Being A Dog’s Pack Leader
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I’ve seen, heard and read a lot written about being the pack leader of your dog. Most of it is wrong. I’ve seen on one extreme where people say there’s no such thing as dominance or pack leadership. These folks are so into either feel good, politically correct training approaches, or into operant conditioning, that they miss the part that dogs can have a relationship with, and feelings towards, a person. On the other hand, I’ve seen people who so thoroughly dominate dogs that the dogs are treated as abused slaves. They are always warning about the dominant dog, and not realizing they are just bullying the dogs they train. Then, there’s a third way, which I’m going to describe here.
A Couple Of Quotes
“The dependence of a dog on his master has two quite distinct origins; it is largely due to a lifelong maintenance of those ties which bind the young wild dog to its mother, but which in the domestic dog remains part of a lifelong preservation of youthful characters. The other root of fidelity arises from the pack loyalty which binds the wild dog to the pack leader or respectively from the affection which the individual members of the pack feel for each other.“ Konrad Lorenz
“I like to sum it up for handlers by telling them they have to make it clear to their dog that they know the secret to success… The dog needs to learn to accept guidance from the handler. The key word here is guidance: I take the approach that the dog does not know what we want from him. I know, thousands of dogs have been trained with heavy corrections working just fine. But let’s not forget the thousands that have been ruined by the same methods. I am not against corrections, but I feel that a correction has to be warranted. And the only things that warrant a correction are defiance and disobedience. But, I have to be sure that that is what I am dealing with. The days of jerking a dog around by his neck until he figures out how to heel are in the past.“ Armin Winkler
No Such Thing As Pack Leadership?
I remember receiving some emails from “Board Certified Associate Behavior Analyst” a couple of years ago. It was quite an interesting conversation — and basically not very productive. These very educated folks don’t much care for the concept of “pack”. Instead, it’s all about operant conditioning. (Tell your mom sometime that you aren’t part of the family and have no accountability to her or any other family member, that you’re just responding to all the stimuli around you, that you think that “honor your mother and father” stuff is all irrelevant, and see what she says about that.) So much is left out of the training. So much is left out of the understanding of behavior when you box yourself into a sterile and limited theory. This kind of training is very limited, because it takes the dog and handler relationship out of the equation and substitutes techniques and tools. It isn’t that effective. Or you get these do-gooders that know nothing about a dog having to obey when in the midst of an emergency. They abhor teaching dogs that there are times when they need to listen and follow the commands of their handlers.
Further… have you ever noticed that the so-called experts that say there’s no such thing are almost always clicker trainers? Ever think that there might be an FINANCIAL reason why they take this stand? Or that it’s just lazy to only learn one way to view a problem? Operant conditioning theory REQUIRES them to say this stuff, and if there IS such thing as a “pack”… then maybe their theory has some serious flaws. Just thinkin’….
And what explains why there is a breeding pair in a dog pack, why some dogs get pushy to the point of aggression with people and animals and that proper leadership techniques, not clickers and treats, are the only way for making these dogs safe with people and/or animals??? Further… why is it now that of all the social animals, only DOGS and WOLVES don’t have a pecking order? All these other species (horses, elephants, lions, birds, even humans… etc.) still have a pecking order, but now we deny there is a pecking order when it comes to dogs… and all this comes from people who are into operant conditioning. Hmm. Could there be a motive in all of this?
Too Much Focus On Pack Leadership?
Then, there’s the other side… you read about these guys that seem to only talk about dominance and the pack. Once again, they miss so much in the training process. They say they are doing leadership, dominance and pack exercises, yet they don’t know much about those concepts if you read what they have to say, or talk to their past customers. Sometimes, the training goes into the realm of being abusive. Even if the training isn’t abusive, it isn’t all that effective, either. I see people bullying their dogs using this approach. I also see that a lot of them misunderstand and misapply what they see and hear when watching Cesar Millan.
What Is Proper Leadership?
Proper leadership involves two elements. The first element is proper bonding with a dog. That bond is what is going to make the relationship a cooperative one; it causes the dog to be affectionate and seek affection from you; it contributes greatly towards proper attentiveness; it gets the dog to look to you to see what you’re up to and what you want; it builds trust; and sometimes it gets the dog to protect you. The second element is learning how to provide guidance to your dog. A guide is someone who leads and directs his dog to obtain objectives; it is someone who regulates the dog’s behaviors; it is someone who ‘explains’ and helps the dog to understand; and one who gives direction to the dog’s day to day lifestyle and behavior, including giving commands.
Training that goes outside these boundaries isn’t going to be very effective, and will either harm the dog or cause the dog to harm someone else or another animal.
Sam Basso is a professional dog trainer and behaviorist, in the Phoenix/ Scottsdale metropolitan area. He’s known for being fun, kind, intelligent, and humane. Sam Basso has a unique personal touch. He has appeared on his own TV show, been a guest radio expert, gives seminars, publishes a dog related blog, does rescue volunteering, and is active in promoting animal welfare and fair dog laws.