All Things Dog

Understanding Pack Mentality

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Your very presence makes his tail wag, his bum wriggle, and his eyes light up. Now if that's not unconditional love, what is? Your dog adores you. That's because you're the leader of his pack. And although his loyalty to you knows no bounds, he also craves contact with other dogs.

Leader of the pack

The pack drive is made up of two main components: dominance and submission. He may take on either role in the park, but at home it's important that he defer to you.

Be thorough and consistent when it comes to training. He needs to know you're the alpha dog. And as such, must be submissive to you. Send signals that show weakness and he'll dominate you every chance he gets—and that behavior will translate negatively to his interactions with other dogs.

Here are some signs to look for:

  • He refuses to "heel" on a leash; he thinks he's leading
  • He gets food from your table; he believe he chooses who eats first
  • He doesn't have to follow your commands; he's the boss

Watch for these signals and be firm in reversing the behaviors with clear and consistent commands. Once you understand some of the basics of "pack animal mentality," you'll come to understand your dog better.

Pack, play, and prey

The following components make up your dog's social, work and play behavior:

  • Pack Drive: an affinity for people and other dogs
  • Play Drive: the instinct to pounce, stalk, jump, and wrestle
  • Prey Drive: a strong instinct to react to anything that moves

The pack drive is at the top of the list; it's the most important. Dogs with a strong pack drive are protective of their owners (their boss) and as such make great guard dogs, but only when you're home. Their home is moveable; it's wherever you are.

Golden retrievers, Labrador retrievers, standard poodles, and other companion breeds have a high pack drive. That's why these wonderful breeds can make great "therapy" or "visiting" dogs and such loyal pets.

A den for the pack

Packs have been known to consist of as few as two members and up to over 40. So it's not a surprise that he takes well to any and all regular company.

Dog packs live in dens. It's natural for them. That's why he doesn't mind being trained to inhabit his crate, while we often see it as a cage. To him it's reminiscent of a warm and secure den. If you let him sleep in your bed, you'll see he loves it. Again, it's part of his pack animal heritage. They sleep together for warmth and security.

Part of your family

This inherent need for company and a den is also why he shouldn't be kept exclusively outside. Would you keep any other family member out in the backyard? At home, you and your family are his pack; it's unkind to keep him separated from you.

If your dog sees you as a fair leader who is generous with praise and other rewards, his pack drive will increase, as will his special bond with you. To him, you are home.

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