4 Golden Rules of Pack Structure in Dogs


All our domestic dogs have descended from wolves. Despite being very different in shape, size and colour, dogs have retained about 85 percent of their behaviour patterns. As pet parents, we need to appreciate that our pets are not little furry humans. They are, instead, members of a different species who have different needs and abilities.–by Anand Pittie
Hierarchy comes first
In a wolf pack, there is a definite hierarchy with a dominant male and female breeding pair and the rest arranged in order after them. This is similar to how the human pack should be: adults first, then any children, then the dog. Dogs are very conscious of hierarchy and will attempt to find their own place if you do not do this for them.
If your dog considers himself to be at the bottom of the pack, he will view his humans with respect and do as they say without a question. If you are on equal terms, he will not think you have the right to tell him what to do and will be disobedient. If he sees himself as superior, he is likely to bite you if you insist on doing something he does not like. This is why it is so important to make it obvious to our pets that their place is at the bottom of the human family pack. Most dogs are not pack leader but will fill a void if they perceive lack of leadership in the household. Such dogs appear weighed down by the constant attempt to keep their pack under control and generally become more puppy-like and playful once the responsibility of pack leadership has been lifted from their shoulders. Since it is essential that you make it clear to your pet where his position in the pack lies, it is best to use the methods that wolves use to maintain their hierarchies. This is the natural way and one that dogs seem to understand instinctively.
The 4 Golden Rules
1. Sleeping Place and Territory
Territories carry great significance to a dog. The dominant wolves in a pack will choose the best den in the territory in which they raise their little ones. They might even move out other animals of the chosen spot if needed. The dominant animals instigate movements around the territory. Ensure dogs should sleep in their own bed.
2. Feeding
In a pack, it is the right of the dominant animals to eat first. The subordinates get what is left. To be a good pack leader, you should control the order of feeding. Try to feed your pet after the family has eaten. This will also discourage the unpleasant habits of begging at the table and drooling and dribbling over people who are eating.
3. Attention and Grooming
Dominant wolves will decide when they wish to have attention from their subordinates. At other times they remain aloof and independent. In order to maintain high status, humans in the pack should initiate most of the interactions with the dog, rather than it being the other way around. Ones who are happy to be touched and handled by humans will be more trusting and likely to stand still when they need veterinary attention.
4. Toys and Games
Playing games with your pet is a great way to strengthen your bond. Play time enables you to learn about each other, builds trust, and aids communication. Playing games (like tug of war, fetch, etc.) that pit a dominant dog’s strength against yours may encourage rowdy or aggressive behaviour, especially if he initiates the game and frequently wins the game (ends up with the toy). Allowing this to happen can inadvertently teach some lessons he could do without – power of his teeth, he’s stronger than you, and in encounters against you that he’s likely to win (i.e. when for example you are trying to remove something he has stolen from his mouth). Don’t play games that promote rowdy manner.  If your pet enjoys these games, it is important that you stick to certain rules.

  •  Keep all toys used for playing to yourself so that you are the one who initiates the games. Play as often as you can.
    By keeping these rules, your pet will learn that you might not be physically stronger, but you are mentally stronger and in control. He would consider you as the leader of the pack and will treat you with more respect.  Dogs learn by trial and error. If they are rewarded for doing something they are more likely to do it again. If their actions bring no reward or result in something unpleasant, they are less likely to repeat them. Unlike us, dogs need to be rewarded as soon as they have done the required action. Although they can remember what they did earlier, they cannot associate the praise or correction unless it immediately follows their action.
    (Anand Pittie is Director of ABK Imports Pvt Ltd, Pune).