Dogs are pack animals and in any pack, someone has to be the leader to help your everyday interactions run smoothly. Like a well maintained clock, the relationship functions at its best when each member is doing his or her own job in the right way. As a responsible pet owner, it’s important to let your dog know that you are in control and you’re the one they need to listen to and trust.
From the Beginning
Whether you get an adult dog or a small puppy, it’s essential to begin to establish the role of pack leader with them from the moment they become a member of your home. The role will take time to develop between you, but once your dog realizes you are the pack leader, it will make your life together much easier. Like children, dogs need to understand the rules and know who is in charge to know who to listen to and follow. Letting your dog know who the pack leader is helps you maintain a healthy balanced relationship and a keeps a good bond between you. As pack leader, you are the one who runs everything. If you let your dog know that from the beginning, everything will run more smoothly.
We’ve been conditioned to believe that dogs are pack animals, but do domestic dogs really need canine friends? I’ll admit it – I was the type who believed the answer was a resounding yes. My firm stance on this was partly influenced by the “dogs are pack animals” theory and partly by the fact that all of my pups have thrived when there was a second dog in the house. The dogs I’ve shared my life with have all been family-oriented, and I felt like we were a big, happy pack.
My commitment to this belief was challenged by a friend who rescued a dog named Mia. The relationship between Lisa and Mia made me wonder if my long-held beliefs about having a second dog might be a combined result of 1) blindly accepting the pack animal theory and 2) attempting to assuage my guilt.
The Pack Animal Theory
Because dogs derived from wolves, and wolves live and hunt in packs, most people believe that dogs are hard wired to want canine companionship. I always thought the social structure of wolves included allegiance and reliance on one another within a pack, so it stood to reason that domestic canines would yearn for the same type of species-to-species bonding.
Researchers at Washington State University at Pullman shed more light on the subject, however. Traci Cipponeri and Paul Verrell studied the intricate relationships within wolf packs and likened their interactions to that of people who work within the same corporation. They noted that wolves not related to one another form what could be called an “uneasy alliance” because they have both shared and conflicting goals. They work cooperatively to obtain food and shelter, but they compete with one another for dominance.
Humans are a complex species; we have different views on issues, which at times can turn into heated arguments that divide us. We also have the ability to evaluate different situations to make our own choices. Dogs on the other hand, react to situations based on pack instincts that were hardwired into them eons ago during the domestication process. These innate pack instincts guide and influence the behavior of dogs in their everyday lives.
Instinct isn’t knowledge that needs to be learned. It’s an automatic intelligence present at birth in all living species. It’s what guides migrating birds and butterflies on marathon flights in the fall and spring, and it’s how squirrels and other animals know when it’s time to stockpile food for the winter. It’s the survival instinct that ensures continuation of the species.
The variety of jobs canines have been bred to do is based on their natural abilities and pack instincts. A sled dog team is able to function because they work together as a team. Each member knows his place in the group, and follows instructions from their human leader. One reason why our relationship with dogs has been so successful is because we share the importance of the family unit and the social bond that binds members together.
There are a lot of different opinions about whether a dog needs to have other dogs around them to have a happy life. Some will say that their tiny little dog hasn’t seen another dog since it left its mother. Other pet owners will clutch their small dog protectively when a larger dog approaches. They worry that the small dog will get hurt rough housing around with the bigger canines.
All the while that we humans are holding our small dogs in our arms to keep them out of harm’s way, typically the dog is struggling to get free to go play with the other dog. We keep our dogs indoors and away from other dogs because we fear that another dog may have fleas or some other disease that will infect our dogs. We in fact baby and protect our dogs to the point of making them social outcasts.
Dogs are Members of a Pack
Dogs are social animals. Let’s not forget that they are descendants of wolves who ran in packs. Let’s not forget that our dog’s ancestors lived in the wild and were quite capable of taking care of themselves. We have domesticated dogs so much over the years that they are now totally dependent on humans for their every need. Dogs used to run in the wild, in packs. The pack leader, or head canine, kept the pack under control and taught the smaller pups how to interact within the pack’s circle.
Dog walking is an activity that takes time and energy. After a hard day’s work, it’s not always easy to pull yourself out of your chair to take the dogs for a walk, especially if they don’t have good leash etiquette. However, walking your dogs on a daily basis creates a unity in your pack that helps them learn they belong together. Dog walking as a group teaches dogs they are a family and you are the one in control.
