Understanding Pack Mentality

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Leader of the Pack

Your very presence makes his tail wag, his eyes light up, and his feet do their happy dance. Now if that's not unconditional love, what is? Your dog adores you, no doubt about it. 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. Your dog may take on either role in the park, but at home it's important that he defer to you, the one he should perceive as the leader.

In your leadership role, you need to be thorough and consistent when it comes to training. Your dog needs to know you're the leader. And as such, he must be submissive to you. If you send signals that show weakness, he'll dominate you every chance he gets—and that behavior may translate negatively to his interactions with you as well as with other people and other dogs.

How do you know if your dog considers you the pack leader or his follower? If you notice these signs, he may think of you as a follower, not the leader you need to be:

  • He refuses to "heel" on a leash; he tends to literally take the lead
  • He gets food from your table; he believes he chooses who eats first
  • He doesn't 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 "animal pack mentality," you'll come to understand your dog better.

The pack drive

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 range in size from as few as two members to 40+ members. So it's not a surprise that he takes well to any and all regular company.

In the wild, dog packs live in dens. It's natural for them. That's why your pooch doesn't mind being trained to inhabit his crate, though some of us humans may think of 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 your dog 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 and caring leader who is generous with praise and other rewards, his pack drive will increase, as will his special bond with you, the leader of the pack.

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