The Pack in Nature
In nature every dog pack has a leader, an alpha dog; and all the other members of the pack follow him. The pack leader is usually a male, sometimes sharing the role with a female. He is invariably a high- energy dog, whose place as head of the pack is displayed in both posture and conduct. With head high and tail up, the pack leader demonstrates confidence and quiet assertiveness. He leads the charge as a decision-maker of the pack. Whether in the hunt, on the move, stopping to rest, or enjoying a meal, he initiates; the others follow.
Cesar Millan’s observations of natural pack behaviors led him into his life’s work. By helping dog owners understand the harmonious balance of the natural pack order, and how to view relationships as dogs perceive them, he helps bring function to situations where there has previously been dysfunction.
The Domestic Pack
Even in his human family, your dog views himself as part of a pack. Since to a dog, every pack has a leader, he’ll think it’s his job to assume that role unless the role is clearly filled by you, his #1 human! The behaviors of so-called “problem-dogs”, those with excessively aggressive or unstable traits, are often the result of undefined or poorly-defined roles within the pack.
By contrast, well-adjusted dogs – those that understand their humans to be their pack leaders – will demonstrate a calm-submissive state. Cesar makes this statement: “I rehabilitate dogs; I train humans”. What he is saying is that in most cases of aggressive, unruly dog behavior, the problem is more the humans than the dog! Once we understand the pack dynamic, and the dog psychology behind it, we are already well on our way to the solution.
Am Human, Must Lead
The key then to order and stability in your domestic pack is for your dog to know that you are the leader, and he or she is the follower. How is that relationship established and sustained? In two ways:
- You must look like the pack leader, having the right body language – displaying what Cesar Millan calls “calm-assertive energy”
- You must act like the pack leader.
What does the pack leader look like? As leader, you have a good upright posture and you display calm self-assurance. You don’t look at your dog for cues, your dog looks to you. And by the way, don’t be concerned if this all feels a bit contrived at first! It’s a simple matter of learning to relate to your dog on the primal level on which he lives and operates.
Practicing Dog Psychology
A dog’s world is not complicated; at least, it is not intended to be. Your dog thrives on having a well-defined role within a well-functioning pack. Addressing this simple need works wonders for a dog’s sense of wellbeing! Remember this: The way you act around your dog defines his perception of your role.
If you are like most dog owners, you love your pooch and enjoy showing him affection. But here’s where we need to understand some differences between dog and human psychology. A dog sees a spontaneous display of affection towards him as a weakness on our part. So we need to find ways of pegging our displays of affection to positive action on the part of our dogs. Offered in this way, our affection will be seen as a demonstration of our approval of them and their actions. This reinforces your place as pack leader and contributes strongly to a sense of security on the part of your dog.
As with “unwarranted” displays of affection, any kind of excitement on the part of his humans is seen as weakness or follower-type behavior, by your dog. A high-pitched “Oh wow, you are so cute – I love you, love you, love you…” is perceived as a display of instability, and just another manifestation of weakness. In a similar fashion, if an owner acts out his emotions through aggressive actions, yelling at or striking his dog, this is also instability or weakness in the eyes of a dog.
Examples of Calm-Assertive Leadership
- When it’s time for a walk; you initiate the action, not your dog. For example; if your dog is in the habit of running to the door or to where his leash is hanging, to ask for a walk, it’s a good opportunity to form a new habit. Distract your dog, and then when he’s not expecting it, you make the move to the door. Get him to sit, and then you go out first, letting your dog follow.
- When our dogs are lying on the floor, right in the way, what do we typically do? We step over or walk around them, right! Well, to assert our proper place, we need to do things differently. When your dog is in the way, move up to him, tap him with your foot until he moves, then continue on your intended path. Soon your dog will understand that he must make way for you, not the other way around.
QUICK TIP: Don’t make the mistake of humanizing your dog. Clearly, for us to bump up against another person to “move them” out of our way, would be a blatant demonstration of bad manners. To our dog, it means nothing more than an appropriate assertion of our rightful place as pack leader.
Walking Your Dog With Calm Assertive Leadership
- First, as you step out of the house you must establish the right order of things. You go out ahead of your dog as a demonstration of who is in charge.
- As you walk you lead your dog, with him going behind or beside you, but not ahead.
- You can periodically let him go ahead, but not because he chooses, but as you allow him.
- If your dog gets overly excited or aggressive on meeting others make sure you don’t react by getting wrought up yourself – stay calm. Dogs are highly attuned to their pack leaders’ emotional state, and will tend to mirror it. Be calm and assertive, as you bring guidance and correction. Be attentive to the first hint of fear or aggression, and correct it with a twitch of the leash, or a firm jab of spread finger and thumb tips to the side of the ribs. The latter mimics the way a pack leader in the wild corrects another dog with a firm nip on the side.
Once we start to realign our thinking, and modify the way we behave towards our dogs, we’ll see that there is a beautiful order and simplicity to the well-balanced pack. And it is something that is within reach of any dog owner.
Rewards of the Well-Balanced Pack
The well-balanced domestic pack has one leader – you, and the rest are the followers, whether one dog or any number of dogs. You lead with calm, assertive energy displayed through appropriate body-language and actions, and your dog follows you and displays a manner that is characterized as calm and submissive.
Cesar Millan’s methods are based on kindness and respect towards the dog, and the resulting balance and sense of wellbeing observed in the dogs thus trained or “rehabilitated”, are the best recommendations for the techniques.
QUICK TIP #1: You can combine obedience training with these well-balanced-pack principles to help your dog develop the right behaviors.
QUICK TIP #2: When working with – and enjoying – your pack, beware the trap of intermittent reinforcement. Be a consistent pack leader! A dog accepts human leadership when rules, boundaries and limitations are established and then adhered to in a consistent manner.
Would you like help with training your German Shepherd, while still getting the satisfaction of doing it yourself? Check out this great little resource:
If you’d like to learn more about Cesar Millan’s methods, you can check out his website: www.cesarsway.com. Another resource would be www.hulu.com, where you can view many of the 45 minute shows from The Dog Whisperer TV series.
*The words “Dog Whisperer” abbreviated from “The Dog Whisperer with Cesar Millan” title of the TV show, and copyright © 2016 Cesar’s Way Inc. All rights reserved.
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