Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Pack Life

Many people have more than one dog in their household. They may be able to control and get by with two dogs in a family situation, but the minute they add a third dog they have a dog pack. When a dog pack is established in a home the balance of nature changes and it is only a matter of time before these animals begin to test their new relationships within the pack. Sometimes this is done without a fight but more often than not a fight takes place. This fight takes place because there is no confirmed leader of this pack - not human or canine.

The fact is these problems are a result of mistakes that you made and not mistakes the dog made. The dog is just acting like a dog. Dogs are extremely observant. It does not take them long to determine that you, or your spouse, or other family members are not consistent in how you expect them to mind. Once a dog figures out that it only has to mind under certain circumstances it is a short step for the same dog to start to think that it only has to mind when it wants to and then thinking it doesn't need to mind at all and trying to get the owners (and the other pack members) to mind him.

This is the reason so many dogs seem to live happily with the family up to 12 to 18 months of age and then suddenly change into Cujo. It's when the flowing hormones and lack of proper obedience training takes over the family pet. Even if your dog is neutered/spayed, there is a hormonal change that starts at around 9 months and continues to maturity between 18 and 24 months. Most people seek help at this point and retain an obedience trainer. Unfortunately, all too often normal obedience training does not solve the aggression problem. This is because who is in charge has not been settled with the dog. When aggression issues continue after or during obedience training the dog does not look to the owner as the leader.

You are supposed to be the pack leader. In many pet homes this is not the case. Too often the dog does not see the owner as the one in charger. These dogs can love their owner but do not respect them. The solution to the Cujo problem starts with changing the pack leader issue. To a great extent dogs live in the present and not the past. This means if you change the way you live with this dog today you can fix this problem. You are the pack leader - you are the one who is supposed to determine who and when to fight someone - not the dog. Dogs instinctually know this. Dogs shouldn’t have to worry. they’re dogs. they need to just be cute and good and fun! You should be the one who protects the pack.

I often get emails from people who have gone to positive reinforcement only type trainers that have tried to modify the behavior of the dog through halties and other positive methods. With most dogs these methods fail because the trainer simply doesn’t or refuses to understand dominance, pack behavior and pack drive. These methods also fail because the trainer is confusing compliance with control and respect. The haltie type collar might allow for more control when the owner either can't because of physcial problems or won't because "the dog is just too cute and fragile", but that cute and fragile dog doesn't understand that and will eventually figure out how to get around these strange tools. If you aren't in control and have the respect of your dog, no tool in the world is going to fix aggression.

The concept is simple - the dog must respect the handler and the potential for a correction more than it has the urge to fight. Just as importantly the handler must praise the dog (with a happy voice) when the dog minds or when it stops becoming aggressive after a correction. This concept must become very black and white to the dog. Aggression means getting my head taken off with a properly administered correction and not being aggressive means getting praised. The dog must understand that if a strange dog comes near, my pack leader will kick it’s butt and deal with the situation.

The ultimate training goal for the handler is to make the dog understand that it must do what the pack leader wants no matter what and that not minding is not an option. There is no magic training method that is going to make the owner into a pack leader. Every single act of unwarranted aggression must be met with a stiff correction. No exceptions.

Always remember that once your dog relinquishes pack order to you he will be a much happier dog. It’s like a great burden is lifted off his shoulders.