that mouths people may become a biter when grown up if not taught not to mouth as a puppy, and so on. 5 year old dogs that jump up on people where most likely allowed to, or even encouraged to, jump up as puppies. It might be cute when a puppy does it, but when he grows up.. that’s when I’m called out to help make him stop. The fact is, if people established rules with their pups and were consistent with them, people like me wouldn’t be needed.

Since we are not wolves, and neither are our dogs, we do things a bit different, but it still has an impact on the our dogs. Although, we as humans do kill dogs for "randomly" attacking other humans. Pitt bulls everywhere are an example of this. But if your dog pees in the living room, you won’t kill him for it. You might feel like doing so if it is new carpet, but you won’t do it. No, we humans are more civilized creatures. We ignore bad behavior and reward good behavior. Or at least we should. Dogs do not understand our anger. When we yell at them, they hear barking. When we coddle them, they hear whimpering. So to become a dog whisperer, you also have to understand their language.

The next entry will be about dog language and how we can use it to reprimand and reward. You will learn that hitting a dog is not necessary and actually can make a dog’s behavior worse. 

Next entry: "What makes a dog tick? Vol. 3 Language."