Dogs live in a linear hierarchy system similar to army rankings or the human caste system of certain cultures. Dogs are, instinctively, not adapted to the democratic approach meted out by most pet owners. Doting animal lovers feel that all their dogs should be treated equally because “shame” why pat the one and not the other?! They greet all the pets at the same time, cuddle all the dogs simultaneously and cannot understand why they attack each other immediately afterwards. The inter-canine conflict that follows is obviously owner-induced but may lead to one dog hurting or killing another or a human family member may get injured in the aggressive conflict. People need to learn the principles of carnivore group leadership in order to create stability in the domestic environment. This knowledge is a basic essential for every dog owner. One cannot apply human psychology on any animal.
This does not mean to say that the dogs are vicious and dangerous. All that they are trying to do is restructure their positions in the pack system disturbed and detrimentally influenced by people ignorant of normal canine behaviour.
A canine hierarchy and pack system can be as small as two dogs, any two dogs. A Yorkshire Terrier weighing in at 1.4 Kg may dominate a 35 Kg Labrador Retriever purely on attitude and their own inherent understanding of pack position genetics.
The Terrier group is the most willful of all the categories which not only limits their compatibility within the same sexes but amongst other breeds. Two terrier bitches, as an example, in most instances, have the potential for permanent intolerance and chronic fights epitomizing the term “bitchiness”. This situation is incurable, the dogs are forever under social stress (although they do enjoy fighting) and the owners can never enjoy them as pets. Adopting the hierarchy rules in this case will be ineffective.
The Gundog/Sporting/Hunting group is socially more amenable to accepting many dogs in the hierarchy system, although there may be conflicts to sort themselves out, it will not be with the physical damage, stress and aggression experienced with fighting breeds. Many more individuals can co-habit amidst this breed group (Pointer, Labrador, Golden Retriever, Weimaraner etc.) without serious issues.
In the natural principle of canines, a female is normally the social pack leader. While the alpha female may be in charge, making the final decisions it will be the alpha male who will patrol the territory.
If people respect, understand and apply the concepts of a canine hierarchy with their pets it will help to reduce tensions, avoid fights and create happier pets.
Irrespective of the structure of the pack i.e. breed mixtures and sexes the owners must hold the mentorship, pack leader qualities for the dogs to feel secure. Being a pack leader involves assertiveness, consistency, control and discipline.
Being in charge must never be expressed with aggression. An aggressive owner creates a fear-biting or aggressive dog. Pack leaders spend meaningful quality time with their pets.
People must initiate activities and stop them before the dogs decide on these matters. Only the top dog gets greeted, petted and handled while the other get the cold shoulder in the presence of the canine pack leader.
If the top dog is out of sight then the second most important dog can enjoy interaction with people, and so it goes on down the line.
The lowest ranking dog will not feel rejection, rather a feeling of comfort in its rightful place without having to be attacked by the alpha male or female every time people give it attention.
Giving attention must be directed at the dogs at the appropriate time for the right reason, not drowning them with affection just because they are loved. Unlimited, uncontrolled petting and kissing is not construed by dogs as love; rather as submissive behaviour by a low ranking pack member. Dogs respond better if they are held or hugged firmly showing confidence, rather than being incessantly patted by the irritating people, who most likely suffer from an obsessive compulsive tactile disorder. Dogs must learn to earn everything in life i.e. attention, affection, food, treats, comforts etc. pet owners need to know how to do this to maximum effect.
When dog owners subscribe to puppy socialization classes and further canine obedience instruction they will learn about these rules from the dog trainers and animal behaviourists. Part of this education is to realize that the constant implementation of calming signals amongst a multi-canine household increases the owner’s status and creates harmony in the pack.
The reason it is so important for pet owners to play the game is that family members and visitors can get bitten, the costs and stress of sorting out dog fights is traumatic, expensive and unnecessary and may terminate with the decision of relocating or euthanasing certain dogs who have been only misunderstood.
Applying the hierarchy principles saves animal’s lives, creates domestic stability, pets are more thoroughly enjoyed, dogs are more trusting and comfortable with each other and people learn coping skills by owning dogs.