Leading a Pack

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Leading a Pack
Although dogs have been living with humans for thousands of years and in spite of their modern appearance, they still have retained many of the mannerisms of their ancient ancestors. They all display and are capable of reading the same body postures and signals. Their instincts for survival and reproduction are as strong as ever. The strongest, healthiest and cleverest still dominates their pack. They still turn around a few times before lying down even if there are no critters in the grass to chase away. Every member knows its place or pecking order and the alarm giver still barks his warnings. Or so it should be.
However, we humans have largely succeeded in messing up our dog pack structure. We regard dogs as our pets and treat them as eternal puppies in the way we feed and care for them. Because we decide for them there are no dog rules or structure in the pack and they fight more in suburbia than in the wild. Some who can’t cope will even try to escape. When dogs do not know their place in the pack, biting and chasing things become common.
Owners decide who the leader is simply because a dog is the oldest or they have had him the longest. Recently I had to find a home for a young, beautiful German shepherd bitch because of a small property and owners who were too busy to pay sufficient attention to her training. She was adopted by owners of a farm, joined the four older members of their pack and “settled down nicely” according to reports. Six months later she was again given up for adoption because she was, “Bossy and herded the other dogs.” This was unacceptable to her new owner who unfortunately did not understand her re-organising of the pack. Fortunately she was moved to another farm where she turned the dogs into a healthy functional pack.
Establishing new pack leadership
When humans become part of a dog pack the rules change quite dramatically for the dogs. This is because the human now is the leader and must behave in such a way that the dogs will understand and bond with him or her. The dogs must learn that it is not their responsibility to look after the owner or the house. That they are not in charge and that their new leader will decide what they must do or not do. They must become more subservient to their masters. In fact, they must just sit back and enjoy life? This is very hard for a dog to do because it requires self-control not to do something that is in the genes.
As humans, we attempt to teach the dog our values but the dog can only learn and understand canine values. We muddle by and our dogs are allowed to sleep where they want. We play “tuggy” and let the dog win. We feed them first. They are allowed to go through the door ahead of us and we do not disturb them as we move about. We give affection when they demand it. They pull when walking on the lead and are aggressive to other dogs coming into our space. Who is the leader here? These things are not necessarily bad, disobedient or aggressive; they are just what we have “allowed” the dogs to do.
Becoming the pack leader
Only the leader can create harmony in a pack. It is the responsibility of the owner as pack leader to ensure that his dogs become happy, well-adjusted members of the family or pack. The pack leader needs to assert himself calmly and confidently and the majority of what can be termed as training problems will disappear. However, some of the following must apply:
Humans can never be dogs but there are things that can be done by us that will help dogs to make them accept our leadership more willingly.
Food Pack leaders control the food.
Whenever possible feed the dogs after you have eaten. When it is not possible to do so, eat a biscuit over their food to show that you have eaten first.
Pick up food that was not eaten within 5 minutes after feeding and offer it later.
Do not leave any treats such as bones, pig’s ears etc. that can be eaten during the day.
Food aggression can be dealt with by dividing the dog’s food into three (3) smaller helpings or holding the food off the ground and lifting it vertically a few times to control eating habit.
Dogs that do not get along must not be fed near each other.
Reuniting and greeting behaviour
Many times a day owners and dogs are separated and reunited. This can be for shorter or longer periods. Early in the morning or after a shopping trip are times when a greeting ritual usually takes place. Such greetings must be controlled by the pack leader/ human who must learn to ignore the dogs for a while when reuniting takes place..
When you leave the home there is no way for the dog to know if you are ever going to return. That’s why most dogs are so terribly excited to meet the leaders on their return to the home/ den.
.When I return home by car I open my door, remain seated and allow the dogs to see and smell that the leader is home. I do not look at the dogs or speak to them. As soon as they have turned and walked away I get out and again completely ignoring them I walk past them before entering the house. After five minutes or so, I go out, call them and then have a greeting session on my terms.
The first step in establishing leadership is learning to ignore the dogs.
Door manners and narrow openings
As the leader I need to teach my dogs not to push past me when opening a door or gate. It can be very unsafe for dogs to rush into the road or to run away.
Walking to the door I tell the dog to “Sit.” I start to open the door. As soon as it starts opening, out of habit the dog dashes forward to try to go out. I slam the door shut and the dog backs off. Next I repeat the Sit command and start opening again. In the beginning one may have to repeat this procedure a number of times before the dog steps back or remains sitting so that you have the privilege of going first without having to ask.
On my terms
Everything is on the leader’s terms. The leader makes the rules and the dog may not change them. Do not give affection for free. The dog cannot demand your attention. Don’t reward your dog for following you around the house with your attention. If the dog brings you a toy you know he wants your attention. Move the dog away calmly, wait a short while then call the dog to you and play with the toy but now it is on your terms as pack leader.
To a dog position means a lot. In the wild the dogs will wait calmly for their leader before following him on a hunt.
When the dogs see the leads are taken out they get very excited and jump about panting in anticipation of the walk. Hold the leads above your shoulder and, standing still, wait for the dogs to calm down. If they are too excited rather wait and try later. The dogs must not take over!
The walk starts calmly in the house. At the door we wait for calm and the leader goes first. Walk around the garden practicing how you plan to walk outside. Do not rush this part. It may take ten minutes or more to get everyone to walk calmly or you go back into the house and try again later. Do not rush things. Take your time.
At the gate dogs calmly follow the leader and sit before the walk continues. It is a formal walk on lead and their position is next to or behind the leader. When all are calm and the road is clear start walking in the middle of the road because there are no smells that will interest the dogs. Walking next to the sidewalk will have the dogs pulling to investigate the messages other dogs have left.
Dogs naturally walk faster than humans so the leader must learn to walk at a pace that will be comfortable for the dogs and so make leading them easier.
After a good distance of the formal or structured walk the dogs can be rewarded by allowing them to sniff around in a safe place to relax and play.
The return journey follows the same pattern as the outward walk. This is followed by the same, calm wait before re-entering the garden.
Each dog must know its place in the pack. Decide where the dogs may not sleep. Be sure to control games. If you want something from a dog, he must be taught to willingly give it.
A good habit to develop is not to talk too much to your dogs. By gently pushing a dog away from you or turning him around will tell him what he should do.
On the walk when your dog barks at another dog, quietly turn away from a possible confrontation and take the dog with you to show him your calm solution to the problem.

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