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Most dogs are happy as clams to be in the follower role. When they perceive that there is no leader stepping up to the plate, it is usually only out of that necessity that they step into the leader role, uncomfortably filling in the voids the best they can on their own.
Very few dogs are natural leaders, and even fewer have the desire to be such. But someone in the pack has to take control when there is authoritative presence as an alternative.
This should be an AHA! moment for you with your dog. Loving your dog as you would love another human - babying, coddling, sweet-talking - is not leadership to your dog but instead a display of weakness. Thus, your dog must step up to the plate and assert himself. This is the root cause of many if not most unstable dog behaviors.
The leader asserts dominance, the follower gives submission. When two dogs meet, they instantly assess who has the greater authoritative significance, with the more submissive deferring as a follower. This explains how the pack structure becomes formed and follower hierarchy established, as well as how both can change over time.
Humans miss the point of how quickly dogs read their body language as assess their strengths but more often weaknesses. If you present yourself as a coddling human mommy or shouting human dad, you are deemed by the dog as being not worthy of respect. If you present yourself with strong, calm, silent assertive body language which connotes your leadership significance, you will gain the dog’s obedient respect.
Dogs Size Up One Another - plus us humans - Immediately
When one dog meets another, each sizes the other up within seconds of a rich dialogue which is invisible to most humans. Within a matter of seconds, they move into one another’s space and evaluate the leader/submissive positions which are to be taken, and progress to solidify these positions; these may change over time, but they are the meet/greet starting communication. The progress consists of each either approaching one another with the butt siff hand shake (if this progresses well, as is fine and dandy) or the head on, eye-to-eye meeting which means a confrontation is imminent and neither is giving ground.
We as humans have a compromising and appeasing way of co-existing with one another. To dogs this is a mish-mash. Dogs are black and white when it comes to leader and follower roles (although these can evolve and change over time), and the meeting establishes these roles immediately.
The Alpha Pack Leader If your dog had grown up with his litter in the wild, they would have most likely lived their lives in the closely structured social order of their pack. While young, your pup and his litter mates would have begun learning the workings of the pack's social system. As they grew, they would begin establishing their place in the pack's hierarchy pecking order of dominance.
Each dog is either above or below any other dog in terms of hierarchy dominance. The concepts of dominance, submissiveness, leadership and obedience are all understood by every dog. Each pack has a leader who is dominant over all pack members. In wolf society, this "alpha" is the member who makes the decisions and must be obeyed. This dominant alpha role is what you must learn to fill to gain your dog’s trust and respect as a leader.
The Pack Territory Travels Once old enough, your pup would have joined the pack in the daily ritual of traveling through their territory. The leader takes the front position and makes strategic decisions, ensuring that his followers’ needs for food, water, shelter and safety are met. He decides which prey they will pursue for the kill, where they will drink in the stream, how the pack will work as a unit to rid territory intruders, and where to safely rest. Our daily dog walk with us humans operating as the pack leader stir our dogs natural instinct and desire for travel.
Besides traveling behind the leader, the pack shows their respect for him by staying below when he scales a knoll for the view, and staying back while he eats and drinks ahead of them. Any pack member who positions himself adjacent to or ahead of the leader has just issued a direct confrontational challenge (see Chapter xx, How Canines Correct One Another). And any solo stray who the pack may encounter is not trusted until the leader determines whether he/she is friend or foe (submissive or dominant).
One in a Million Naturally Leads Very few dogs have the innate wisdom, balance, savvy and dominance to naturally provide canine pack leadership. These rare few are the dogs who will tends to act as the assistant of any trustworthy human who leads a group of regular dogs.
Most dogs are natural followers. They both prefer and enjoy this relatively decision-free role, becoming stressed if left in a leadership void with having to fill in the gaps on their own. In our domesticated world, the over abundance of affection vs. the structure and exercise that a dog needs serve to present this leadership void which underlies most unbalanced dogs with challenging behaviors.
We as Dog Whisperers lean towards owning dogs who are natural leaders but of course submit to us. These are the dogs who best evolve into role model examples for dogs we’re helping. You should know, though, a dominant dog takes more leadership work and energy than the norm because he/she will more likely challenge the rules.