When you have more than one dog, their personalities can get in the way during playtime. One may be a ball hog and another may be shy and won’t play because their personality holds them back. Another dog may be jealous and does everything in their power to interfere in your playtime with others in the pack. And trying to reward with treats can bring out food aggression issues in some dogs who don’t want to share. You may be tempted to just give up because of the hassle involved with interacting with more than one dog. But since you are the leader, it’s up to you to find that one activity that can bring everyone together as one, and dog walking is the best way to do that.
My Terrier mix Kelly (pictured) is my protector. It’s been a challenge teaching her it’s alright if a family member, friend or my other pets want to approach me. I have no problem with her actions if I need protection and she is as loyal as she could be, but protection can turn into aggression. And protection and aggression are not the same thing.
We have dogs for different reasons. They may be our hiking partner or a friend on our daily run or walk. Some want to own a dog who loves playing in water, competing in obstacle courses or snuggling next to you on the couch. Without thinking about our dogs protecting us, most owners would admit that’s one of the advantages to owning a dog. My dogs are great at alerting me to noises and smells they detect coming into the house from outside.
Protecting the pack is done without even thinking for most dogs. A female dog will protect her pups, and it’s as natural to a dog as it is for us to protect our family. A dog will protect what he feels is his, but only if he feels threatened. If a dog moves in front of his owner when an unfamiliar dog or a person approaches them or quietly steps between his human child and another kid fighting, that is protection. A dog who is assuming a protective position will do so silently with no growling or snarling. He will reserve judgment to decide if a more aggressive response will be needed. A dog who is being protective will only become aggressive if it is necessary to do so. Once the threat has passed and he determines the dog coming up to you is friendly or the person means you no harm, he will back down.
Aggression is a response where the dog will use force or needs to display dominance in every situation they encounter. It’s important to remember that aggression is not protection. A dog who is displaying aggressive tendencies may not have been properly socialized with other dogs, could be a dominant dog who is trying to show his dominance over others, or a dog who is fearful. That’s why it’s important to make sure a puppy is properly socialized when most aggressive tendencies can be avoided.
One way to tell if a dog is being aggressive is if they are growling when there’s no reason for them to do so. When your dog steps between you and another dog or person and they are growling or seem to be upset, it’s time to take him away from the situation. An approaching dog or human should not garner anything more than your dog paying attention to them. Growling is a warning sign that the dog could initiate a fight or bite. A dog that’s in a protective position will have the good sense and judgment to understand each situation and you most likely won’t even know he was in protection mode.
My mom had a medium sized mixed breed dog, Ben. Late one night someone jimmied her front door open. Ben was in the back of the house with mom as she was getting ready for bed. He heard the person trying to break in. Without a sound, Ben raced from the back bedroom and hit the front door just as the person was about to enter. The only time Ben let out a snarling bark was when he caught sight of the man in the window of the door before the man ran away. I have no doubt that if the intruder had made it inside, Ben would have protected his home and his person. A dog in protection mode should stop once the intruder or reason why a dog felt his protection was needed has passed or the dog or person surrenders and leaves. That was exactly what Ben did.
Aggressive dogs bite people and other dogs every year. Knowing the difference between protection and aggression can prevent a lawsuit or the possibility of having a dog declared a danger to society. Having a good knowledge of a dog’s body language can aid a dog owner in knowing if a dog’s reaction is protection or aggression. It’s always easier and safer to avoid a dog fight to begin with and no one wants to have the worry of a lawsuit if a dog bites someone. Knowing your dog can help you understand if he’s being protective or aggressive. To defuse a situation if you are outside or at a dog park and you have doubts, the best thing you can do is to calmly leave the scene. Dogs do signal their intent and it’s our responsibility to learn and understand how to listen to and watch what they are saying and showing to us.
The personal opinions and/or use of trade, corporate or brand names, is for information and convenience only. Such use does not constitute an endorsement by CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods of any product or service. Opinions are those of the individual authors and not necessarily of CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods.
The personal opinions and/or use of trade, firm, corporation or brand names, in this blog is for the information and convenience of the reader. Such use does not constitute an official endorsement or approval by CANIDAE® Natural Pet Food Company of any product or service to the exclusion of others that may be suitable. All opinions in this blog are those of the individual authors and not necessarily of CANIDAE® Natural Pet Food Company.