Dynamics of Dog Pack Structure

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There is an all too common misconception, usually unspoken, amongst dog owners today. It is the attitude of adoring your pup above all else. It is the daily life of treating that pup as if she were a human child. It is the accommodation of all things doggie, to make him happy. It is, in reality, the recipe for disaster. It is, in my opinion from observation, an abuse that is never addressed. Dogs rely on us to lead, protect, provide, and, of course, cuddle and play. Not understanding, or just dismissing, the dynamics of dog pack structure is to set your pup and household up for failure.

Yes, She is Adorable!

Don’t get me wrong, I melt at the sight of those big, brown puppy eyes, tail wagging excitedly, with all the adorable wiggles in between! I do! However, that absolutely beautiful, none like it in the world furry face depends on me entirely. For everything. First and foremost, that starts with guidance. Puppies and untrained adult dogs do not know how to be good until we show them. If their adorable prancing and dancing steals center stage in our lives, they learn that jumping around is “good”. Even when that cute, tiny fluff ball grows into a 70 pound wrecking ball! Everything we do from the moment we bring a pup home tells him how to behave.

Have no fear, though! If you have already idolized your adorable pooch to the point of primp and pamper at all cost, and are finding just how much that costs! You still can roll back the time, in essence, and begin to take control of your household–begin to take back the control you gave your dog.

Not About the Wolf

All the lengthy details of wolf packs to get folks to understand their dog, in my opinion, are unnecessary. Just the plain fact that both are canid, in the canine family, ought to be enough. In that, we know they have similarities in base behavior or instinct, physiology, appearance, and so forth. However interesting nerdy sorts like myself find this stuff, it is not necessary to know anything more than this:

  • Yes, dogs are in the canine family and have similarities to wolves.
  • Yes, dogs by nature are designed as pack animals.
  • No, treating them like a human child will not change the facts. Unless, of course, you splice their DNA with human?
  • Yes, treating them like a human child will cause instinct to take over. You will either end up with an overly-submissive, anxious pooch that is uncertain of the rules, or an aggressive mongrel asserting his way because you showed him he can.
  • No, you do not have to reorganize the current structure of your household to mimic that of a wolf pack.

Simply understand the fact that your dog needs to see and respect you as pack leader–period. No if’s, and’s or but’s. So you will not read here all the details and sociological studies of wolf packs. Frankly, ordering your household up to standards where all dogs and humans are living compatibly is not about wolf pack dynamics. It is about:

  • Setting those standards in the first place!
  • Being reasonable, age-appropriate (etc), in your expectations.
  • Being consistent and clear–and that means everyone!
  • Relationship. It is all about relationship.
  • Having fun! Enjoy your pup and your household!

Keeping mindful of these points you will find greater reward than you could have imagined. Once you make your daily routine according to the standards you put in place, you will be strongly surprised at how enjoyable your entire household will become!

Set the Bar

Once you come to grips with the fact that you are your pup’s leader, and never the other way around, you will find a better view from that vantage point. From that point, sit down and imagine how you want your household to be–four-leggers and two-leggers included. What’s that? Ah, yes. I thought you would say that. Everyone can attest to the longing of wanting a well-behaved pup! However, most do not want to change their viewpoint on how that should come about. That’s not you? You are ready for change? Fabulous! Keep reading…

Lay a Solid Foundation

Sit and really think about what you mean by a “well-behaved dog.” There are some basic musts that everyone wants. Still, there are other behaviors that some may consider tolerable or deem acceptable. Either way, to lay a solid foundation in relationship with your dog just make him know (by experience) that you are first in all things.

This means you:

  • Eat first.
  • Go through doors and gates first.
  • Sit on couch (etc) first.
  • Determine when to cuddle, or time to pet, play, work, eat, go outside or inside, to bed or time out/down time, at what moment dog is allowed to get treat, every time, in everything.

That means your pup or dog must learn:

  • To ask to get up on the couch (etc), be petted, played with, go outside or inside.
  • To wait until you give the “okay” to eat, get up on furniture, go outside or inside, out of crate/room, in the car–all things.
  • To move out of your way, rather than push his way through.
  • To control her dominant behaviors and make good choices.
  • You are top dog in all things, all the time.

This may sound overwhelming, or even ridiculous to some, but once you get this through to your dog all your household (pack)–and neighbors!–will be relieved. Further training will come much smoother as well, for you will have a confident, obedient animal that knows she can count on you in all things.

Take Another Look

Most everyone has those moments where their dog does something that is technically uncomfortable but they find it “so cute.” Here are some examples:

  • Dog climbs up beside you on the couch at will, and proceeds to stand over you, to nuzzle your face, lick your arm, lay on you or just simply stands there.
  • Pup bumps or nudges your hand, arm, leg or face to gain attention.
  • Dog moves between you and your husband when he embraces you.
  • Dog nudges toddler on your lap or tries to come in between you two.
  • Pup noses in trash can, up on counter, table, etc.
  • Dog barks at you to get your attention.
  • Dog runs back and forth, barking at neighbor in next yard, almost jumping over fence.
  • Dog steals everyone else’s toys–kids’, other dogs’.
  • Dog lunges at any passers by, usually with a bark and growl.
  • Dog “Ts off”–stands with head over shoulders of another dog with head and tail held high and steady.

dog stick tongue


These are just a few common behaviors but give a good picture of what I am talking about. Watch your pup closely and make note of these behaviors. Decide which ones are acceptable for you and your pack. For those that are not, get to work on helping her choose more acceptable behaviors.

Keep in mind that even some acceptable behaviors may lead to an aggressive area for a dog later. The key is to help your pup grow to understand his place in the pack.

While you do not want to break him, you do want him to eventually give up trying to be top dog of the pack. You accomplish this by helping him succeed in managing his own behavior. We’ll open that “trick bag” in the next post. Until then, holler at me below and let me know how this is going for you and your pack!


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