The dog has lived as a companion with humans for a very long time.  The ancestor of the wolf first became the companion of man around twelve thousand years ago.  It is important to realise that the dog has retained all the instincts and behaviour patterns of his wild ancestors.  Dogs have been a part of our lives so long that we sometimes forget that they are not human and belong to a different species.  We often mistakenly credit our dogs with human thoughts, attitudes and perceptions.

Social status is important to both dogs and humans.  Dogs are social animals and are accustomed to living in groups.  Because group living inevitably leads to conflicts over scarce resources, dogs evolved a system of social rankings.  Each individual has a rank in the group and will defer to a dog of higher status.  An individual's rank is not fixed forever and can change over time.

The use of a hierarchical social status system avoids fighting and aggression to resolve most conflicts.  Fighting is dangerous and has the potential to damage the group and so is the option of last resort.

The dog with the highest status is the pack leader who makes all the decisions for the pack.  Pack leaders lead packs!  They act like leaders, deciding when and where the pack moves, eats and plays.   Pack leaders own all possessions and control territory.  The pack leader gets the best tastiest food and the best place to rest or sleep.  He also has mating privileges.  The top dog is responsible for the safety of the pack and must ward off intruders.  He must also compete with other ambitious members of the pack.

Dogs are all individuals.  Some dogs express an occasional desire to move up in rank while others are status seeking and see themselves high in the social order.  These dogs will constantly challenge higher ranking dogs to improve their status.  Very few dogs are natural leaders, most are content for a more assertive individual to lead the way.

In a typical social hierarchy there are three main categories;

  • the alpha individual
  • a beta group of status seeking individuals looking to improve their position
  • the omega group, consisting of puppies, young juveniles and mature adults who do not wish to be leader.

Our dogs no longer live in canine packs.  Their human family members become their pack.  It is essential that your dog views you as the pack leader.  A dog needs to have a leader he can trust and respect and we must take on this role.   If there is no clear pack leader, your dog may try to take over the leadership role to protect the pack.  Some dogs are forced unwillingly into a leadership role.  Everyone in your family must be higher than your dog in status - even the
youngest child.   Your dog will then respect everyone.

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