Being the Pack Leader feels GREAT!

It's human nature for us to want to control our resources and our environment. We become anxious and stressed when we loose the ability to predict and plan or when control is taken away from us. This applies to some people more than others. 

So when it comes to our dogs and our family 'pack' why is the top dog method so very popular? Why do we find it fairly easy to implement and in many cases we clearly enjoy implementing the pack rules?

The pack rules involve the human in the relationship displaying a number of behaviours around the dog in order to reinforce that the human is in fact the alpha wolf or alpha domestic dog! This will also include human infants and children demoting the family pet wolf, I mean dog into the position where the dog understands they are at the bottom of the family pack hierarchy.  

Behaviours displayed by the human when trying to implement the pack rules include standing over the dog when eating, staring the dog dog down, removing items from the dog at whim, eating from the dogs bowl, making the dog walk behind us, entering doorways first and keeping control over the dogs interactions and social contact. We even have control over their reproductive ability through spaying and neutering and environmental confinement. What a powerful position to be in. 

We speak about reinforcement in the context of dog training all the time. What about human reinforcement? What makes us repeat these behaviours? What reward are we getting from our actions? Because human nature is so, it is clear that in many cases the human in the relationship feels empowered, in control and on top. We feel happy that we have successfully communicated to our dog that we rule. So whether it's termed being top dog or king of the castle it's a powerful feeling and that alone is a strong reinforcer. This is why we repeat these behaviours plus we see the results. In most cases implementing these rules appears to work well. But what we cannot see is the implications on the human dog bond, the affects on the dogs future learning abilities, coping ability, self control and trouble shooting skills. 

There are always exceptions to the rule however and people who do not subscribe to the pack mentality. Their dogs are allowed to make decisions and are rewarded for making good decisions and displaying desired behaviour. The results in many cases are better with well behaved dogs who are allowed to eat first or to sit up on the couch. What does the human get out of this? What is the human's reinforcer in these cases?  

There is no power struggle between human and dog but reinforcement happens for both when the dog feels comfortable to be around the human, stress is kept to a minimum because the dog is able to predict the owner and understands basic cue's. Human behaviours in this type of relationship include giving feedback at every opportunity when your dog does something desired of their own free will, rewarding the dog for behaviour you want to see repeated every time and teaching your dog basic verbal and visual cue's by simple association. 

It is important to really examine the motivation behind the dog's behaviour and why they comply in both cases whether they are part of a family where pack rules apply and are implemented or not. Dogs do not have the ability to behave in a certain way to gain status. It is clear that a dog does not make a concious decision to pull on the lead in order to prove to the other species at the end of the lead that they are seeking to gain higher rank in the pack. It is far simpler than that. A dog will pull because they get there faster or they have simply learned that this is how walking on the lead works, in short the human has trained them to pull on the lead. Utilising the walking behind rule works because the dog has been trained consistently to walk in this position and either a reinforcer has been applied to this behaviour or a punisher applied to the pulling behaviour. This is learning theory 101. 

So being the pack leader does feel good but truly understanding your dog, their motivation and why they do what they do feels even better. Ditch the pack rules and if you want to learn dog then stop watching wolves!