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Dog Sociology

Why Dogs Are the Way They Are

Dogs can best be understood by studying their wolf ancestors. A dog's natural behavior is rooted in a pack social structure. Once you understand how this pack social structure works, you will be able to understand your dog as an individual.

A pack is a hierarchy in which each dog has a specific position. Your dog will consider you, your family and any other household pets as his pack and will view each member as having a certain position in the pack pecking order. In a wolf pack, the Alpha pair, or the dominant male and female, heads the hierarchy. Other males and females will be under the Alpha pair, with young wolves and cubs at the bottom. Each wolf is submissive to the Alpha pair and to those animals positioned in the levels above it.

This complex social structure results in strong bonding and a sense of family between the members. A wolf that is taken from his pack will suffer a condition known as "separation anxiety." Domestic dogs, also pack animals, can suffer a similar condition when their owners leave them alone. This separation anxiety frequently leads to destructive behavior such as inappropriate chewing and compulsive barking.

When a puppy is brought to his new home, you replace his mother and littermates. You and your family (including other pets) become his new pack. Unless you assume the alpha position from the beginning, your puppy will grow into a dog that will constantly challenge your dominant position. This dominance is not established through cruelty or aggression but in a spirit of trust and affection. Just as an older wolf will treat cubs with firm, but consistent leadership, you must become your puppy's kind, but superior alpha. This puppy must also learn that all other humans in the household and most certainly children, are also in a dominant position.

In the wild, there is a constant struggle for dominance within each pack. When a lesser animal successfully challenges an alpha animal, the lower level dog then takes the alpha position. A dog will inevitably challenge you and your family members. When he does, you must be ready to reinforce your leadership role.

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