Monday, October 23, 2006

If you want a happy, well behaved dog; treat him like dirt

No, I'm serious, and theres a good reason for it.

I see all these people walking around with dogs in purses, pampering their dogs, giving their dogs everything they want... basically treating their dogs like spoiled children.

Hell, there's a major ad campaign out there right now for "pet parents".

What utter horse hockey.

If you want a happy, well behaved dog, you need to do exactly one thing; let him know where he stands.

All modern domestic dogs are varieties and breeds of prehistoric small wolves (or jsut plain domesticated red or grey wolves in the case of some recent breeds like the German shepherd, or some wild dog breeds like the african wild dogs).

From the biggest great dane, down to the tiniest chihuahua, dogs are all wolves who have been domesticated.

Wolves are pack animals, always have been, always will be; and folks, I don't care how much you think of them as your children, I don't care how much the PETArds say "dogs are people too", DOGS ARE WOLVES.

Wolves are among the most social; and among the most socially stratified animals on this planet. In wolf "society", there is a very clear hierarchy of dominance, submission, and status. Every wolf has their place in the pack, above another wolf, and below another wolf; excepting the pack leader, the Alpha. There are generally two status lines in any pack, the male hierarchy and the female hierarchy, and the alpha bitch also has the most powerful position, though the stratification on the female side is generally far less than on the male. It is also entirely possible for females to be dominant to males; especially high status females over low status males.

The Alpha male of any pack is the unquestioned leader. He leads the pack by being the most dominant there; and if at any time he is not the most dominant, another male will challenge him for the leadership position. Note, most dominant doesnt necessarily mean biggest or strongest; dominance (in any species, not just dogs) isn't about strength of body, it's about strength of will; but it certainly helps, because dominance challenges can be VERY physical, often resulting in significant injury, though relatively rarely in death.

This interplay goes down along the whole line of the pack, from strongest and most dominant, to weakest.

Now, you have to understand something. If a dog doesnt know what his position in the hierarchy is, he gets confused. He'll behave erratically. He'll attempt to rise in the hierarchy until he is sure of his place (this applies to bitches as well, but the behavior is less pronounced); and in the human world, this is very bad behavior indeed.

You may think of your dog as a member of your family; but to your dog, you are all members of something much more important, you are his PACK.

There are millions of years of evolution here folks; a few hours of watching animal planet arent going to get you to change that. You are your dogs pack, and he expects pack hierarchy to be in force. You can't treat your dog like another one of your children, and expect him to behave properly.

So, how do you make your dog happy and well behaved?

You show him that you are the alpha, your wife is the alpha bitch, and your kids are your puppies; and you don't just show him once, you show him all the time, every time.

If your dog is in your way, dont walk around him or step over him; make him get up and move.

If your dog gets a little nippy, hold his muzzle closed with your hand. If he gets overexcieted or starts snapping at things he shouldn't, come up behind him and wrap your arm around his throat, then hold his muzzle closed.

If your dog growls at you, or stares at you; growl at him right back (or the human equivalent) and stare him down, until he turns away.


As counterintuitive as it seems, this is what your dog needs. He needs to know that you are firmly in charge, OR HE WON'T FEEL SAFE. Dogs that don't feel safe, become agressive and erratic.

If you are dominant to your dog, he will feel comforted by this fact, secure in the knowledge that he is protected by his alpha.

If you've ever had your dog behaving badly, and you punished him, then he goes up and licks your mouth, or rolls over and presents his belly to you; don't be confused there, he's just showing you that you've won. In doing these things, he's showing that he is submissive to you.

The WORST thing you can do is indulge your dog in his bad behavior; or allow dominance challenges to go unquestioned. If you do this, he will think that HE is the alpha of the pack, and therefore he will behave exactly as he sees fit. He will expect YOU to be submissive to him, and if you do not, he will become agressive, to protect his position.


If you do, then that dog will shred your furniture, urinate and defecate wherever he wants, hump whatever walks by, and start fights with other dogs.

Our dog Mac is a friendly, affectionate dog; almost to a silly extreme, especially when you consider the fact that he's 100lbs of solid muscle. Mac is a mature dog (he's about 8 years old), but he's definitely playful and energetic as a puppy.

There is no question that Mac loves us, or that we love him; but Mac knows his place. The person who rescued him had a lot of behavior problems with him; mostly tunneling, digging, a little agressiveness to other dogs, and the like.

When we first got him, I made it VERY clear to him that I was the boss, that Mel was my alpha bitch, and the girls were our puppies; and he has been extremely well behaved ever since, with a few notable exceptions. He is a food thief, he's a bit food agressive; and being a border collie mix, he's an explorer and a bit of a wanderer if let off the leash (though he'll always come back of course).

Unfortunately the food agressiveness and food theft is the result of past abuse, and at this point in his life there is nothing we can do to train him out of it; and the exploring tendencies are in his genetics. Importantly though, every day, in every way, we show Mac where he is in the pack hierarchy. We make him move. He sits and lays places at our sufferance. We make him show submission to us, and we punish him when he breaks the rules.

In return, he doesnt bark, bite, or scratch; except for barking at people who come into the area of the house (strangers or otherwise he alerts), or at hostile people. He doesnt bark at other people or dogs when he's on the leash, and he follows commands very well.

No, he's not perfectly behaved; if he gets too excited he will ignore commands (for a little while anyway), and if you try to take food away from him as he is eating it he WILL get agressive over it (I can back him down, Mel and the kids can't); but those are small issues common to most dogs; and when he does them we don't tolerate it, we punish him.

Heck, the only real problem we have with him is that he wants to be as close to us as possible, all the time; which is another common dog behavior. If we leave him alone in the house too long, he'll sleep where our scent is strongest, which of course is our bed, and our couch, leaving hair all over the place.

Mac knows that we are his pack, and he knows his place in the pack. He has positioned himself as our enforcer and our guard. He guards the house, the yard, and the puppies, and in return he gets love, food, and above all safety; and he loves it that way.

But, and here's the hard part for a lot of people; Mac knows that if he crosses the line, he will be exiled from the pack. He knows that if he crosses the line too far, I will kill him. He KNOWS this, because I AM the alpha male, and I WILL do these things; and that resolve and force of will is obvious in me.

If you don't have the guts, the hardness, the capability of hurting your dog if he gets out of line, he will know this; and he will take advantage of you.

No, I'm not saying you need to show cruelty to your dog. I have never been cruel to Mac, only hit him once, and rarely have to physically discipline him in any way. I'm not saying you wouldnt be reluctant, or it wouldn't kill you. Your dogs understand how much you love them, and that doesnt diminish your resolve or purpose in this level of dominance.

What I'm saying, is that your dog needs to know you are the unquestioned alpha, and that any challenege to you will result in him being in a world of hurt; possibly losing his pack, possibly losing his life.

There is no way around this. Your dog needs to know that you are in charge, and if he doesn't respect your authority, things will go badly for him. So long as you can project that, and MEAN IT, you won't HAVE to hurt him; because he will know you as alpha, and he will submit.

And you will be a happy owner, and he will be a happy dog.