You don’t need to have Cesar Millan’s mad skills as a dog whisperer to enjoy an easy, fun relationship with your canine. Here are some tips, based on canine ethology (the science of animal behavior), that can help you and Fido avoid a whack pack.
Your Dog Is Not a Four-legged Person
Most behavioral problems of pet dogs are actually behavioral problems of pet owners. The thought processes and social systems of human are very different than those of dogs. If a dog owner doesn’t take the time to learn about how their dog sees the world, there will be trouble in dog-owner relationship.
Dogs are Pack Animals
Although you might be a big fan of democracy, your dog isn’t. Canines are pack animals that require a social hierarchy established and maintained through the individual members’ level of confidence, posture, threats and (as a last resort) violence.
From your dog’s perspective, he is not part of your family. You, and those humans your dog regularly interacts with, are part of his pack; each member with a very specific spot in the social hierarchy.
Be Top Dog
Every pack has an alpha (highest ranking) and omega (lowest ranking) member. The rule…humans must be dominant to dogs. When the dog sees himself as dominant to any of the humans in his pack, there will be trouble. If your dog perceives himself dominant to everybody in the family, then everyone will have problems interacting with, controlling and disciplining the dog. If some human members of the pack rank higher than the dog, while others rank lower, those low-ranking individuals will not be respected by the dog and will end up having a troubled relationship with that pet.
Dominance Driven Breeds
Some breeds, and individual dogs, are more prone to accept their low-ranking pack status without much resistance. For a canine, not knowing ones rank in the pack is an extremely anxiety-inducing situation; where it is often better to be the omega than to not know where you stand.
Other breeds and individuals are very dominance-driven, and, as such, are a whole lot more work to train and maintain in that necessary bottom-of-the-pack rank. Male dogs and breeds that have been bred for aggression are typically the hardest to work into a healthy pack relationship with your family, particularly if you have young children who will, due to their small size, have difficulty dominating an aggressive, large-breed dog.
When selecting a breed, prospective dog owners should carefully consider what they are looking for in a dog and how that dog will be required to behave to ensure that the new addition is an enjoyable enhancement family’s life. Dogs who have been bred for security or fighting, such as Chows, Pit Bulls and Rottweilers (to just name a few) are more prone to exhibit dominant behavior, which represents more work and more risk for the family. I am not trying to pick on these breeds in particular. There are many breeds that have been selected for aggressive tendencies.
However, having formerly worked in a veterinary clinic, I saw far too many unfortunate situations where a poor dog-family match, combined with insufficient training, led to the euthanization of a pet, sometimes after the dog’s aggression resulted in the injury of a family member.
The Puppy Dominance Test
If you haven’t already welcomed a dog into your family, but plan to at some point in the future, my recommendation is to start from scratch and get a puppy that you can train from the get-go and evaluate before you take it home. Knowing the breed helps, but mutts are great pets. So here is a simple test that will allow you to assess the dominance drive of a puppy, regardless of whether or not you know the breed.
When selecting a puppy, roll it on its back, and stare into its eyes. A dog that is more apt to be submissive will avert its gaze and quickly stop squirming and resisting. A pup that continues to wriggle while staring you down is giving you a clear message about its willingness to accept the omega position in your pack. Choose wisely, that pup may be part of your pack many years.