Dog Psychology - Part One

alpha

Dogs are Pack Animals

Dogs are pack animals, but they do not expect equality among their pack. They need to have a hierarchy of rank in order to be "balanced". They have to be balanced emotionally and psychologically. Wolves are the ancestors of dogs and it was through human intervention that our canine friends were created.

Take for example, a pack of wolves in the wild; there will be a leader who is taking charge of the pack. He is responsible to lead the pack in search of food, water and to fight off the enemies. He organises the hunt, decides when to hunt, when to eat and play. The leader also creates law and order among the pack to ensure that everyone gets to the destination.

Humans are usually the ones who create the "little furry people" out of dogs by humanising them. In many instances, we use human psychology on dogs and that does not always work for them.

For example, when we come home and the dog had peed or pooed at the wrong places, we would scold or punish them, thinking that they understood what the punishment was for. Dogs cannot link the punishment and the accident together when it actually happened several hours ago. They can only make a connection in a short span of about 4 seconds between 2 incidents (the punishment and the accident). Dogs are "action and reaction" animals. This means that the reaction (correction) should come immediately after an action (peeing at the wrong place), which is why we have to be very quick when we give reward for good behaviour and correction for the wrong ones.

This is also the reason why many trainers and dog training books recommend using treats to teach dogs. This is dog psychology. We use treats to let the dog know that only when he does something right, then he will get the treat - action and reaction.

Another example is when we come home and our dog starts to run and hide under the table. In our human eyes, we will interpret that he is being "guilty" because he knew that he has done something wrong. Sounds familiar? To the dog, this has already become a routine that every time you are back, he knows he will be "punished". He does not know actually what brought about the punishment. How does he foresee that?

This is because they are always studying our body language. When you see the mess he has done, your body language starts to change. You show anger and punish him. Dogs are creatures of habit. When this has become a routine, he will start to think that he will be punished everytime you return home and showing anger towards him. However he does not equate the punishment to his wrong doing.

Although dogs have been domesticated for thousands of years, their primitive characteristic to have a hierarchy of rank still remain very much in their DNA. When we bring them to our home, our family members form their pack. All of us have to play the alpha role. If the dog does not sense leadership in the family, he will assume the role himself. In the animal world, only the fittest survives.

Take the wolf pack as an example, if one of the wolves senses that the leader is not strong enough, he will assume the role to lead the pack because the leader does not have the ability to ensure the survival of the pack. We see this happening frequently in documentary shows where two males are fighting for the leadership.

When the dog has assumed leadership in the family, this is when he starts to have issues, behavioural issues - aggression, dominance over his food or toys, and even a member in the family, barking non-stop at the ringing door bell, pouncing on visitors and the list goes on.... It will come to a point when you start to feel that your canine friend is not so lovable or cute after all.

How do we know if we are not playing the alpha role or if the dog has taken over the leadership. Here are some questions you can ask yourself to help you gain a better understanding about dog psychology:

1. Who walks out of the door first when going for walks?
The leader is always the one to walk through any doors. The alpha leader is always the one leading.

2. Is your dog pulling you during walks?
When the pack is moving from one place to another, the alpha leader walks in front leading the pack.

3. When your dog is having his meal, are you able to be near him or take his bowl away?
The leader does not allow his followers near his food. He will growl and show aggression to anyone near him.

4. Does your dog lean or put his paw on you when he lies down?
Usually, only the alpha dog can do this to his followers. This is an act of dominance.

5. Does he hump your leg?
This is also an act of dominance.

6. Does your dog come to you when being called?
In order to earn the respect from your dog, you should always apply leadership at home, provide lots of exercise to your dog and practice basic obedience skills everyday.

Dogs are nomads and they do not like to be kept at home for the whole day. You have to bring them out for walks everyday to release their pent-up energy or they will start to have issues at home, like chewing things that they are not supposed to.

Very often, we will see dogs howling or barking non-stop, showing separation anxiety, tearing the sofa, chewing off the legs of the dining table and in some serious cases, self-destruction - licking non-stop at the paws until the fur drop and skin problem occurs. These are their way of expending energy, relieving boredom or showing frustration.

Walks should also be in an orderly way. You should never allow your dog to be pulling you or walking in front of you. He should be always either walking behind or beside you. His concentration should be on you during the walk. All behavioural issues are preventable if you instill exercise, discipline and then affection and not the other way round.

If you follow these golden rules, you will enjoy the companionship of your canine friend and I am sure that he will be grateful to you for providing the balance that he needs.

Remember, as Cesar Millan says, "Exercise, Discipline and then Affection".

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