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Pack Mentality in Dogs

Many dog owners experience behavioral problems with their dogs. To have a healthy relationship with the dog, the owner needs to understand a dogs pack behavior and how it relates to the home environment. The basis for this relationship is to learn how to be the Alpha of your pack. What we call family ,your dog sees as his pack. Dogs are inherently a social pack animal. Therefore dogs have a structured leadership hierarchy. At the top of the pack is the dominant or alpha dog. This dog sets the rules which other pack members accept. The dogs nature is to either submit to those who are dominant or dominate those who are submissive. The dog has no choice in this way of acting, it is an instinctive behavior that would normally have insured survival of the pack. The breakdown of this leadership hierarchy is the main cause of behavioral problems within your pack. Behaviors which might be insignificant or slightly annoying to you have much more meaning to your dog. Examples are: leading you (pulling on the leash); bolting out of the door in front of you; when he tells you when it's time for play, bathroom, praise or eating; or choosing who you need protection from etc. All of these and more, in the dogs eyes establish them as the dominant one or Alpha leader of your pack. A worse scenario for the dog is to be leader one day and the next day stripped of his title. Dogs do not perceive gray areas, if its not black and white the dog suffers. The dog in this situation logically thinks he can decide what to chew, who to bite, what and where to eat etc. To complicate things, the dog feels that he has to test and challenge you to find his place within the pack and to see what rules apply today. This will lead to a stressed, neurotic animal that is labeled stupid, aggressive, untrainable and off to the pound it goes. Then usually the family goes to find a "smarter" dog. Obedience training, if done successfully, establishes a clear cut set of rules that are consistent. This not only shows the dog in a positive way rules to live by (making life easier for you), but fulfills the dogs need to have a fair, strong confident leader. Obedience training (formal) should be aimed at the owners and the dog comes for the ride. Through structured discipline, the family learns how the dog thinks and the needs of his species. The dog gains emotional well being from learning, accomplishing and pleasing the pack leader (you!). Behavior problems start to disappear. The dog is receiving positive attention instead of yelling, hitting, being put away or eventually being put down. You will be amazed at what a happy, smart and stable dog you've got when you learn about the dog instead of trying to make the dog into a person (humanizing). We all benefit from the rapport or relationship that can only come from a mutual understanding and coexistence between two different species. Presented as a public service by Jim Mathys, of Quality K-9 Services at 941-723-6763.

Updated Wednesday, March 2, 2005

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