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A Way with Dogs: Understanding the dog and human relationship
Dr. Frank Beach performed a 30-year study on dogs at Yale and UC Berkeley. 19 years of the study was devoted to social behavior of a dog pack.
(Not a wolf pack. A DOG pack.)
Some of his findings:
* Male dogs have a rigid hierarchy.
* Female dogs have a hierarchy, but it's more variable.
* When you mix the sexes, the rules get mixed up. Males try to follow their constitution, but the females have "amendments."
* Young puppies have what's called "puppy license." Basically, that license to do most anything. Bitches are more tolerant of puppy license than males are.
* The puppy license is revoked at approximately four months of age. At that time, the older middle-ranked dogs literally give the puppy hell -- psychologically torturing it until it offers all of the appropriate appeasement behaviors and takes its place at the bottom of the social hierarchy. The top-ranked dogs ignore the whole thing.
* There is NO physical domination. Everything is accomplished through psychological harassment.
It's all ritualistic.
* A small minority of "alpha" dogs assumed their position by bullying and force. Those that did were quickly deposed. No one likes a dictator.
* The vast majority of alpha dogs rule benevolently. They are confident in their position. They do not stoop to squabbling to prove their point. To do so would lower their status because...
* Middle-ranked animals squabble. They are insecure in their positions and want to advance over other middle-ranked animals.
* Low-ranked animals do not squabble. They know they would lose. They know their position, and they accept it.
* "Alpha" does not mean physically dominant. It means "in control of resources." Many, many alpha dogs are too small or too physically frail to physically dominate. But they have earned the right to control the valued resources. An individual dog determines which resources he considers important. Thus an alpha dog may give up a prime sleeping place because he simply couldn't care less.
So what does this mean for the dog-human relationship?
* Using physical force of any kind reduces your "rank." Only middle-ranked animals insecure in their place squabble.
* To be "alpha," control the resources. I don't mean hokey stuff like not allowing dogs on beds or preceding them through doorways. I mean making resources contingent on behavior. Does the dog want to be fed. Great -- ask him to sit first. Does the dog want to go outside? Sit first. Dog want to greet people? Sit first. Want to play a game? Sit first. Or whatever. If you are proactive enough to control the things your dogs want, *you* are alpha by definition.
* Train your dog. This is the dog-human equivalent of the "revoking of puppy license" phase in dog development. Children, women, elderly people, handicapped people -- all are capable of training a dog. Very few people are capable of physical domination.
* Reward deferential behavior, rather than pushy behavior. I have two dogs. If one pushes in front of the other, the other gets the attention, the food, whatever the first dog wanted. The first dog to sit gets treated. Pulling on lead goes nowhere. Doors don't open until dogs are seated and I say they may go out. Reward pushy, and you get pushy. Your job is to be a leader, not a boss, not a dictator. Leadership is a huge responsibility. Your job is to provide for all of your dog's needs... food, water, vet care, social needs, security, etc. If you fail to provide what your dog needs, your dog will try to satisfy those needs on his own.
In a recent article in the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT) newsletter,
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