Posted on 1 Comment

Pack Rank

Even though there has been much time focused on Hanani, especially with her Reform School endeavors, allow me to show you an indirect consequence of this intense training. As I have worked this daring Dutchie, pushing her beyond her limits at times, Mia wanders around and actually “helps”–if you can believe that 😉 In this process, Pack Rank is refined and more solidly established between our two.

Girls lazin park


It’s one thing to establish yourself as Pack Leader in your household. But what about the other pups in your pack? Ought you to just leave that up to their doggy brains? After all, pack structure is a dog thing, right? I think not.

As Pack Leader, your Rank is tops. But to encourage your pooches to depend on as leader, you need to step up for each of them as well. Dogs look to their leader for provision, protection, play and comfort. Most folks that establish themselves at the head are satisfied with this arrangement. In homes with multiple dogs, we need to look beyond ourselves and watch carefully the dynamics between our four-legged household members. Although we need not step in every single interaction, we do need to draw lines for our pups. If they’re left to manage rank on their own, it could end up bloody.

When determining rank among your pack (four-leggers) there are a few main things to consider carefully:

  • Age vs. length of time in home
  • Breed/Drive
  • Overall temperament
  • Specific behavior issues

Although these points are not exhaustive and are in no pat order, they do help set a foundation to build soundly upon.

New pup, new home 6.22.2017
Hanani 7 mos. & Mia 5 yrs, June 2017.

Who’s First?

When we first brought Hanani home from the airport, she was terrified and highly unsocialized. She did not even have the benefit of her siblings from when she was weaned (probably between 4-6 wks) on. We got her at 18 weeks. Already, she was only an inch shy of Mia’s size.

Mia was almost 5 years old, well socialized with people and pups and a bit shy, or “soft”, when it suited her. My pretty little Pit and I had been together at this point since she was about 5 weeks old.

So, naturally, Mia ranks right under me. To her dismay, however, she also ranks under the other two-leggers in the house 😉 Technically…but we’ll get to that another time.

It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog–and the larger the fight in the dog, the lower in rank she needs to be!

The point here is, it is not the size of the pup that determines rank–contrary to what they may believe! In fact, dogs like our Dutchie need to be the lower-ranking pup in the pack to best enable them to learn self-control. Still, it took us almost two years to fully work out an established ranking. Hanani was possessive of everything, even what did not reasonably belong to her. Mia was always patient with her. Not aggressive or assertive, but not typically submissive either. Even though Mia is a dominant female, she exerts her dominance in a less aggressive manner. Hanani, on the other hand, was exactly the boisterous, annoying and demanding aggressor you’d expect of a very young, unsocialized, high-drive pup.

A good example is that Hanani would never play tug (willingly) with Mia. Tug is a play exercise that starts with and builds trust–between pups and with their people. The dominant, immature Dutchie that just came from protection work imprinting (previous owner) was always ready to tug with Jamie or me, but never would with Mia. Logically, she never had the opportunities with her siblings, so why trust another dog now?

Then one day in our back yard two summers ago it happened. Hanani reached out to Mia with a long stick she favored. And they tugged away!

Mia Hanani play tug branch
First time Hanani invited Mia to tug!


A few weeks ago, while I have been working Hanani on reprogramming her triggers, I noticed something amazing. This daring, dominant Dutchie finally began to respect Mia as higher rank. Usually when the three of us play ball, for example, my passive Pit runs for it but never picks it up. Mia loves to run interference, but always backed off when Hanani approached the ball. Our new game, however, is refining their ranks.

With Hanani in “Place” (a small trampoline in the yard) and Mia “running interference”, I kick the ball. Hanani must hold Place until I give her the command, “Yes!” Then, of course, she runs after it. The actual intent of this game is to help this determined Dutchie be more obedient, no matter the circumstances. She is such a ball crazy dog, she almost shakes trying to hold Place while that ball flies!

Mia play ball_7.2019Add Mia running after the ball at will and, well, you can imagine the stress! Whenever Hanani breaks before allowed, I make her “Down in Place” and she is forced to watch Mia and I alone play ball. And Mia is rather ball crazy herself!

After a couple days of this exercise, I noticed that Hanani stopped bullying Mia out of the ball–AND Mia no longer dropped the ball when Hanani approached.

While my Dutch is learning more her place in the rank, my Pit is growing in confidence.

The moral of the tail

On top of two years’ worth of all the “little things”, this additional exercise is really driving home for Hanani where she stands in our Pack. The daily little things, such as Mia always goes first–whether it be entering or exiting the house, getting treats, being fed, etc–and I always intervene whenever Hanani would bully Mia out of her toys. Now, though, rather than bullying (usually “T-off”, getting on top of her, growling), Hanani “asks” (usually blinking, bowing, rolling or going belly-up) and is playful with her elder.

Pack structure is crucial for all dogs and the more intentional time we put into it, the more ease our pups have in being obedient across the board. This once daunting Dutch of ours has even calmed drastically overall. She is still the extremely energetic, playful pup, don’t get me wrong. But since she is more certain of her role and rank, as it has been consistently defined for her, she is no longer the “bundle of nerves” type of energetic pup. Sure, she is 2 1/2 now so she is more able to control herself. But had we no well-established Pack Structure foundation, she would still be all over the place–as most high-drive dogs can be.

Mia Hanani respect ball_7.2019
Hanani now waits for Mia to be done with the ball.

Thanx again for hanging with us! Be sure to check out our Pack Leader posts and holler below if you have any questions or comments. And we hope you share this with others, so that we can all join in to help prevent more dogs being tossed away due to behavior problems.

Toodles for now 🙂