The Meaning for Humans Dogs are pack-oriented, so they require everyone to be either dominant or submissive. If you do not establish yourself as dominant over your dog, he will assume the role. This leads to unstable dogs who become overprotective or possessive when people come near you, territorial about your home, or anxious and destructive when you go out.
We are not dogs, nor do they perceive us as such. But the same principles of pack leader and behavior corrections are instinctively understood by dogs, and much more readily than human-based screaming, treat bribes, shock collar zaps, and others which do not instill respect as fellow mutual beings.
When we assert our leadership, we become worthy of our dog’s respect. Dogs are daily works in progress. We block our dog’s bad habits and undesired behaviors. We guide them away from risky and frustrating behaviors. And we steer them to the new behaviors we desire to replace the old.
Like the wolf in their ancestry, dogs are conditioned to live in a social environment with a social pack hierarchy rather than existing alone. Most are less concerned with their position in the pack (no ego) than knowing that the pack runs smoothly. This goes for canines in the animal world as well as living with a human family in our domesticated homes. The family is expected to provide calm, effective leadership, fair balance, and active management to strengthen the dynamics of your dog’s environment so that he can find his natural place in your hierarchy.
Dogs don’t think in terms of whether they “like” one another. How they think is more bent towards whether they can trust one another to behave reliably, and whether the pack hierarchy is solidified.
Take to heart that each of the following have huge significance amongst dogs, as well as your relationship with your dog.
Who Touches First When one dog puts his head or paw on the back of another, or nose against another’s side, that means that he “owns” that dog and just won top seat. If your dog jumps on you it is not a greeting, it is claiming ownership of you. The same goes with him pawing you. This is not cute behavior, it is disrespect.
Challenging Eye Contact In the dog world, when one stares into the eyes of the other, the latter should look away. If he does not, that is a direct challenge and a fight is a second away. The caveat with domesticated dogs is when they look into your eyes to study what you desire from them, reading you so that they may please you. There is a radical body language difference between this dog and the one who glares into your eyes with pure intent to harm you.
Who Walks At, Who Backs Up A leader walks at a follower, taking that dog’s space as power. The submissive follower shows respect by backing up. Affording space to another in the dog world equals dishing out respect. You silently/calmly/assertively walking at your dog until he backs up and, as you wait, goes into a natural “sit” and even “down” is a technique for claiming your leadership authority.
Whomever’s In Front Is In Charge Whomever is in front makes the decisions about where the pack is going, what they are going to do, and how they are going to do it. The leader takes the front spot, with all followers trailing behind him. Whenever you pass through a home door or room with your dog, he needs to always be behind you. When you walk your dog, he must always be at your side or slightly behind you, NEVER IN FRONT. You are like the choo choo train engine, your dog always the caboose.
Height Equals Power When a dog pack comes to a knoll while traveling, the leader will go to the top to assess which animal to hunt, pond to drink from, intruders to eradicate, and safe place to rest. The followers all stay below. Any follower who mounts that knoll to stand aside the leader has just issued a direct disrespectful challenge. Keep your dogs off of couches and beds; they represent the knoll. When working with dogs, one of the two things they always do to block relinquishing power is to jump on the furniture, putting them eyeball to eyeball with humans.
Given the chance to view a pack of dogs in the wild, you would see this extended family type of unit wake up each morning from their safe cove or den to travel their territory. There are no days off as this activity is key to the pack’s survival. All participate except for the canine mothers with their newborn pups.
They are led through their daily travel by a leader who makes all decisions. He chooses which prey to kill for food and thirst quenching stream to visit. He dictates how the pack will work together to eradicate intruders. He strategizes how the pack will protect themselves from predators including choosing safe cover for rest.
Pack Leader Challengers
A leader is not usually challenged by a follower unless that leader has lost mental and physical strength, as is the case when a dog ages. If a leader is challenged by a follower and loses that battle, he may either join the ranks of the followers if he moves to a submissive role, or get left behind by the pack.
If a canine follower’s challenge to the leader for supremacy fails, he most certainly gets kicked out of the pack and left behind. As a result, this dog becomes utterly hopeless because he knows he will not survive without the pack support, and is doomed for certain death. This goes a long way towards shedding insights on what triggers the instinctual panic of separation anxiety in domesticated dogs.
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